Researching USMC legal records for Vietnam
Department of Law
United States Military Academy
It’s not that anyone is being difficult or obstructionist. Most people just don’t know about the information you seek or, if they know, don’t know how to go about retrieving it. I only know because the Marine Corps tasked me with writing an official history (“Marines and Military Law in Vietnam”) that required my locating many court martial records.
Getting to those records that still exist is a trick, as well. The records are in government storage in Suitland, Maryland. To get to a particular file – record of court martial – you need the name of the accused, then a court martial number (e.g., 71-3760), then a written request for that numbered record.
The names of the accuseds whose records of trial were received by the Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) – hundreds every year – are contained in large books, one book for each year. Accordingly, you should know the date of the conviction so you can look in the correct annual book. If the conviction was in November or December, it may well be in the book for the following year, since it takes a while for the record to make its way to Washington.
Court martial numbers are on file in the Navy JAG’s office in the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. Usually, you have to hand-check their record of cases and find the name you’re looking for, which will have the case number beside that name. Then you fill out the request form asking for the record to be pulled from storage in Suitland. A week or so later you return to see if your record was found, or if it’s missing. If you’re lucky, you get your record. Then you can look it over there in the office. You can’t take it away.
I’m sorry I can’t be more reassuring. If you have a name and can say what year they were convicted, there’s a chance you can get the records. But you’d probably have to go to Washington for a couple of weeks to do it. And then you never know if you’ll be successful.
My advice pertains only to Navy and Marine courts martial. That’s probably obvious, but just in case… I don’t know where to look for Army or Air Force cases, other than that they’re somewhere in D.C.
Finally, the civilian employees of Navy JAG aren’t used to civilians, even former Marines, searching their files for court martial records. Unless you’re lucky and run into a public servant who doesn’t consider a few minutes assistance a major intrusion, I’m afraid you should be prepared for a lack of enthusiastic cooperation.