The Records of War

As American combat operations in Iraq draw to a close at the end of August, here at the National Archives we are always thinking about the records. The records created to document the conflict are crucial for our understanding of our military operations. It’s our history at stake. The Chief Historian for the European Theater in World War II, Colonel William A. Ganoe, said it best:

History is the last thing we care about during operations and the first thing we want afterwards. Then it is too late.

It may be difficult to conceive of troops in the field ever thinking about records, but without records we lose our history, our lessons-learned, and the ability to analyze our successes and failures.

This past April, Michael Carlson and John Powell, two NARA staff members, spent time in Iraq supporting the Joint Staff’s assessment of the U.S. Forces-Iraq records management. NARA staff will be working closely with CENTCOM as they bring records from the combat operations in Iraq back to the United States. We will work together to identify records that have permanent historical value in both paper and electronic form.

As the conduct of war has changed over the years, so has the associated record keeping practices. Today’s military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are documented in both paper and a multitude of electronic formats, including PowerPoint, email, video, spreadsheets, databases, etc.

The documentation of our military conflicts dating back to the Revolutionary War can be found within the vast quantity of records at the National Archives. Historians, veterans, researchers, and genealogists rely on the records of war to tell our story as a nation, as well as individuals.

The records of war have been crucial evidence in a variety of situations, including supporting historical studies, support for veterans benefit claims, documenting military awards, resolution of missing in action (MIA) claims, identification of remains, and discovering lost records.


The story of Francis Lupo is just one compelling example of the importance of records in the identification of our fallen soldiers. In 2003, French archaeologists discovered a set of human remains during a survey for new construction. Based on artifacts found in the grave, the remains were turned over to the U.S. Department of Defense. Historical records found within the National Archives were used by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii to identify Francis Lupo, Private, Company E, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, from Cincinnati, Ohio.


War Department records indicate that Private Lupo had been declared missing during the Second Battle of Marne in July 1918 and then later declared killed in action. Based on his missing in action status, his name had been inscribed in the chapel of the closest American Cemetery in France. His mother had visited the cemetery in 1931 on a tour of World War I Gold Star Mothers. In 2006, Private Lupo was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.  The ceremony was attended by his 73-year-old niece who had been born 15 years after he had been killed.

While the records of war are essential to our understanding of combat operations, the importance of records is paramount to individual veterans and their families.

We can’t forget about records, even in times of war.

What are your experiences researching war records? What stories have you uncovered about your family members?

For Further Information:

  • Photo of the 18th Infantry: Photograph No. 111-SC-6939 B; Signal Corps Photographs of American Military Activity, compiled 1754-1954; Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1860-1985, Record Group 111; National Archives at College Park, College Park, Maryland. [Series level ARC Identifier 530707/Local Identifier 111-SC].
  • War Department Record, Pvt. Francis Lupo, declared missing in action in 1918, reclassified as killed in action in 1930; Individual Deceased Personnel File [LUPO, Francis]; Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
  • Read the 2006 Washington Post Article on Francis Lupo at

3 thoughts on “The Records of War

  1. I found a Missing Air Crew Report (MACR), filed after a WWII mission to bomb oil fields in Ploesti, Romania, that was for my father’s plane crash. He was a B-24 pilot ,and on this mission his plane was hit by enemy fire and the crew had to bail out over Yugoslavia. From this document, I learned, for the first time, who the members of his crew were, and I actually located the navigator on that flight via an internet search. Information from him led me to buy a recent book in which I discovered that my father and his crew were involved in one of the largest rescue missions of WWII. Over 500 US airmen were shot down over Yugoslavia and were collected, housed, fed and protected by Serbian resistance fighters and villagers. A daring airlift project, called Operation Halyard, was carried out by the 15th Air Force, between August and December of 1944. Transport planes with fighter protection provided by the Tuskeegee Airmen, landed on a makeshift runway built by the Serbian people and the downed airmen on the side of a mountain, to carry out the rescue. The airmen who were returned to their bases in the European Theater were asked not to discuss any aspect of their rescue so they would not endanger the people involved or future rescue efforts. By the time the war ended, Tito was in power in Yugoslavia and was under increasing Communist influence. As the Serbians who were primarily responsible for sheltering and protecting the airmen were not Tito’s Partisan troops, but were the rival Chetniks, the remarkable story of Operation Halyard was never told. In a short bio-sketch my father wrote before his death regarding his military experience, he mentioned Chetniks and an airlift rescue, but he wrote three terse sentences about it. “The Forgotten 500”, which is this same story, is a 300-page book which goes into the details of the heroism and self-sacrifice involved in this operation. The story was only told once the military records became available for research. I began a journey and came to know my father when I clicked on the search button for the newly released “Missing Air Crew Reports” . Thank you National Archives and Footnote.

  2. I received a wonderful set of records from the USArmy archives. I had requested them of my great, great Uncle who all I knew was in the US Army in the later 1800’s. Turns out I got a file of over 100 pages and he fought in the ‘Indian Wars’ against the Northern Cheyenne in New Mexico and Texas. The file included his assignments, and many other pension related documents.

    It added a great amount to my understanding of this relative who I then discovered is interred at the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Home Cemetery in Washington, D. C.

  3. My mother was an avid genealogist but could not figure out where her grandfather’s farm was in southern Missouri that she visited as a child. An archivist at the National Archives in Kansas City asked us when her grandfather was born and then headed back to the stacks. She returned with the 4th draft registration cards from World War II. Besides Harry Truman’s card, she showed us my great grandfather’s card. He had drawn a map to the farm on the back of his card since it didn’t have what we would consider a formal address today. This helped solve a huge puzzle for Mom and she was then able to visit that farm that she remembered as a child.

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