Tarawa Marine still MIA, William F. Cowart. Photo from his IDPF and OMPF.
One of the most important files a researcher needs if he or she is investigating the life and death of a soldier, sailor, or Marine who was Killed In Action or died in World War II, is the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF.) If you have never seen an IDPF, you can view examples in the
Research section of my website.
Caution! I have heard from many overseas researchers that when they have the IDPF for their soldier they are researching or whose grave they have adopted, that they have the entire story. This is incorrect. The IDPF provides information on a soldier for one moment in time. It is usually never the entire story as many soldiers were in more units during their overseas service, than the one listed on the IDPF. Please investigate other records to learn the full story about your soldier.
What is the IDPF?
The IDPF is a collection of documents created when a soldier was declared Missing In Action and never recovered or died in the war. When I say a soldier died in the war, it could be he was Killed In Action, died as a POW, or died of wounds. Regardless of how he died, he died while serving. These files contain a wealth of information about a soldier, range from 20 pages to over 100, and include but not limited to the following information:
Location, time, date, and cause of death.
Location, time, date and place of temporary burial. Sometimes this is an isolated grave or unknown location until after the war.
Documents which detail burial, disinterment, final burial information.
Handwritten letters from family members.
Letters from the military, Congressmen, U.S. military organizations to the family.
Maps, search area testimony and documentation if the soldier was recovered from a crash site or not located immediately.
Dental and physical charts and information.
Stateside service training locations and dates.
Myth: Some researchers will tell you a soldier’s Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), also known as the service file, was included in the IDPF. This is incorrect. If your soldier’s file burned in 1973 you will not find a duplicate in his IDPF. Specific details from the OMPF may be included, but not always. It depends on the circumstances of the soldier’s death.
Access of IDPFS:
Currently, the Army Human Resources Command (AHRC) is the records custodian for IDPF’s from WWII through current conflicts. The files are free but take on average, a year or two to receive. There are many reasons for this, and last week I received an update.
There has been a lack of staff the last couple of years taking requests, processing them, and sending out files.
There is a high number of requests for files from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and forward.
Long length of time to scan the files. Last October I was told that all files up to the surname starting with the letter L were scanned. I have not been able to get an answer this month as to where they are in the process now.
Several years ago a researcher could request the file through another agency and within 3-4 months he would receive a photocopy or DVD with the file. As the files changed custody and scanning began, a lot of problems had to be worked out it seems. This has caused a backlog of 1 1/2 years I was told at this point. AHRC believes this will be remedied in the next three months. We will see.
Requests can be sent to the AHRC at Ft. Knox and you must cite FOIA in your request. Provide as much information as you can about your soldier, sailor, or Marine including:
Name (include various spellings if you have seen it misspelled on other military records)
Unit at time of death
Birth date and place, name of next of kin
Your contact information including email address.
When your request is processed, Ft. Knox should send you a letter confirming the request with the usual text of taking up to 48 weeks to receive the file, and a tracking number. If you have not received a confirmation within a month, I would follow-up.
When the file is scanned, an email will be sent to the person requesting the file with a one-time use download code to a governmental file sharing website. Researchers will be able to download the IDPFs from this website.
Please submit requests to:
Department of the Army
US Army Human Resources Command ATTN: AHRC-FOIA 1600 Spearhead Division Avenue, Department 107 Fort Knox KY 40122-5743
If you are looking for World War I death files, the IDPF was called the
Burial File during World War I. The records are similar. Those files are available through the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO.
Sharing your IDPF:
There are many researchers seeking IDPFs and many organizations and foundations which use the files to honor service men and women. One such foundation, the
(Foundation United Adopters American War Graves,) runs the Stichting Verenigde Adoptanten Amerikaanse Oorlogsgraven Fields of Honor Database in the Netherlands. The Fields of Honor Database has a mission to compile information and photographs, in their free online database, for all those buried or listed on the Wall of the Missing at ABMC cemeteries in Margraten, Netherlands, Henri-Chapelle, Belgium, and Ardennes, Belgium. You can help them accomplish this mission by contacting them and sharing your soldier’s information.
Books To Guide Your Research:
If you live in Europe and have adopted a soldier’s grave or his name on the Wall of the Missing, this foundation is also selling my research book,
Faces of War: Researching Your Adopted Soldier.
If you live in the U.S. and need assistance researching, check out my books, Volumes 1 and 2 of
which are the only ones available which teach you step-by-step how to do WWII research. Need more assistance? Stories from the World War II Battlefield, Contact me to discuss a project. I am taking new clients at this time.
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