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World War II Army Enlistment Records


[The following, with minor differences, was published in AAFA ACTION #72, Spring 2006]

[Much of the information in this article was taken from the National Archives and Records Administration, <www.archives.gov> FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) related to their Record Group 64. Series: World War II Army Enlistment Records.]

During World War II, the U.S. Army created an IBM punch card record for each of the approximately nine million enlistees at the time of his or her enlistment or reenlistment including those drafted. Records cover generally the period 1941-1946. The data recorded came from various enlistment cards in use at the time of their joining the Army. These records were created only for the U.S. Army, including the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, and do not include the Navy or Marine Corps. The Air Corps was part of the Army at the time and is included. After the war the Army microfilmed the cards in serial number order and destroyed the actual punch cards. The National Archives received 1,586 rolls of microfilmed punched cards in 1959. The film was in poor condition and only contained images of the punch cards.

In general the cards contain the serial number, name, year and state of birth, state and county of residence, date and place of enlistment, grade, Army branch, term of enlistment, longevity, race, education, civilian occupation, marital status, component, and box and reel number of the microfilm.

In 1994 the National Archives converted the microfilm to contemporary digital format to support the military records reconstruction project for records lost in the 1973 fire at the National Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. The version of files now available from the National Archives through its Access to Archival Databases (AAD), resulted from a subsequent project in 2002 to prepare them for public access.

About 13% of the microfilmed punch cards, about 1.5 million cards, could not be scanned into the electronic file and are not in the electronic WWII Army Enlistment Records. [The compilers record is one of those missing.]

About 35% of the electronic WWII Army Enlistment Records have a scanning error. Most of these errors are because of the poor condition of the microfilm and the scanning mechanism could not properly "read" various characters on the punch cards. Other errors in the records may have occurred when the War Department created the original punch card.

Because the Army did not transfer any official documentation for the punch cards when they transferred the microfilm, the Archives staff had to assemble some related instructions and the meanings for most of the codes from various textual records of the War Department and U.S. Army in the custody of the Archives.

One might wonder why the Archives is making the file available to the public when they report a 35% error. They did take a random sample and compared the electronic file with the microfilm file and found only 4.7% error in the name field and 1.3% error in the serial number field. Note that the data being made available by AAFA was not transferred digitally, but instead had to be keyed from scratch so it is possible some error was made in transcription. One exception is the serial number which was verified and proved in each case. Some might find it surprising to learn that more than one person may have had the same serial number. If you don't believe it just check our serial number 14210054. There were others.

From the AAD at the National Archives one can display or print an individual persons records containing the field titles, code values, and code meanings. What is considered applicable and reliable has been included in the AAFA displays of the record. The original plan called for the inclusion of the civilian occupation but after seeing some of them range from toolroom keeper to surgical technician; cooks helper to parachute jumper or dog trainer; baker to radio engineer; barber to attorney; seaman to embalmer; and painter to station agent it was thought that many were too ambiguous and we did not want to draw a line on them. "Terms of enlistment" were sometimes vague and since most folks, of the time at least, knew that most were in for "the duration and six months" that data element is not in the AAFA display. One data element which is of questionable use to AAFA, but was left in is "Source of Army Personnel" which in most cases is from civilian life. A few came from the National Guard, Enlisted Reserves or recently discharged enlisted personnel. The Archives concluded that the height and weight data was so ambiguous and misleading that they do not even include it in their output.

www.ancestry.com acquired this data base from the National Archives and makes the information available by subscription. Working with both files the compiler has noted that there are differences in the files. There are names in the Archives file not found in the ancestry file. In at least one Alford case the persons first and last names were transposed. The data display offered by www.ancestry.com is smaller than that at the Archives but they do include the questionable height and weight data. The compiler of this data has worked one file against the other on an individual name by name basis.

AAFA will be reporting the data on a state by state basis in state groups.. Since any one subjects record may involve three states: birth, residence, and enlistment, some names will appear in more than one report. There is only one record in the AAFA data base, but filtering and selection will apply them as best suits the AAFA need.

The standard AAFA report format puts all the information on two lines. The first line includes the name and personal information. The second line shows, when available, the military information.

Please understand that there is no relationship between this WW II Enlistment File and the military records on file at the National Military Personnel Records Center (NMPRC) in St. Louis. While the compiler had no record in the enlistment cards he did receive over 175 pages (FREE) when he requested a copy of his record from NMPRC. The veteran or the next of kin can request these and everyone involved should do so. It can be done on line or by submitting Standard Form 180. The form may be downloaded from our web site


Send your Standard From 180 to:
National Personnel Records Center
Military Personnel Records
9700 Page Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63132-5100

Visit the center at http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/ and apply on line.


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