Electronic Records of Korean and Vietnam Conflict Casualties
Spring 2000, Vol. 32, No. 1 | Genealogy Notes
By Theodore J. Hull
U.S. involvement in the conflict on the Korean peninsula began fifty years ago, after the Communist invasion of June 1950. Almost twenty-five years later, the North Vietnamese stormed the U.S. embassy in Saigon, officially ending our involvement in the conflict in Southeast Asia. Between those two landmark events, over ninety thousand U.S. military personnel died in service to their country while serving in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. Among electronic records holdings in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) are the records of those heroic individuals, available to all who are interested in knowing some details of their ultimate sacrifice. Researchers are interested in these records for a variety of reasons. They may be individuals seeking to determine the fate of a comrade-in-arms or document their own experience of traumatic stress. They may be family members wanting to understand more about a loved one's final demise, local committees compiling lists of names for a memorialization effort, or government agencies and veterans service organizations seeking to compile lists of casualties to better serve their constituents. Increasingly, especially as the span of time increases and these conflicts become part of a more distant past, genealogists are making use of these records to document the end of military service for one of their ancestors.
Among the online resources available to genealogists are the state casualty list extracts generated from two electronic records files in NARA's custody. These files, known as the Korean Conflict Casualty File (KCCF), 1950-1957, and [Southeast Asia] Combat Area Casualties Current File (CACCF) in the Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD, Record Group 330), may be found at the NARA web site online The practice of publishing casualty lists derives from a long tradition of honoring the war dead. Many local communities have asked the Office of the Secretary of Defense for listings of casualties geared directly toward their specific memorialization efforts. NARA holds the published listings from World War I and World War II, and when we received the initial transfer of the [Southeast Asia] Combat Area Casualties Data Base (CACDB), from which the CACCF is generated, we also assumed responsibility for creating state list extracts from that file. One of the most notable examples of the use of casualty records for memorialization was the compilation of the names that appear on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial ("The Wall") in Washington, D.C.
In the late 1970s, OSD compiled the KCCF database from records supplied by each of the military services. While details of the exact origins of the KCCF are sketchy, the impetus for its creation grew out of an apparent demand for lists of Korean casualties for memorialization purposes. NARA received the KCCF from OSD in 1980 and generated state list extracts of records for Korean conflict casualties.
Reviewing the names in the state list extracts of the KCCF or CACCF is often the first step on a journey to discover more about an individual casualty of the Korean or Vietnam conflict. Because the state lists were created to meet the needs of those building memorials, they contain only selected fields from the entire databases. The KCCF and CACCF are electronic "data files." This means that the information in the records is recorded in a regular, predictable, "fielded" format in a computer-processible file. Therefore, creation of the state list extracts is a matter of retrieving only those fields, or "data elements," believed to be necessary for the task at hand, converting certain fields from a coded format to a human-readable format, and generating the desired output. One of the common characteristics of electronic records data files is that certain fields contain coded information in a standardized format. Data are coded for a variety of reasons, such as to conserve computer storage "space," to utilize a standardized code authority file to reduce data entry errors, and to allow for quantitative analysis. For example, a coded field familiar to many readers is the U.S. Postal Service abbreviation for state names; the standardized code for Maryland is "MD." To make such fields "human-readable," a computer programmer using some software package instructs the computer to convert the coded information to represent the actual value of that field. A programmer can also instruct the computer to generate lists that show only selected fields, sort the records on any of the selected fields, and generate printed lists or other computer outputs. It is precisely this process that is used to generate the KCCF and CACCF state list extracts.
Therefore, each state casualty list incorporates selected data elements for all deceased casualties grouped by state "home of record" as identified by the serviceman or woman upon last entrance into military service. "Home of record" does not necessarily refer to the place of birth, residence of next of kin, place of longest residence, or other common uses of the term "hometown." In the Korean data file, the army used the county as the "home of record," while the air force, navy, and marines used the city or town. In the Vietnam-era data file, the "home of record" is city/town for all services.
The casualty state lists contain the following fields for each casualty: name, rank or grade, branch of service, home of record, date of casualty, date of birth (Vietnam only), and category of casualty. The state lists are sorted in two ways: alphabetically by last name or alphabetically by "home of record." Both versions of the lists are available online via the NARA home page. Those who cannot access the Internet or who would rather receive printed versions may purchase copies for a cost-recovery fee. Contact the Center for Electronic Records reference staff to request a price quotation.
As mentioned earlier, the state list extracts can be a valuable starting point for a genealogist. The KCCF and CACCF full records provide a more complete picture of a serviceperson's demise and, when coupled with additional records, can add tremendously to a genealogist's understanding of an ancestor's military service. Researchers can request printouts of an individual's "full" record from the Center's reference staff. The full record includes the individual's service/Social Security number, which can be used to access other records related to the individual such as the military personnel file, potentially available from the National Military Personnel Records Center.
Staff of the Center for Electronic Records have developed a software application that can be used to generate a formatted printout of an individual record or selected sets of records based on well-defined search criteria. These printouts show the original value of the coded field and the translation of that code to a human-readable format. Full printouts of the KCCF and CACCF, sorted on any of up to three fields in the records, are also available for a cost-recovery fee. Finally, copies of the KCCF and CACCF files can be made available to researchers in an electronic format on CD-ROM, 9-track tape, or 3480-class tape cartridge, for a cost-recovery fee.
The KCCF electronic records data file contains selected descriptive data about U.S. military personnel who died by hostile means as a result of combat duty in the Korean conflict. There is one record for each individual-33,642 in all. The dates of death range from 1950 to 1957. Access to the records in the file is completely open. In the case of the KCCF full records, information potentially available about each casualty includes: military service branch, country of casualty (always Korea), casualty group, file reference number, name of casualty, [record] processing date, service number, military grade or rank, pay grade, date of casualty, service component, home of record (place and state), birth date (year only for most records), cause of casualty, aircraft involvement (air/non-air casualty), race, sex (all are male), and citizenship. The majority of the records have no meaningful data in the "cause of casualty" or "air/non-air casualty" variable.
The CACCF data file contains records with final data on U.S. military personnel who died as a result of hostilities (killed in action, died from wounds, died while missing, or died while captured) or other causes (died from illness or injury, non-hostile; died from other non-hostile causes; died while missing, non-hostile) in Cambodia, Communist China, Laos, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, or Thailand during the conflict in Southeast Asia. Access to the final records of deceased casualties is completely open. The data file was created by the Comptroller of the Office of the Secretary of Defense by a directive of January 20, 1967. Responsibility for continuing maintenance was transferred in 1973 to the Directorate for Information Operations and Reports (DIOR), Washington Headquarters Services, a field activity of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. DIOR inputs casualty records into the CACCF on the basis of a formal Report of Casualty (DD Form 1300). The DD Form 1300 originates with the casualty office of the branch of service of the deceased serviceman or woman. This data file continues to be maintained by DIOR, and staff there add, delete, or revise records as new information is received from the casualty offices of each of the military service branches.
Records in the current file (CACCF) are an extract from a larger database known as the Combat Area Casualties File (CACF), also known as Combat Area Casualties Data Base (CACDB); CACDB is the original designation for the project (see DoD Directive 7730.22, March 20, 1973). The CACF contains final and nonfinal records for those who died or were declared dead and records for those who returned alive to military control. NARA received ten transfers of the CACF between August 1980 and May 1986. Beginning in June 1988, DoD began transferring separate Current (final records), History (nonfinal records), and Returned Alive files. The most recent version of the CACCF processed into NARA's holdings came in December 1998. In that version, there is one data record for each individual, 58,193 in all. Dates of death range from 1956 to 1998.
CACCF full records contain military service branch, country of casualty, type of casualty, file reference number, name of casualty, [record] processing date, service or Social Security number, military grade, pay grade, date of death, home of record (city and state), military occupation code, birth date, reason (cause of casualty), aircraft involvement (air/non-air casualty), race, religion, length of service, marital status, sex, citizenship status, posthumous promotion, date Southeast Asian tour began (date missing or captured in some records), final record code, body status, service component, a thirty-one-character comments field, and province (of casualty).
Companion records to the KCCF and CACCF files are also available. NARA has in its holdings electronic records data files of U.S. Army casualties from the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, both deceased and wounded. These files are known as the [U.S. Army] Korean War Casualty File (TAGOKOR), 1950-1953 and the [U.S. Army] Casualty Information System (TAGCEN), 1961-1981, in the Records of the Adjutant General's Office (Record Group 407). The TAGOKOR and TAGCEN files contain similar information about individual casualties as that in the KCCF and CACCF files with some notable exceptions. For example, the U.S. Army files identify the organization with which any individual was associated. In the case of the TAGOKOR file, that unit identifier (specifically the Troop Program Sequence Number) will identify the U.S. Army organization down to a fairly detailed level. In TAGCEN, the unit identifier is at the major organization, or division, level. Therefore, genealogists or other researchers interested in obtaining records of a unit in which an individual served can use the casualty records to narrow that search.
Another significant difference between the OSD and U.S. Army casualty records is that the army files include records of the wounded. There are 109,975 records in TAGOKOR. According to an analysis of the records on the basis of the codes for the variable "casualty type," 27,727 are records for army personnel who died, and 82,248 are records of nonfatal army casualties. Access to all records in TAGOKOR is completely open. The TAGOKOR records for deceased casualties are coded to indicate 25,308 hostile casualties and 2,419 non-hostile casualties. KCCF includes only records of hostile, or battle-related, casualties. On the other hand, TAGCEN was developed to centralize information on casualties (deceased and wounded) of U.S. Army personnel and their dependents, worldwide, during the period 1961-1981. There are a total of 293,858 records in TAGCEN; numerous duplicate and incomplete records are included in the file. Records that identify surviving casualties are not released to the public, except to the named individual or if proof of death is provided by the requestor. The records of wounded casualties are not considered complete, and many of the fields are blank in the records of the deceased. These records have not been actively maintained and thus reflect information available to the army no later than 1981, when these records were transferred to NARA.
As in the case of the KCCF and CACCF records, NARA will provide researchers with formatted printouts of individual records or multiple records contained in TAGOKOR and TAGCEN based on specific search criteria. In addition, copies of the full TAGOKOR file and a "public use" version of the TAGCEN file are available in an electronic format.
Finally, NARA has a number of other electronic records data files of potential interest to genealogical researchers. These include the World War II Prisoners of War Punchcards (thirteen electronic records files) in the Records of the Office of the Provost Marshal General (Record Group 389); Repatriated Korean Conflict Prisoners of War File in the Records of the Veterans Administration (Record Group 15); Index to Returned or Exchanged Captured American Prisoners-Korea-Phase III, Interrogation Reports, in the Records of the Army Staff (Record Group 319); and public use versions of the [Southeast Asia] Combat Area Casualties History and Returned Alive Files in the Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Record Group 330). Another electronic records data file with records of individuals open to contemporary genealogical researchers is the Data from War Relocation Authority Form 26: Evacuee Summary Data ("Locator Index") in the Records of the War Relocation Authority (Record Group 210). #online">Descriptions of these holdings may be found on the NARA web site or upon request from the Center for Electronic Records reference staff.
Genealogists interested in learning more about ancestors who died in service to their country during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, or who were prisoners of war from World War II through the Vietnam conflict, should look to NARA's electronic records holdings as a source for such documentary materials. The online casualty state list extracts, readily accessible on NARA's home page, are only a first step on the path to discovering other records potentially of use to your records search.