Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Wednesdays with Murray - Sending for Military Records

photo: military records form

I just love filling out forms, don't you? Yeah. I'd rather have a tooth pulled. OK, well maybe it's not quite that bad, but you know what I mean. A few years ago, at the prodding of my sisters and I, my dad finally sent for his military records. And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Almost a year later, the envelope arrived. I was hoping for some confirmation for my dad. He was beginning to feel like he hadn't experienced what he had. He was starting to feel like perhaps he was crazy. Unless you are a veteran, particularly of a war that was so long ago, I think it's really hard to understand. My dad was now suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was plagued with nightmares and flashbacks. Still, he was feeling like maybe he hadn't experienced what he had during the war.

My solution was to send for his military records. When he saw it in writing, it would confirm that he was indeed in the war and was not imagining it. It would validate his feelings and his experience...something we all need. However, when he opened that envelope, that is not what happened.

His records showed that he was in the military, but that's about it. Many important details were left out. There were no medical records, no naval intelligence records, and no mention of the important battles he was a part of. I was disappointed for myself. I really wanted that information to use in my book. But mostly I felt bad for Dad. For him, it validated all the wrong feelings. But we'd done what they said. We'd filled out the forms as asked. I'd printed carefully and made sure every question had an answer. Still, when we received the records, it was as if they barely acknowledged my father was in the war.

A few years passed and recently I learned something helpful. I was on a website called Access Geneology. They have a page on obtaining military records. As I read, I had "lightbulb moment." I read that you must send enough information to help them identify your military records from among the 70 million contained there. 70 million? I don't know what I was thinking, but I definitely wasn't thinking 70 million. Many sites dedicated to help veterans obtain records, recommend the same thing. Be specific.

So this time, we are sending the same form, but with one significant change. On line two there is a space that says, "Other information and/or documents requested." Instead of trying to fit in everything on those two and a half lines, I will be attaching a type-written letter, which will include specifics about where my father was and when. Names, dates, and anything else that makes your record stand out from among 70 million is what's important. It's important to remember that the person opening your records request, knows nothing about you unless you tell them. If you are requesting medical records, include anything and everything you remember about your health care while in the military. Don't forget to request optical, dental, psychiatric, and any others you want copies of.

I am hoping that this time around, we will get a more accurate and more comprehensive look at my father's time in the service. But most of all, I hope that it will give my dad some peace of mind. The hardest part is the waiting. But time passes no matter what you do or don't do. ~Karen


Jerry Waxler said...

Hi Karen,

I love this article about trying to help your dad sort out his past. I love the way I can feel your dad's emotions, and your hope to help him reconnect. And you use all this experience to support and inform others in a similar situation. It's a perfect example of what is wonderful about the blogosphere. Thanks for letting me share these moments with you, your dad and sister, and your other readers.


Karen L. Alaniz said...

Thanks Jerry- Well, as I said, the hardest part is the waiting. I think it's best to just forget you've sent it all in, if that's possible. I just hope that this time we get far more than we did the last time. Thanks for the comment. ~Karen