Up In Smoke…40 Years Ago

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A devastating July 12, 1973, fire at the National Personnel Records Center in suburban St. Louis, destroyed some 17 million military personnel records.

Anyone trying to get military records for a relative – or the subject of a news story – may have heard those dreaded words: Those records were lost.

What follows is like a military tattoo, in a precise order:

…in a fire…

…in St. Louis…

…in 1973.

Turns out that infuriating inferno took place 40 years ago last Friday.



Preservation technician Susan Davis is working to restore the damaged records.

Both Donna Miles, of the Pentagon’s own American Forces Press Service — About 85 percent of the records of soldiers discharged between 1912 and 1959, including veterans of World War II and the Korean War, went up in smoke — and Amy McCullough, of Air Force MagazineThe fire is still taking its toll on military families, as the lost records were quite literally one of a kind and irreplaceable — have detailed the conflagration, its impact, and the continuing efforts to salvage answers from the ashes.