The National Archives is home to an abundance of remarkable records that chronicle and celebrate the rich history of our nation. It is a privilege to be Archivist of the United States—to be the custodian of our most treasured documents and the head of an agency with such a unique and rewarding mission. But it is my greatest privilege to work with such an accomplished and dedicated staff—the real treasures of the National Archives go home at night.
Today I want to recognize and thank the mission-essential staff of NARA’s National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). Like all NARA offices, the NPRC closed in late March to protect its workforce and patrons from the spread of the pandemic and comply with local government movement orders. While modern military records are available electronically and can be referenced remotely, the majority of NPRC’s holdings and reference activity involve paper records that can be accessed only by on-site staff. Furthermore, these records are often needed to support veterans and their families with urgent matters such as medical emergencies, homeless veterans seeking shelter, and funeral services for deceased veterans.
Concerned about the impact a disruption in service would have on veterans and their families, over 150 staff voluntarily set aside concerns for their personal welfare and regularly reported to the office throughout the period of closure to respond to these types of urgent requests. These exceptional staff were pioneers in the development of alternative work processes to incorporate social distancing and other protective measures to ensure a safe work environment while providing this critical service.
National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) building in St. Louis
The Center is now in Phase One of a gradual re-opening, allowing for additional on-site staff. The same group that stepped up during the period of closure continues to report to the office and are now joined by additional staff volunteers, enabling them to also respond to requests supporting employment opportunities and home loan guaranty benefits. There are now over 200 staff supporting on-site reference services on a rotational basis. Together they have responded to over 32,000 requests since the facility closed in late March. More than half of these requests supported funeral honors for deceased veterans.
With each passing day we are a day closer to the pandemic being behind us. Though it may seem far off, there will come a time when Covid-19 is no longer the threat that it is today, and the Pandemic of 2020 will be discussed in the context of history. When that time comes, the mission essential staff of NPRC will be able to look back with pride and know that during this unprecedented crisis, when their country most needed them, they looked beyond their personal well-being to serve others in the best way they were able.
As Archivist of the United States, I applaud you for your commitment to the important work of the National Archives, and as a Navy veteran whose service records are held at NPRC, I thank you for your unwavering support to America’s veterans.