Has it been years since you served in the military?
Or, has your service ended just recently?
Perhaps you’ve just joined the military and feel compelled to document your experience.
Either way telling your story about your military service is important to your legacy.
Why Collect Your Military History Records?
Each person’s experience in the military is unique, including yours. And your experiences are important to document. No matter your rank or time or place of service, your story is a small part of a larger story and a part of our nation’s history. It is important to tell your military story in order to fully develop your life story.
Don’t underestimate the value of your stories. You have traveled a great journey, and you have lots to share. Your story also serves as a historical record. Technology changes, strategies change, and politics change. So, your perspective about the state of things during your service will be important to look back on many years from now.
Wherever you are in your military service, your military records will be important to preserve—both for you and for future generations. Many children become more interested in their parent’s military history as they get older. But a funny thing happens… your grandchildren and great-grandchildren become more interested, respectively. As years go by, people tend to be more interested in the previous generations of their family, especially if it is someone they never met.
How to Get Your Military History Records
If you don’t already have your military history records assembled, or if you are looking for the military records of a family member, alive or deceased, you’ll need to contact the National Archives. Many military records, from photos to documents to searchable databases are available through their website to veterans, their families, and researchers. The National Archives has tools available on their homepage to dig through military records plus several links to archival databases.
You may need some of the following information in your research.
- The Veteran's complete name used while in service
- Service number
- Social security number
- Branch of service
- Dates of service
- Date and place of birth
- Place of discharge
- Last unit of assignment
- Place of entry into the service
Note that veterans' military service records and medical records are not available online. However, veterans and next-of-kin can order copies of these records. All requests must be submitted in writing, and signed and dated by the veteran or next-of-kin. If you are the next of kin of a deceased veteran, you must provide proof of death of the veteran, such as a copy of their death certificate, a letter from a funeral home, or a published obituary.
It may take a while for your request to be processed, so be patient. So many people request documents every day that requests can get backed up. Just be friendly and your request will get processed as quickly as possible.
Collecting Your Military Medals & Ribbons
You’ll want to properly preserve your military medals and ribbons to prevent them from becoming discolored and brittle over time. First be sure to take a picture of your awards. You can take individual pictures of each award, take a group photo, or do both.
You may also want to consider purchasing a shadow box and having your awards professionally mounted and preserved. A good shadow box should come with UV-protectant glass.
How to Organize Your Military History Records
Depending on your level of service or time in service, you may want to organize your military history in different ways. You may wish to create several sections arranged by assignment, rank, deployments to conflicts or other significant periods of your service.
You may also want to provide copies of your military history to the following people and/or places.
- Other relatives
- Your local library
- The National Archives
- American War Library
- Historical preservation society or organization
- Military movie screenwriters
- Independent military historians
- The History Channel
- History professors
- Military Academies
You can also scan your written history in pdf format and send a CD to The American War Library. Your history will be listed in your personal, online military file, and it can be downloaded by anyone, anytime.
What to Write About…
For some, it may be difficult to decide where to start. Like any history, it’s important just to start. Don’t worry about getting everything right initially or writing in chronological order. Just get your thoughts on paper. The organization and filling in the blanks will come later.
Think about why you joined the military in the first place. What was your motivation? What were you hoping to gain? Did you get something out of military life that you weren’t expecting? Did your service have an impact that you didn’t foresee?
Here are some other ideas you may want to write about.
- People you served with
- Bonding with other soldiers
- Where you served
- Daily life in the military
- Overseas service
- Wartime/combat service
- Experiencing other cultures
- How your family survived at home
- How you kept in touch with family
- What it means to be a patriot
- How your town changed while you were gone
- Getting back to civilian life
You may also want to write about your life before and after the military. Often, one’s military experience can have a profound impact on who they are and the person they become.
If you have difficulty writing about yourself, you may want to think about preserving your experiences for history. You can make your recollections more about your country’s history than about yourself.
Add a Timeline of Your Military History & Service
Creating a timeline may sound daunting, but it’s simple. Documenting your military service with a timeline can add a nice visual representation of your period in the military.
Creating a timeline of your military service serves several purposes.
- Presenting a chronological sequence of your military service
- Enabling the reader to quickly understand how each event might impact another event in time
- Providing a snapshot of time, people, and events
In addition, there are many programs and software available online that will help you create an organized timeline documenting important dates and events during your service.
Whichever method you choose to record your military history or the military history of a relative, know that what you’re doing is important. And someone, perhaps now or many years from now, will be grateful that you took the time to tell your story.
Sadly, the story of most people's life will die along with them, including their incredible stories from their military service.
Lastly.com enables you to easily capture the stories and special moments throughout your life (or that of a loved one) so that you will be remembered and cherished by future generations. Get started today!