Using the Internet to Locate Vietnam Veterans

  

The recent proliferation of “social networking” sites (Facebook, etc) has made the process of locating and communicating with others a straightforward process – provided the individual you are searching for is a user of such sites.  The reality is that for many of us who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s Facebook is not in common use. Fortunately there are some other internet alternatives that are fairly simple to use and very effective. The basic approach involves locating a complete name to begin the search, then identifying cities where individuals with that specific name, and in the correct age range live, and finally finding phone/address information for the best leads.

 

The following information is based on experience from thousands of searches for Vietnam veterans over the past fifteen years.  Although there are much more effective and comprehensive search tools available for a fee from a variety of commercial sources, these low cost and free methods are frequently successful and highly recommended prior to moving on to more costly options.

  

In many cases the largest hurdle in locating an individual is simply getting a complete (first, middle initial, last) and correctly spelled name to start with.  Many names have several alternate spellings and this is complicated by the fact that in Vietnam and in the service generally individuals go by last names or nicknames.  The database of VN veterans available through the MilitaryUSA.com (see URL list at the end of this article) is among the best for finding basic information on a veteran who served in SE Asia.  The database can be searched in a last name, first name format and also disaggregated by Branch of service.  Following is an example of the information provided.

 

Name:   DAVIS JAMES R State:   NEW JERSEY
Branch:   ARMY Race:   CAUCASIAN
Rate:   E05 Entered:   670901 
Rank:   SERGEANT Discharged:   690830
MOS:   11B Service Number:
Title:   Infantryman  

 

There are some limitations in terms of the information available from this database. Most importantly it is not complete and though it does include approximately 2,700,000 individuals there are some “holes” in the coverage – especially those with very early tours.  Despite the gaps it is the best such tool available.  Grade/rank information is typically at DEROS and as a result it may be one step or so higher than the recollection of others who served with the individual.  Service number information seems to more consistently be included for USMC than other branches.  Dates are for time in service not time in RVN though the information is a useful indicator of when an individual may have been deployed to RVN since the average Army or Marine infantryman would have arrived approximately 5 to 7 months after entrance in the service assuming normal boot camp ITR/AIT and leave.  Other MOS’s involving additional schooling would be somewhat longer.

 

The MilitaryUSA site does require a small annual access fee (about $50 I believe) but if you will be doing a good deal of searching such as would be required in the process of getting together a reunion for your unit, the cost is well worth the investment. I’d be happy to perform a few searches for you if you are looking for only a few individuals.

 

With the correct name information from the MilitaryUSA site it is then possible to begin searching for telephone/address information using one of the “people find” sites available on the internet.  I’ve found two sites are particularly useful - US Search and DOBSearch (See URL list at the end of this article). These sites, with the input of a specific name provide the city and state and sometimes age of individuals with that name.  They don’t provide (at least without cost) the contact information for those individuals.  The age information is useful since for individuals with relatively common names, a search on Switchboard.com (described below) will likely result in an unwieldy number of potential leads.  The age information, when available, helps to sort results from other sites and allows you to eliminate individuals who are obviously younger or older than what would be expected for RVN service.  The US Search and DOBSearch sites evidently use a variety of information sources (driver’s license, property tax, professional licenses, etc.) in their databases thus it is sometimes able to show individuals who do not appear in other searches.  There seems to be a good deal of duplication in the results on these sites – possibly related to the use of multiple databases in the searches and so it’s necessary sometimes to “strain” the results.

 

Results from these sites often include the names of “associated individuals” (family members or others living with the individual). If a subsequent search for address/phone for the primary individual fails to produce results it’s possible to look for similar information on the associated individuals.

 

Once the location and name of the individual is in hand the next step is to find address/phone information.  I’ve found Switchboard.com  and Whitepages.com (see URL list at the end of this article) to be very effective for this.  Though it is not apparent in the input screen, it is possible to add a middle initial to a search on some sites.  For very common names, this is a major advantage since it substantially reduces the number of leads produced.  Simply type a space and add the middle initial in the same window as the first name.  Switchboard, like most similar sites is based on telephone listings.  As a result it is only capable of locating an individual by their name as it appears in the phone book.  In terms of searching this means that it is necessary to look under all possible versions of an individual’s name.  For example, Michael F Smith may be listed in that form or as Mike Smith, Mike F Smith, M Smith or M F Smith.  I’ve found that folks in the southern US more commonly list their name under initials than in other regions of the country.  Often the telephone listing for an individual located in a search on the US Search or DOBSearch sites (discussed above) will be in a city or town other than (but typically close by) the one shown on the US Search site so having an atlas or mapping site close by is helpful in doing a search.  Many “white pages” type sites offer the option of including the surrounding area in addition to searching in a specific city – a useful tool.  Also it’s not uncommon to find an individual’s information on one site and not the other so when searching for the phone listing try Switchboard if it’s not available Whitepages and vice versa.

 

If it is not possible to locate phone/address information on an individual, one possibility is that the person may be deceased.  To check for this the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a good source of information.  There are many internet portals to this database but I use the Ancestry.com site (see URL list at the end of this article).  The SSDI provides search capabilities for deceased individuals by name and provides dates of birth, death, and last place of residence. Full access to the SSDI requires a subscription to the Ancestry.com site.

 

Since Switchboard.com often does not show results for individuals with unlisted phone numbers an alternate method of locating contact information for an individual (provided they are a property owner) is by accessing county property tax records. Increasingly counties are placing their tax assessor information on line.  These records can usually be searched by last name and provide an address for property owner. To locate the site for a particular county assessor perform a Google search for ________ County Assessor’s office using the name of county in which you suspect the individual resides. Assessor sites have no common format so it may take some searching to locate the specific property database search page.

 

If information is available on the SSN or service number (they became the same in the Army subsequent to about mid ’69 or so) then it may be possible to use the letter forwarding service from VA.  If the Veterans Administration has an individual in their computer system, they will forward a letter from you to that individual. Due to privacy rules they cannot provide you with contact info but they will forward.  The key is to provide them with sufficient information about the individual for them to accurately locate the person in their database.  Two of the keys to this are the individual’s full correctly spelled name and SSN or service number.  Information about the letter forwarding procedure is available from your regional VA office or on VA’s website.

 

Veteran organizations are also sometimes good sources of information.  Many units now have their own web sites with message boards and places to post questions. 

 

Best of luck in your search!

 

Useful Vet Search Internet Sites

 

Military USA - www.militaryusa.com/   

US Search - http://www.ussearch.com/consumer/people-search/directory.do

DOBSearch - http://www.dobsearch.com/people-finder/search-dob.php

Switchbaord.com – people.switchboard.com

Whitepages.com – www.whitepages.com

Ancestry.com SSDI - http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=3693