Finding Aids: Reference Information Paper 90 Part III

Reference Information Paper 90

A Finding Aid to Records Relating to American Prisoners of War and Missing in Action from the Vietnam War Era, 1960-1994

Table of Contents

Part III: Electronic Records

[For more information about the records described in Part III, contact the Center for Electronic Records, National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740. Telephone: 301-837-0470. Email:]

III.1 The Center for Electronic Records of the National Archives holds a large body of records that reflects the prolific use of computers by the military establishment in carrying out operations in Vietnam. Under the auspices of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the military implemented an extensive data collection effort intended to improve the conduct of the conflict. The raw data documented details of casualties, military operations, and pacification programs. With the data in electronic form, analysts performed statistical and quantitative analysis to assess and influence the direction of the conflict. 2 After the conflict ended in the 1970's, various Department of Defense organizations, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Joint Commands, transferred the raw data files to the National Archives. Some of these records include documentary material that has not been transferred to the National Archives in any other format.

III.2 The electronic records described here are a subset of all those held by the National Archives pertaining to the conflict in Southeast Asia. With the exception of the Records of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, these records were selected because they contain specific data about air, ground, and naval incidents and operations in which loss and damage data had been collected. The descriptions herein detail some but not all data elements of a given file. The elements discussed are those that are directly relevant to the POW/MIA topic. Other data files, not described here but in the Center's holdings, may contain data supplementary to the set of files identified below. In this sense, the list that follows may not be an exhaustive list of Vietnam-era files, but it is nonetheless a substantial and comprehensive list.

III.3Several of the data files in the Center for Electronic Records were created by the Department of Defense (DoD) using an early data base management system called the National Military Command System Information Processing System 360 Formatted File System, commonly known as NIPS. The data structure of NIPS files is hierarchical in that each data record is composed of fixed, non-repeating data with one level of subordinating data. Each record is of varying length and is usually organized into the following sets of data elements: a Control Set, in which a unique record identifier is found, such as operations report number; a Fixed Set, containing non-repetitive data; and one or more types of Periodic Sets. Each type of Periodic Set may occur one or more times. For instance, a military incident uniquely identified by an operations report number may have more than one result. Therefore, a Periodic Set named "Results" will occur more than one time in that specific record. In addition, NIPS files can include Variable Sets that appear only when data is present. These sets are usually "Comments" data in a free-text field of variable length.

III.4 Some Vietnam-era files were transferred to the National Archives in the software-dependent NIPS format described above. The Center for Electronic Records has preserved a subset of them in their native format while others the Center has "de-NIPS'd," or reformatted to a zoned-decimal, flat-file format in standard IBM code, EBCDIC. The "de-NIPS'd" files are no longer dependent on the NIPS software with which they were created. Instead, as flat files, users can process and manipulate the files using widely-available software applications. The descriptions that follow identify the files that remain in the NIPS format and those that have been "de-NIPS'd." Additional information about access to the holdings of the Center is available from the Center for Electronic Records, National Archives at College Park (Archives II), 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001.

RG 46 Records of the United States Senate


  • Records of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs


    Note: Access to electronic records from the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs should be arranged through the Center for Legislative Archives.

    III.5 The Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs created the 102nd Congress Committee Database of Merged Casualty Files from DIOR, DIA and JCLC [sic], as well as several data bases that describe POW/MIA cases that the committee examined. While little or no documentation accompanied these data bases when they were transferred to the National Archives, it appears that the Committee Database of Merged Casualty Files consists of records of individuals identified by DIOR, DIA or JCRC as Missing In Action or Prisoner of War. The data elements of the file include name, date of birth, identification number, type and place of casualty, and casualty status of the individual. Some data elements, specifically, name and identification numbers, of the Committee Database have been identified as restricted for personal privacy considerations under the terms of the McCain Bill, Public Law 102-190, Section 1082. A public use version of the Database in which those data elements are masked can be obtained.

    III.6 In addition to the Committee Database of Merged Casualty Files, the Center for Electronic Records holds 46 of the committee's data bases that document the POW/MIA cases examined by the Committee. Some of the data bases appear to be duplicates; the remainder have varied file structures and data elements that include case number, date and location of sighting, source and status of sighting, and name of individual. Some data bases contain information that may be withheld for reasons of national security or personal privacy. The files range in size from eleven records to over 1,900 records. In addition to the databases, the Committee transferred several word processing files and Lotus files. The word processing files have been printed out and are now available in textual form in NARA's Center for Legislative Archives. The Lotus files, one created with Lotus 1-2-3 and six with Lotus Agenda, are currently preserved in their native format.

RG 218 Records of the U.S Joint Chiefs of Staff

  • III.7 The Combat Air Summary and Detail Files (OPREA), 1961-73, consisting of one summary data file and two detail data files, describe both combat and noncombat air operations over Southeast Asia. In total, over 800,000 missions are described. The file was created by the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from field data sent by Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). Data elements include date of the mission; function, location, and identification of the mission; type and number of aircraft involved; and loss and damage data about aircraft and crew. Each OPREA data file has been "de-NIPS'd."

    III.8 The Combat Air Activities File (CACTA) contains data from combat air missions in Southeast Asia, involving all the U.S. military services and the air force of South Vietnam. The file, designed to support the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, received field data inputs primarily from the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Command. The "file" consists of 32 data files, each of which records information on the missions in a two-month period. The records describe air missions that flew between October 1965 and December 1970. No known data exists for November 1967. In 1971, the CACTA file was superseded by the Southeast Asia Data Base (SEADAB), described below. Each CACTA record contains data elements similar to those in the OPREA file. Included are mission name and date; function and location of the mission; type, number, and identification of aircraft; results of the mission, including loss and damage data about aircraft and crew; and free-text comments. Records also contain target and load data, as well as data about enemy attacks and defenses. Currently, all 32 data files are processed and preserved in the software-dependent NIPS format, while some have been preserved in the "de-NIPS'd" format.

    III.9 The Southeast Asia Data Base (SEADAB) is a chronological series of records that describe combat air missions involving all the U.S. military services, as well as those of the air forces of Vietnam, Laos, and Korea during the period January 1970 to June 1975. The file contains approximately 2.5 million records, providing data such as mission date and number; data about the mission as it was planned; data about the mission as it was actually flown; deviation data; target and load data; and loss and damage data. Like the OPREA and CACTA files, the SEADAB files originally were created using the NIPS data management system. To date, 21 data files of SEADAB are preserved in the software-dependent NIPS format, while preservation of the "de-NIPS'd" version is underway.

    III.10 Each record in the Combat Naval Gunfire Support File (CONGA) represents a naval gunfire support mission, from March 1966 to January 1973. The records include data about each mission such as date, time, and location; ship unit identification; target data; ordnance expended; aircraft involved; and loss and damage data about enemy and friendly forces. The file comprises one data file with approximately 289,000 records. Like several other Vietnam-related files discussed here, CONGA was originally coded in NIPS and has since been "de-NIPS'd". The Center currently maintains both the NIPS and "de-NIPS'd" versions of the data.

    III.11 The Naval Surveillance Activities File (NAVSA), February 1966-December 1972, contains weekly information about surveillance activities conducted by the U.S. Navy along the coast of South Vietnam to blockade enemy infiltration of troops and supplies. NAVSA was created by the OJCS from field data sent from MACV. The file consists of data about the vessels encountered; ships and aircraft involved; surveillance area; and loss and damage data. The NAVSA data file contains several thousand records, all of which have been processed and preserved in the original NIPSformat as well as in the "de-NIPS'd" format.

    III.12 The Situation Report Army File (SITRA) documents ground combat operations and incidents in South Vietnam and their outcomes from 1966 to 1973, as reported by MACV in the textual operations reports (OPREPs). The records, totalling about 1.5 million, describe time, date, and location of an operation/incident; objective and description of an operation/incident; identification and description of units involved; and loss and damage data about personnel and material. Some records also include summary statistics about enemy-initiated incidents, and propaganda disseminations. The Center has preserved both the NIPS and "de-NIPS'd" versions of the SITRA File, encompassing four data files.

RG 330 Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense

III.13 The [Southeast Asia] Combat Area Casualties Data Base (CACF) was created by the Comptroller of the Office of the Secretary of Defense by directive of January 20, 1967. Responsibility for continuing maintenance was transferred in 1973 to the Directorate for Information, Operations and Reports (DIOR), Office of the Secretary of Defense. The data base contains records with data on U.S. military personnel who died as a result of hostilities or other causes, or were prisoners or missing in action, in Cambodia, Communist China, Laos, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, or Thailand during the conflict in Southeast Asia. At this writing, dates of death of casualties range from 1957 to 1993. In addition to data on military personnel who died or were declared dead, the data base includes records of casualties who returned [alive]. The Office of the Secretary of Defense continues to maintain the CACF, and transfers a copy of revised files to the Center for Electronic Records on an annual basis. [Further information about the CACF database and updates to it is available online.]

III.14 Three separate but related files have been created from the data base: the Current file, History file, and Returned Alive file. The CACF Current file contains 58,174 final records for those who died or were declared dead as a result of the conflict in Southeast Asia, as well as the one casualty coded as "still captured." The CACF History file has 6,651 non-final records for some of the casualties whose record was revised, resulting in the creation of a final record in either the CACF Current or CACF Returned Alive files. Once superseded by a final record, a previous "final" record for an individual was coded as non-final. Thus, a single individual might have several casualty records; all but the most current record is coded as non-final. The final records for 772 U.S. military personnel who returned alive after having been held prisoner or missing in action in Southeast Asia constitute the CACF Returned Alive file. The most recent transfer of the Current and History files occurred in November 1994. The file on casualties returned alive has not been revised since March 1989.

III.15 Each record in each of the CACF files contains personal and military service data about the individual, as well as details about the circumstances of the casualty. Personal identification such as name, birth date, sex, race, religion, marital status, citizenship status, and home of record potentially are recorded. Military service data about the individual may include descriptive information such as pay grade, military grade, service branch, service component, service number, length of service, and file reference number. Casualty data such as type, date of death, location, and cause of casualty, whether the casualty was the result of an air or non-air activity, and whether the body has been recovered may be present as well. Other data as recorded on Form DD-1300, Report of Casualty, submitted by the casualty offices of each of the services, may also be available. Because records in the CACF History and CACF Returned Alive files concern some individuals who may still be alive, the National Archives masks some data elements before releasing these records to the public.

III.16 The Viet Cong-Initiated Incident File (VCIIA) contains data on enemy-initiated incidents that occurred in South Vietnam from January 1963 to April 1971. VCIIA data elements include date and location of incident; description of enemy and friendly elements involved; type, objective, and results of incident, including loss and damage data; and free-text comments. Transaction tapes from the Vietnam Data Base (VNDBA, described below) served as inputs to the VCIIA file. Both the VCIIA and the VNDBA files were two of nine Southeast Asia files incorporated into the Operations Analysis System (OPSANAL). OPSANAL supported studies of probability correlations and statistical validity checks of data pertaining to intelligence and combat operations. The files were used to evaluate the efforts of friendly and enemy forces in South Vietnam. Currently, the VCIIA file remains in the NIPS format.

III.17 The Vietnam Data Base (VNDBA) describes enemy-initiated incidents and friendly operations in Southeast Asia. The VNDBA file was built from raw data sent from the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Command. The data elements of this file are similar to the VCIIA File, but more extensive in description. Contents of the file include name, date, location, and duration of incidents/operations; description of enemy and friendly elements; and type, objective, and results of incidents, including loss and damage data. The incidents recorded in the file date from the period 1963-69, and number well over 93,000. As noted above in the description of VCIIA, the VNDBA file was part of OPSANAL, supporting the evaluation of friendly and enemy forces in South Vietnam. The VNDBA data, originally in NIPS, have been partially processed and reformatted. Currently, three data files spanning the years 1963-65, have been de-NIPS'd. Data for 1966-69, a total of four data files, remain in the NIPS format.

    RG 338 Records of U.S. Army Commands, 1941-

    III.18 The Combat Operations Loss and Expenditure Data Files - Vietnam (COLED-V) were created by the Army Combat Development Command and consist of four series: Ammunition Expenditure Data, End Item Loss Data, Item Name File, and Organization Name File. The entire subgroup is available in six data files. The Ammunition Expenditure Data represent over 900,000 records on U.S. Army actions in which ammunition was expended. Each record identifies the weapons used; types and amount of ammunition used; the unit and major command involved; conditions of the action, such as terrain and weather; and date, type, and intensity of the action. The End Item Loss Data are records on 179,313 items that were lost during combat or non-combat activities, 1968-70. Each record is a unique item identified by Federal stock number and serial or U.S. Army number. The records identify the unit and branch that suffered the loss; the date and location (by Corps Tactical Zone) of the loss; and the cause and conditions of the loss. For losses suffered during combat, the records describe the intensity of the action, and potentially give numbers of personnel killed or wounded. The Item Name File consists of 956 records that capture the full name of items lost or expended by the U.S. Army from 1968-70. Other data elements are model number, item number, and Federal stock number. The Organization Name File has records on 2,393 U.S. Army units that may have had losses in Vietnam, 1968-70. The records identify the branch, subunit, company, major unit, and major command of relevant units.

      RG 341 Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force (Air Staff)

      III.19 The Airlift Operations Files (ALOREP) contain data on operational employment of tactical airlift resources in Southeast Asia and other Pacific Command areas, from October 1966 to April 1972. Three different series of data files make up the ALOREP subgroup: the missions data files, terminal data files, and traffic data files. Each record in the missions data file represents one airlift mission and describes its function, operation and utilization. Data in this file describe, among other things, delayed, diverted, or aborted missions. The terminal data file records describe the traffic flow of one channel of a terminal in a 24-hour period. The traffic data file describes cargo load, type, and amount. The entire ALOREP subgroup is comprised of 89 data files, all of which have been preserved in the NIPS format.

      III.20 The Military Airlift Command Airlift Operations Files (MACAL) contain data on operational employment of all airlift resources under the control of the Military Airlift Command, from October 1968 to March 1972. The data files, like the ALOREP data files, are identified as missions data files, terminal data files, and traffic data files. In each case, they contain the same descriptive information about air operations as in the ALOREP Files. Forty-nine data files make up the MACAL Files. All have been preserved in the NIPS format.

        RG 349 Records of Joint Commands

        III.21 The 1st Marine Division in Vietnam used the Tactical Information Deposit and Retrieval System (TINDERS) to maintain and retrieve data on selected targets and raw intelligence collected by a variety of sources from 1968 to 1971. TINDERS, a redesign of the 1st Marine Division's Fire Support Information System, generated a data file that contains not only target description data but also data about air, naval, and ground incidents that enhanced target intelligence. Data elements pertaining to targets include target location and description; source of target information; date and time of target reporting. Other descriptive data include date and location of selected incidents; ordnance expended in incidents; friendly units involved; and incident results such as targets destroyed, secondary damage, and number of enemy killed. Data relating to aircraft incidents include aircraft mission, number and type of damaged aircraft, intensity of fire, and type of weapons used. Mine and booby trap data consist of number and type of traps, units involved in the booby trap incident, and friendly KIA and WIA in the incident. There are two data files in the TINDERS series, one contains the data described above, totalling 76,594 records; the other is a program data file containing source code.

        III.22 The Integrated Tactical Data Files (ITDF) are a compilation of combat incident data collected by the I Field Force Vietnam (IFFV), 25th Infantry Division, and 4th Infantry Division. The incidents described range from maneuver unit operations to mine and booby trap incidents to ground sensor activation. Each incident recorded includes date and location of incident, action of friendly and enemy units involved, and resultant losses. One ITDF data file contains those incidents recorded by the I Field Force Vietnam; a second data file contains incidents recorded by the 25th and 4th Infantry Divisions. In total, the files describe over 100,000 incidents.

          RG 407 Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1917-

          III.23 The data from the Casualty Information System (TAGCEN) contains 293,858 records of active-duty and non-active duty U.S. Army personnel who died or were declared dead anywhere in the world from 1961 to 1981, and of active-duty personnel who were wounded during the same time period. The data base was developed to centralize information on casualties (deaths and wounded) of U.S. Army personnel, and their dependents, worldwide. For U.S. Army casualties, the TAGCEN records supplement those described in the Combat Area Casualties Data Base in RG 330 in several important ways. The TAGCEN data document casualties worldwide; include records for wounded as well as deceased casualties; may identify the major organization within the Army in which the individual served; and may provide more detail about the circumstances of the casualty. Data that identify the wounded are not released to the public in order to protect the privacy of persons presumed still to be living. [Further information about the TAGCEN file is available online.]


            2. Donald Harrison, "Computers, Electronic Data, and the Vietnam War," Archivaria, 26 (summer 1988), p. 18.

            Note: Compiled by Charles E. Schamel. Published by the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC, 1996.

            Web version prepared 1999. Additions and changes incorporated in the Web version are between brackets [] and in italics.