Are you watching The Vietnam War—the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary now airing on PBS? It premiered Sunday night with the first of 10 episodes. Watch nightly at 8/7 Central.
I missed the premiere, so I’m watching it online (you can watch the first five episodes of The Vietnam War here) to learn more about this conflict my parents witnessed and my dad served in.
I researched my dad’s service with the 14th Combat Engineer Battalion while working on our guide to learning about your relative’s Vietnam War service. You can read the guide in the September 2017 Family Tree Magazine and here on our website. (Everyone can view a limited number of Premium articles for free, or become a Premium member for total access.)
My dad was “in country” for about a year in 1968-69. His dad passed away near the end of his tour, so he was sent home a bit early. When I was a kid, he told me he built bridges and they’d get blown up, and he’d build them again. More recently, he asked me for help finding photos of the fire support bases he was on.
Tips for Researching Vietnam War Service
These are some of my steps in researching his service:
- I sent to the National Archives’ National Personnel Records Center for my dad’s DD 214, or discharge document. It has basic info including when he entered and left service, and rank at entry and discharge. Veterans and their next of kin can request their military personnel records at no charge.
- I wanted to know more, so I requested Dad’s Official Military Personnel File. The envelope arrived after the research guide came out. It held a discharge order from the US Army Reserves (to which he’d been transferred after arriving home); his enlistment record from 1964; certificates for various training courses; and a record of assignments. This was the detail I wanted.
- Remember how Dad wanted to find pictures of the bases where he was stationed in Vietnam? Subscription military records site Fold3 has a free collection of photos in its Vietnam records collection, so I searched for the base and battalion names. This one is from a 14th Engineers’ construction project.
- Fold3 also has a Vietnam Service Awards collection, with memos recommending units and individuals for service, as well as the virtual Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
- The Vietnam War Senior Producer Sarah Botstein told me about Texas Tech University’s Virtual Vietnam Archive of more than 4 million pages of scanned documents. They include after-action or “lessons learned” reports, news articles, maps, memoirs and more.
The Vietnam War website has resources for veterans and historical researchers, and you can share your family’s story and photos online. Here’s our full Vietnam War research guide, with additional help finding records, photos and more.