Discussion in 'VMBB General Discussion' started by rooter, Apr 5, 2009.

  1. rooter

    rooter *VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff* Supporting Member

    Jan 31, 2001
    Glendale Arizona
    Thanks to YNCS Don Harribine for sending this. I am forwarding as sent to me.

    The following article is reprinted from the Bay State Veteran Spring Issue of their newsletter written by Richard Levesque, Director, Chief Service Officer, Veterans Benefits Program, Mass. State Council, Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc.


    The DD Form 214/WGO 53 -- A Most Important Document

    He was an elderly World War II Veteran who, after the war, lived the American dream. The house, the two car garage, the kids and 2 and a half dogs behind a white picket fence.

    Time passed, the kids grew up and they grew old. The Veteran retired and that thing that happens to so many retirees in their older years happened to him – he got sick. At age eighty-seven he passed away leaving an elderly wife. This is where our story really begins……..

    The Veteran had told his wife and family many times that he had earned his final honors, flag draped casket, firing squad, and most importantly he wanted to be buried in the National Cemetery in Bourne. The one thing he didn’t do was to give someone in his family his military separation documentation; WGO 53 or as we affectionately call it, the DD 214.

    For your information, the DD 214 as we know it did not come into being until the Korean Conflict (wasn’t a war, remember? Tell my Dad that). The WWII Veterans were given the WGO 53 and it was a negative image (black & white) that carried all the Veterans information like a DD 214 does today. In many cases, on the reverse is the Honorable Discharge certificate.

    In this case, our Veteran never gave one to any one in his family, not even a copy. Although wounded and decorated, he never used the Veterans Administration (VA) for anything. So, when the final arrangements were being made, the wife told the funeral parlor that she wanted his final honors and that she also wanted to respect his wishes that he be buried in the National Cemetery. The funeral parlor asked for his separation documents.

    She didn’t have them. The family went back to the house and looked everywhere for these documents. Nothing. He did not have his papers anywhere in the house that they could find. My office was called and with the information we had we checked with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

    There was no record of his service. We checked with the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri. I called the “special number” we have and spoke with an individual who was apprised of the situation. After checking their records and the records at the National Archives, there was no record of this Veteran.

    They believed that his records were completely consumed in the Great Fire of 1973 at the NPRC and were totally lost. As we have said, there was no record of him with VA at all.

    The Veteran was laid to rest without his flag covering his casket; without his final honors and; without his plot at the National Cemetery. To this day no one has ever found any documentation that he served in the US Military. Proof would have been found at NPRC except for that fire in 1973.

    The Veteran has a brother and sister surviving him and they remember his service, but those statements are insufficient. In my own family we had a similar situation with my father-in-law who was a survivor of Omaha Beach. We never placed his Memorial Stone on his grave.

    At the time of his death, VA was not issuing stones to Veterans who had deceased at that time (1994). We finally applied for is stone. I well remember his WGO 53 but for the life of me we couldn’t find it in the house. I applied to NPRC for a replacement certificate. We were advised that his records had also burned up in the Great Fire of 1973.

    But in my father-in-law’s case, there were a few documents that survived the fire and we were able to get a Certificate of Service from NPRC that satisfied VA and his stone was placed on his grave. We lucked out!

    The lesson: These are not the first situations where the records were misplaced, lost, or burned. And these were not and probably will not be the last time we have problems securing documentation of military service. The lesson is to please make copies of your WWI WGO 53, Honorable Discharge, or your DD 214.

    Don’t put it in a “safe place”. Give it to your spouse or children (or both). These documents are important in many ways. They prove your military service and open the doors to all your final honors. They are the key that gets you into the National Cemetery or even the State Veterans Cemeteries. Without proof of your service, you will not get in.

    Give them to someone. Don’t want to part with the original?? Make copies and give them to your children and your spouse (if living). When the time comes, someone will have that document to give over to the Funeral Home. And don’t procrastinate….do it right away. The Grim Reaper waits for no man.

    Richard Levesque, Chief Service Officer
    Veterans' Benefits Program,
    Massachusetts State Council,
    Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc.