Stars and Heroes Shine in our Military Personnel Records

The National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis is the nation’s depository for military personnel records. Within these records are the files of “Persons of Exceptional Prominence” including: Spiro Agnew, Desi Arnaz, Beatrice Arthur, Joe Louis, Humphrey Bogart, John William Coltrane, John Foster Dulles, Marvin Gaye, Theodore S. Geisel (AKA “Dr. Seuss”), Charles A. Lindbergh, Glenn Miller, Edward Murrow, Richard Nixon, Elvis Presley, and Jackie Robinson.

On one particular record, two celebrities intersect. The image below is the report of separation for Clark Gable, signed by his personnel officer, Captain Ronald Reagan. You can see Clark Gable’s civilian occupation as “Motion Picture Actor” and his military occupation as “Motion Picture Photo-Gunner.”

Clark Gable's Report of Separation signed by Ronald Reagan

Clark Gable’s Report of Separation signed by Ronald Reagan

Military personnel records are our nation’s most requested records. Staff members at the National Personnel Records Center respond to 5,000 reference requests a day, over 1.3 million annually, representing 94 percent of NARA’s total written requests. The volume is certainly staggering, but access to these records is crucial. Veterans and family members rely on these records to prove service and complete family histories.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending an event to commemorate the construction of a new facility for the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis at Dunn Road for military personnel records. This new state-of-the-art facility is designed to be a LEED-certified green facility. With a modern research room and public meeting spaces, the new structure will ensure continued access to over 56 million military personnel records representing those who served our nation in uniform from the late 1800s through the end of the 20th century.

Future National Personnel Records Center Facility at Dunn Road

Future National Personnel Records Center Facility at Dunn Road

This building was made possible with the support of Senator Kit Bond; Senator Claire McCaskill; Congressman William Lacy Clay, Jr.; St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley; the St. Louis County Economic Council; as well as the General Services Administration, under the direction of Regional Administrator Jason Klumb and the GSA Contracting Officer Eric Gibbs. The Molasky Companies had the vision and willingness to step in and take over this project when the financial uncertainties within our nation threatened the project’s success. Additional thanks is due to Adrienne Thomas, Deputy Archivist; Tom Mills, Assistant Archivist for Regional Records Services, and his staff; and Ron Hindman, Director of the National Personnel Records Center, and his staff.

This Sunday, we mark the 66th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Among the military personnel records in the National Personnel Records Center are the records of famous heroes of the invasion, including General Dwight D. Eisenhower, General Omar Bradley, and Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. But there are also the records of lesser known heroes of D-Day, including:

  • Private Carlton Barret, a Medal of Honor recipient who repeatedly disregarded his own safety by rescuing drowning comrades, assisting wounded, and acting as a guide along the length of Omaha Beach on D-Day,
  • Sergeant Waverly Woodson Jr., who was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions as a medic on Omaha Beach as a member of the African American 320th Anti-Aircraft Balloon Battalion, and
  • Private First Class Melvin J. Neptune, who received the Bronze Star for leading his men inland from Omaha Beach under heavy German artillery fire as a member of the First Infantry Division.

Our nation’s military personnel records are rich with the records of celebrities, famous generals, and your relatives who served their country in uniform.  We owe them all an incalculable debt of gratitude for preserving our freedoms.

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One thought on “Stars and Heroes Shine in our Military Personnel Records

  1. Dear Sir/Madam

    I am assisting a Penobscot Indian combat veteran named Charles Norman Shay, who received the Silver Star for his heroic acion at Omaha Beach on D-Day. He served with the 16th Regiment and was in the first wave. His old friend, mentioned on your website, was Melvin J Neptune, who served in the 26th Regiment, of the same division, the Big Red One. Melvin was also a member of the Penobscot Indian nation in Maine. After his return from the war, Melvin was elected vice-chief of his small tribe headquartered at Indian Island. For our records, I would love to see a copy of Melvin Neptune’s Bronze Star citation.


    Harald Prins
    Professor of Anthropology
    Kansas State University

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