TV producer’s story inspires others to request family records

I received so much great feedback after writing about my coworker, WRAL-TV producer Miranda Dotson, who requested her grandfather’s military records and surprised her father with what she found.

Many of you reached out to tell me that you plan to request your family members’ military records, too.

Jim McElhatton, a reporter at The Washington Times, shared his own experience with me. Last year, he received military records for his late father, who was a pilot in the Navy.

“No medals or war stories, but very proud of what I learned,” Jim told me. He sent me a link to a blog he wrote about his father’s records. It’s very touching, definitely worth reading. Here’s a snippet:

While given high marks as an aviator, “his most valuable asset is his deep concern for the welfare of his men,” one performance review said.

I’d love to know what fascinating things you uncover about your family members. You can reach me on Twitter @RecordsGeek or by email,


TV producer’s records request leads to sweet surprise for dad

Miranda Dotson (left) with her father, John, and sister, Rebecca, and their grandfather's medals.

Miranda Dotson (left) with her father, John, sister, Rebecca, and their grandfather’s medals. (Photo courtesy of the Dotson family)

Journalists spend a lot of time digging up records for stories, but not every request has to be work-related. Have you ever requested a record that’s personal to you? My coworker Miranda Dotson did and has graciously agreed to share her story.

Miranda is a producer at WRAL-TV in Raleigh. Last year, she decided to find out more about her late grandfather, Jack Dotson, who served in the Army in World War II, Korea and North Africa. He retired as a Master Sergeant and passed away in 1998.

She filed a request with the National Archives to see what medals her grandfather received while he was in the military – he was awarded more than a dozen. She was able to order the medals and surprise her dad with them this past weekend as a belated Father’s Day gift.

“Giving my dad the medals went great! He was so overwhelmed to receive them,” Miranda wrote. “We (my sister, Rebecca and I) decided to wrap up the Purple Heart first and have him open it. Then, as he was trying to figure out how we had gotten it, he opened up the box with all the other medals laid out. He was speechless.”

Miranda also learned that her grandfather was in the military police and had received two bronze stars.

Requesting military records can be a little tricky and time-consuming, but as Miranda’s story proves, it is worth the effort. Here’s how Miranda did it:

I looked into requesting medals last year, in August. has a link to request them, and it worked out in my favor that the Army considers eldest grandchild next-of-kin (it’s the only branch that does). So I solicited my mom for help and she sent me the information about my grandfather: birth and death dates, service dates, SSN and military ID#, etc., all without my dad knowing.

The website has an online form you can fill out or you can print out a form and mail the information in. I ended up mailing what I knew. The records department matched my information with my grandfather and sent back a more complete list of medals he was awarded.

I didn’t receive the confirmation that the request was approved until the end of December. It took until April for the medals to actually arrive. There was one medal that he was given by Belgium. The archives department told me I would have to order that either online or at a military surplus store. That was the only award I had to pay for – the rest, from the U.S. government, were re-issued at no cost.

Jack Dotson (Photo courtesy of Dotson family)

Jack Dotson (Photo courtesy of the Dotson family)

Here is the list my grandfather was awarded:

Silver Star
Bronze Star
Purple Heart
Army Commendation Medal
American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Combat Infantryman Badge 1st Award
Expert Badge with Pistol Bar
Army of Occupation of Germany Medal WWI
Korea Defense Service Medal
Belgian Fourragere (issued by Belgium – this is the one I had to find elsewhere)

Do you want to request military records? Here’s how it works:

The National Personnel Records Center holds the historical records of nearly 100 million veterans and responds to more than 1.4 million records requests each year, according to the National Archives. The vast majority of those records are paper-based and not available online. They can be used for things like proving military service or as a tool in genealogical research.

Accessing these records depends on several different factors. Some of the older records are open to the general public and are based on when the veteran separated from the military. Other records are only available to the veterans and their family members. More details are available on the National Archives’ website.