Visiting The National Archives

Guidelines For Researchers

If you want to do research on the 1/69 Armor in Vietnam, you will find a wealth of material at the National Archives And Records Administration in College Park, Maryland. However, you should be aware of the procedures, policies, restrictions, and limitations that exist at the NARA II (NARA I is in Washington, D.C.).

Location and directions

The National Archives and Records Administration II facility is located at 8601 Adelphi Road, in College Park, Md.

From US 495 (Capitol Beltway) take exit 28B, "New Hampshire Avenue" and head south on New Hampshire. Follow signs to make a left turn onto Adelphi Road. Follow signs to turn off for NARA II.

From downtown D.C. take New Hampshire Avenue north to Adelphi Rd.


Ample parking is provided in above ground and covered lots. Ignore signs about reserved spaces. They did away with reserved spaces but left the signs up because they did not have the budget to remove them.


You must register as a researcher. Upon entering the massive building, go directly to the glass fronted room labled "Registration". Use one of the desktop computers to enter your information. This is painless. The software is very intuitive. Process takes under 2 minutes.

Go to the desk and obtain your bar-coded registration card. Do NOT lose this! You need this to get in and out of the secure part of the building. You MUST show a picture ID. If you don't have a driver's license with a picture ID, you'll need a passport. No picture ID, no entry. And they copy the photo.

Leave all papers, books, jackets, umbrellas, computer cases, attache cases, etc., in your car or be prepared to lock them in a storage locker located downstairs from the main floor. You may bring a cell phone, laptop computer (sans case), hand-held scanner. Do NOT bring any papers that have not been registered and stamped.


It came as a shock to me that people steal records from the Archives rather than copy them for ten cents. In the last five years, thefts reached such huge numbers that they instituted rather draconian security procedures. This accounts for your inability to bring anything into the secure part of the building that could be used to smuggle documents out.

Do not bring a notebook, notepad, scrape paper, index cards, or any pens. They will provide specially marked note taking materials so you can get the notes out of the building.

Do not even think about taking anything out of there that you are not 100% authorized to remove. They have more cameras than Steven Spielberg, and apparently a huge amount of the security force is devoted to watching them. Don't even do anything that may appear suspicious, such as going anywhere near an original document with a pen or pencil. Do not violate any of the rules for document handling (keep them flat on the table, do not fold, roll, or otherwise abuse them. Hey, they are priceless, irreplaceable documents). Do not be surprised to see and hear violators being yelled at (they call this counseling). They are as serious as a heart attack about protecting these documents.

Each time you enter and leave the secure area, your registration card is scanned, so they know when you entered and left. Also, each time you obtain documents, badges, or declassification stickers, you must sign them in and out. If anything is missing, or damaged, they go to the last person that signed them out. Make certain that you sign everything in after you are through with it. It is a federal offense (a felony) to remove, deface, mutilate, or otherwise damage these documents. If you see anyone doing this, turn them in. These documents are part of our national heritage.

Getting The Documents

After registration, take the elevator to the second floor. Go through the glass doors to the Textual Reference Section. Make an immediate left, than another left, and obtain a badge at the desk. Tell the NARA employee you wish to go to ROOM 2400, and see Cliff Snyder or Susan Francis. These are the archivists for Vietnam Military Records. You must be escorted to room 2400. The badge you get is only good to get you back out of room 2400, not into it.

Cliff or Susan will give you a quick rundown of procedures and show you the index binders that contain the info you need to fill out the "Reference Service Slip" which will be used to actually obtain the documents. Cliff Snyder is an extremely helpful and courteous person. He is also highly competent and knows an enormous amount about the U.S. Army in Vietnam.

You will probably be told this by Cliff/Susan, but just in case, the 69th Armor material is located under RG #472, Stack Area 270, Row 32, Compartment 11, Shelf 1. You must fill out the "Reference Service Slip" with this information precisely, or you may wind up waiting two-four hours for records that will never show up. These people do not show one whit of initiative. If you do not specify precisely what you want you will not get it.

The 69th Armor material includes Daily Journals (5 boxes, each with a file folder for each month of a given year, maximum 1,000 pages per folder), Sitreps (1 Box), General Orders, and Command Summaries. There are a total of 12 boxes. By far the most informative are the Sitreps and the Daily Journals.

If you want for example, Daily Journals Boxes 1 and 2, you need only file out one "Reference Service Slip". If however, you want boxes 1 and 3 (i.e., the box nunbers are not sequential), you must fill out two "Reference Service Slips".

Note also that the 1/69 was usually OPCON to somebody during the entire war, so many times you must look in records for the 173rd Airborne Brigade, or the 1st Bn (Mech) 50th Infantry. If you want info for periods when the 1/69th (or elements of) was OPCON to 1/50th, you are in luck: the daily journals for the 1st/50th Mech are without doubt the most complete and well written of all I read. The 173rd Daily Journals are useless. Get the DJs for the individual battalions instead (e.g., 1/503). The 1/69 Sitreps and DJs are pretty lame. You will be able to tell when the unit moved from LZ Uplift to the Oasis by the color of the mud on the DJs (no kidding, they are covered in mud).

"Pull times" are at 0930, 1030, 1130, 1330, and 1530. If you miss a pull time you must wait for the next. Nobody will tell you how long it will take to deliver the documents to you. It can vary from one hour, to four hours. During this "down time" there is virtually nothing you can do that is meaningful except go back to room 2400 (don't forget that badge) and look up the next set of documents.

When your documents arrive, nobody will tell you. You must ask them about every 15 minutes, which irritates them, or at most every 30 minutes. Be prepared to waste an enormous amount of valuable time waiting for things at NARA II. After obtaining and signing for the documents, you take them to a work table. You are not permitted to have more than one box on the table at one time, nor can you have more than one folder out of its box at one time. The reasoning is that this prevents the documents from getting mixed up. It also makes cross-referencing documents impossible. The best you can do is either take good notes, or make copies to work with.

Finding Things Quickly In The Documents

Don't approach this with the idea that you will simply copy everything that looks even remotely interesting or useful. Not unless you intend to spend a year there or unless you go with several people to assist you.

The best way is to know what dates you want clarifying information on. For example, I knew that certain events occurred on or about 16 Jan 69, so I went immediately to the Jan 69 folder, and scanned for the 15, 16, and 17 of January. I then quickly read each Daily Journal unitl I find relevant lines. I then used tabs they provide to mark this as something worth copying.

Unfortunately, the 1/69th reports are not very good. They are tantilizing at best, mentioning something in brief which probably required a lot more documentation to explain even partially. If you were there, and involved in the incident, these cryptic references mean much. However I pity the person who reads these with no in-country knowledge.

The 1/50th material is VERY good. A Major Anthony Juliano (S-3) was very good at summarizing the line entires in the daily journals. The 1/69 S-3 (there were several) were less concerned with posterity. Since 1-C-1/69 was OPCON to the 1/50th for extended periods I was able to come away with a fair amount of information in the given time.

The 173rd stuff (the brigade level stuff anyway) makes the 1/69th stuff look good by comparison. Unless absolutely necessary, don't waste your time on the brigade stuff.

Reserving The Documents

When five o'clock rolls around, you must return the documents to a holding area, or lose them and have to institute the retrieval process all over again. To have the documents held for you (for up to three days) you must (what a shock) stand in line to return them and have them reserved. Expect this to take time since the same drone who performs this crucial task also signs out badges for room 2400, and hands out retrieved documents to the other unfortunates who are waiting.

Making Copies of Documents

When you locate something worth copying, the real fun starts. All of the documents are stamped "Classified". Most are "Confidential", some "Secret". You cannot walk out of the building with any copies marked with either. You must first get them "declassified". This is accomplished by standing in line in order to have a (not very) civil servant issue you a sticker with a declassification number, which you must sign for. You must then place this sticker onto the glass of the Xerox machine, so that it appears on ALL copies. If you try to get a document out the door without this they will confiscate it, or make you go all the way back upstairs and recopy it.

You pay for copies ($0.10 ea) by obtaining a small credit card from a machine near the copiers. You insert dollar bills or fives and the amount of credit is stored on a magnetic strip on the card. You insert this card into the copier and it deducts from the balance until you're broke. The card can be recharged by putting it back into the dispensing machine and inserting more bills. Expect to come away with money on the card, and here's why. If you have too little credit on the card, you will go broke in the middle of a copying session. Then you lose your place in the copying line. They only have four machines, and the time limit for making copies is five minutes. Again, expect to spend alot of time waiting in line. Tip: put at least twenty bucks on the card. They don't give refunds for unused copies. Also, they don't give you a credit for copies which are too light, or those which the copier eats.

Getting Copies of Map Overlays and Topo Maps

You will (if you're lucky) find actual map overlays in with the daily journals. You cannot copy these yourself. They must be "escorted" to the third floor "Cartographic Section" where all the topo maps are stored. Getting a civil servant to perform this essential task requires some finesse. They regard anything out of the ordinary as a crisis, and they do not deal well with crises. The good news is that once it is actually in the Cartographic section, it gets copied quickly.

The man to see in the Cartographic section is Mr. Raymond Cotten. He is a Vietnam Vet himself (578th Signal Corp, Qui Nhon 66-67-68). His assistant is Mr. Sam Welch who is very efficient and knowledgable. You will think that you are in a different building watching these guys work. They are good guys. Along with Cliff Snyder, they are the only good guys in the building.

You pay for map/overlay copies by the square foot. The most expensive one I purchased was about six dollars. Topo maps are three dollars each. Ray Cotten has the Vietnam series memorized so getting them is a snap. You must go down to the 1st floor and pay the cashier for the copies, then return the receipt to Ray or Sam. Then you are home free. If he has one, Ray will give you a map tube so they don't get crunched. They take care of declassifying the maps.

My Trip

I traveled to NARA II from Costa Mesa, CA on May 29, 1996 and spent three full days searching the archives. I returned in June of 1998, and nothing had changed much unfortunately, but was only able to spend one full day copying documents.

Accomodations were graciously provided by Stretch Grohman and his charming wife Alison, in Springfield, Virginia. Round trip drive to College Park, MD was 120 miles per day, and traffic was heavy even by Southern California standards. Do NOT take the east side beltway if you can avoid it. Take the west side beltway even if it seems a longer distance.

Three full days sounds like alot of time until you get to NARA and have to deal with the security procedures and the mind numbing laziness of the federal employees there. Half of them are grad students from the University of Maryland (just down the road) and the other half seem to be on some form of workfare or welfare. Some seem to be there under sentence of a Federal Court. Most seem more interested in conducting personal conversations and phone calls on government time than in helping their customers. They constantly complained to everyone who would listen about how understaffed they were, but it was not uncommon to find five or six of them in a circle talking small talk while a line of researchers waited to ask questions or get approval for some inane thing.

If you attempt to gather data on ANYTHING, but especially military information, be prepared to spend a long time there, or go with at least one other person. It doesn't matter if that other person can even spell VIETNAM, because they can wait in lines for copying, approvals, badges, signatures, cashiers, etc. Do not underestimate the enormous amount of time you will absolutely WASTE at NARA. There are lines (sometimes LONG lines) for EVERYTHING.

You will see teams of researchers who have already figured this technique out and employ it with deft precision. They don't waste a beat. You will stand in lines behind these tag-teams and fume if you are alone.

As an example, on the second day there, they informed me that it would take at least 4 hours to pull the records for the individual battalions of the 173rd. This was at 1130. I drove to the Pentagon, had a tour of the place conducted by that bon vivant Stretch Grohman, had lunch with Stretch, and drove all the way back to College Park only to discover that the documents were still not available at 1530. When I did get them, I had forty-five minutes to read them and make copies.

Good luck.

T O P Ray's Home Page E-Mail Me

Creation Date: Thursday, June 6, 1996
Last Modified: Thursday, August 20, 1998
Copyright © Ray Smith, 1996, 1998