- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I am the granddaughter of a World War II veteran prisoner of war. My grandfather, James H., is still alive and lives in Maryland. He is 85 years old. I am currently writing a book about his story.

I discovered his records were burned in a St. Louis fire years ago and there is no record of him needing a few of his medals. My family has tried many times to receive help, but frankly I don’t know where to turn since they came up empty.

The only record he has now is from [his] own mouth, and of course his scars. But apparently more is needed. I’m afraid he won’t be around much longer and would like to expedite this process so he can receive all that he has rightfully earned. Could you be of any help?

Thank you,

LaWana F.

via the Internet

Dear LaWana:

Seeking information on a living veteran is normally restricted to the veteran himself, unless deemed incompetent; likewise, the next of kin may secure information on their deceased veteran. Others must present valid reasons for such requests. These actions rightfully ensure the right of privacy for veterans and their family members.

Because your grandfather is alive, I would suggest you first assist him in the use of a new Internet tool to request military record information. A number of records that had been lost have recently been retrieved.

The “St. Louis fire” answer should not stop your inquiry. Go to www.vetrecs.archives.gov and proceed on the home page to the link to “Request Military Records.” Follow the process, completing any and all remembered information as requested. Ask for a new copy of his DD Form 214.

You mentioned that your grandfather had scars. Were these related to military service? Does he receive a service-connected disability payment from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)? Had he ever used the GI Bill for education benefits? Did he ever purchase a home through the VA home loan guaranty program?

I ask these questions as any of these benefit programs would have required documentation to include his DD Form 214, the discharge certificate. That form does reflect his military service, training, specialty code and all awards and decorations received. That form also would be a matter of record in the VA system.

Your grandfather should provide as much of the following information as possible: full name, date of birth, branch of services, dates of service, Social Security number and service identification number.

Shaft notes

The Sarge was pleased to attend this year’s Amvets Silver Helmet Banquet. Amvets presented five exceptional persons from across the country the organization’s highest award for making a difference in the lives of their fellow Americans and veterans in particular.

The 2005 recipients were Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, New York Republican; Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White; Jim W. Delgado, former director of the VA Voluntary Services Office; entertainer Wayne Newton; and Lyle Usgaard, an Amvets member in North Dakota.

The honorees received the Amvets Silver Helmet Award, a replica of the World War II GI helmet, which has acquired a well-deserved reputation over the past 50 years as the most prestigious of all veterans’ organization awards and is now known as the “Veterans Oscar.”

Mr. Newton, a popular entertainer and chairman of the United Service Organizations Celebrity Circle, received the prestigious Americanism Award for leading the charge to entertain America’s military men and women, both here and overseas.

Mr. Delgado, who directed the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Voluntary Service Office for more than 13 years, received the Civil Servant of the Year Award. He is credited with achieving a 36 percent increase in the VA’s volunteers.

Mr. Reynolds received the Congressional Award for his reputation as a champion of veterans’ issues, repeatedly siding with military men and women on issues that affect everything from their pocketbooks to their health and retirement benefits.

The Special Award was presented to Mr. White, the Illinois secretary of state who has been an advocate of veterans throughout his 30-year career in public service. He formed a veterans advisory committee upon his election in 1998 and set up a special program to assist homeless veterans.

Amvets’ Member of the Year Award went to Mr. Usgaard, a 24-year member of Amvets Post 7 in Fargo, N.D., who has worked as a volunteer at the VA hospital in Fargo and for other organizations, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association, since his retirement in 1992. The U.S. Navy veteran worked as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service for 31 years.

Amvets has been a leader since 1944 in preserving the freedoms secured by America’s armed forces.

• Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail [email protected]bavf.org.

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