Lost U.S. Military Records


Official letter concerning Armie Hill’s destroyed military records

An inquirer to this site wrote to me last fall that in his search for military records concerning his father, he had come up short. He explained, “I do have a copy of the SF-180, but since the fire in 1973 his official army records may never be known.”

In 1991, my own father, Armie Hill, learned of that fire when, in response to my family’s urging, he wrote to Congressional representative Toby Roth about possible eligibility for a medal he had not received but might be entitled to—the Silver Star.

When I interviewed my dad about his war experiences in 1976, he had told me that after leaving Camp 59, he and fellow escapee Ben Farley were among the first to reach the Allied line—having traveled some 300 miles from Servigliano through the mountains of central Italy to Termoli in just 31 days.

After transfer from the British forces to the Americans, Armie spoke with the American commander in Taranto:

“He said, ‘Well, we don’t know what to do with you. We’ll fly you back to Tunis when one of our planes goes for supplies.’

“He wrote out an order for us to travel aboard the plane, and we took the next plane out—a large cargo plane. We were the first prisoners of war to escape and to return to safety, so at Tunis they didn’t know what to do with us.

“They said, ‘We don’t know what to do with you. We’ll fly you to Algiers.’ Eisenhower’s headquarters was at Algiers, and other American escaped prisoners of war had been flown directly there. Altogether there were about eight of us. In Algiers, an intelligence officer interrogated us. We were questioned about our escape—how we had escaped and the routes we had taken. Each of the escaped prisoners had taken different routes and arrived in different places.

“The officer told me, ‘I am recommending that you be given a Silver Star medal for bravery in action.’”

Perhaps that recommendation was never written up, or it was rejected—or perhaps it was reduced to ashes in the warehouse fire.

On behalf of the Army’s Personnel Services Division, Lieutenant Colonel J. C. Herbert responded to Representative Roth:

“This replies to your letter pertaining Armie S. Hill.

“The military records of former members of the Army are maintained by the National Personnel Records Center, National Archives and Records Administration, 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri 63132. A major fire occurred at that Center in July 1973 and Mr. Hill’s record was not recovered. Although a number of alternate sources exist which enable that Center to reconstruct the essential facts of military service, these sources do not contain his complete Army service record.

“Decorations such as the Silver Star must be announced by the publication of general orders. A review of Mr. Hill’s reconstructed records failed to identify such orders.

“The time limitations for making recommendations for decorations that recognize service for World War II have expired. However, if Mr. Hill has any documents verifying his entitlement to this award, he should forward them to the U.S. Army Reserve Personnel Center, Attention: DARP-PAS-EAW, 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri 63132-5200.

“In the absence of any documents, I regret that no further action may be taken.”

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