July 3, 2014, QUANTICO MARINE CORPS BASE, Va. – Family members of Marines who were wounded, killed, deemed a prisoner of war or missing during past wars can now access their loved ones’ casualty card using the Marine Corps History Division’s new online database.
Each casualty card lists the military member’s unit, service number, type of casualty and date of death. Currently, there are digitized casualty cards for World War II, Interwar period 1946-50, and for war dogs, trained military dogs that served in combat. Korean War cards are scheduled to be complete and released this summer and Vietnam in the fall.
Annette Amerman, senior reference historian at the Historical Reference Branch aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, said their goal was to increase patron use and preserve the historic cards, which have been disintegrating throughout the years. It’s an advancement the branch has been wanting for years but previously, with lack of funding and manpower, Amerman said, it became an impossible feat. However, Headquarters Records Management Office approved and funded a contract to digitize the files last fall.
“We’ve wanted to do something to preserve them for years,” Amerman said. “With this enhancement, it shows we are still maintaining our stewardship Marines’ information. Although you can find some of this information elsewhere, the casualty cards follow [Marines] all the way through their entire time of service.”
So far, more than 100,000 cards have been manually processed.
Previously, family members had to call or email the Historical Reference Branch to request a casualty card that would then be scanned and emailed or mailed to them. Although these cards contain exhaustive information explaining explicit details about the Marine’s cause of death, Amerman said the department decided to omit that information online to maintain the dignity and honor of those Marines. Therefore, full versions of the cards will be released upon request, on a case-by-case basis.
“What if you didn’t know something terrible happened to your grandpa, you just knew he died at war and you see the graphic details on there — it could be disturbing,” Amerman said. “We would rather talk to them, with the card in hand and brace them for something terrible like a decapitation or horrible accident.”
For historians, the thousands of tattered casualty cards that sit in file cabinets lining the Historical Reference Branch’s office are more than just artifacts of the Corps’ past.
“We treat these cards as if they are the Marines because they are,” Amerman said. “It could be somebody’s father or brother.”
To access the online database, visit www.mcu.usmc.mil/historydivision/Pages/Frequently_Requested/Casualty-Databases.aspx or to request a copy of the original card, send an email to email@example.com.