About the National Archives

Remarks of Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero at the dedication of the new facility for the National Personnel Records Center and the National Archives at St. Louis in north St. Louis County, Missouri.

October 15, 2011

Who is the Archivist?

David S. Ferriero
David S. Ferriero The Archivist of the United States is the head of our agency, appointed by the President of the United States.

The AOTUS Blog


What's an Archivist?

Good morning. Welcome to the National Archives and to our new home here in St. Louis County. It is a pleasure and an honor to be here with you today.

We are here to dedicate One Archives Drive— the new home for the personnel files of the more than 100 million Americans who have served either in the military services or as civilian employees of our Government.

Many individuals, both in and out of government, are responsible for the planning and construction of this building and moving records from older facilities into it.  I want to especially recognize:  Congressman Lacy Clay; Senator Kit Bond; Senator Roy Blunt; St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley; the development team of Irwin Molasky and Chuck Moody; our GSA partner, Jason Klumb; and our own Bryan McGraw and Scott Levins.  To all of you, my thanks from the National Archives on behalf of the people of the United States.

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The files here belong to the American people. 

We at the National Archives take seriously our mission to make them available for our citizens to use. We’re also very serious about ensuring their safety and security so they are always here when needed.

This new structure helps us do both of those things.

It allows us to make these records more accessible to those who come here or those who make requests by letter, phone or e-mail. Our staff is now able to more efficiently provide our customers with copies of the documents they need as quickly as possible.

Even now, each day, the staff that works in this building receives about five thousand requests a day for copies of records. That totals more than one million a year!

And yet it’s not a surprising figure.

It is to this staff here in St. Louis that veterans turn for documentation of their service in uniform.
The DD 214, the military separation papers, are the most requested documents in all the holdings of the National Archives. The DD 214 is needed as evidence of military service to receive medical treatment, a home loan, education benefits or burial in a national cemetery.

But we also get requests from genealogists and family members seeking to fill in missing parts of a family history. Journalists, historians and academics come here too, seeking to add to the American story. Representatives of other federal agencies are here to research special projects.

For them, we have a new state-of-the-art public research room, equipped with stations that can accommodate laptops and other equipment.

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At the same time we are making these records more accessible, we can now do a better job of ensuring their safety---protecting them from natural and man-made threats, such as fires and theft.
We learned a lot about protecting records from the 1973 fire at the Page Avenue facility.

In spite of the devastating loss of information from that fire, we can assist individuals whose files were affected.  We reconstruct files using other service-related records.  Our new preservation lab also plays a role by stabilizing, then capturing, even snippets of information that can be used to add information to a file.

While the Archives holds many records that tell the story of America, this St. Louis facility is unique in offering the individual stories of ordinary Americans. In some cases, we have files of long careers in government service, while in others, we can provide the record of only a few years of an individual’s life.

My own file accounts for only the four years of my Navy service and a new file here will one day document my years as Archivist of the United States. 

When I visited the old facility at Page Avenue last year, the staff presented me with a copy of my file. It not only brought back many memories, it gave me a better appreciation of the work of the 700 employees here in St. Louis and the 185 others in Valmeyer.

And it reminded me that every time an employee pulls a file, there is an individual or a family looking for information, perhaps even unlocking a mystery.

* * * * *

Many of the staff of One Archives Drive are with us this morning and I’d like to all to get to meet them.  Please stand and be recognized.  I am proud to be with you this morning.

There is one very special file in this building that has an unusual history.  It’s the file that belongs to Lieutenant Michael Blassie of the United States Air Force.

In 1972, Lieutenant Blassie was with a special operations unit that was shot down over An Loc, South Vietnam. Some remains were recovered from the area months later, but they could not be identified and were buried in 1984 at Arlington National Cemetery. They became the Vietnam Unknown Soldier.

Over the years, medical and forensic breakthroughs allowed better identification of remains. In 1998, information surfaced that indicated these remains in the tomb were those of Lieutenant Blassie.

Michael Blassie was then interred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, near here, and his military file was placed in the National Personnel Records Center.

His file will remain here forever—another individual story—this one of bravery, sacrifice, and tragedy—among the millions that collectively make up the American story.

We are pleased and honored that Lieutenant Blassie’s mother and brother are here with us today and his sister, Colonel Patricia Blassie of the Air Force Reserve, will be speaking in a few moments about the use of personnel records in the Air Force Reserve. 

* * * * *

The records we safeguard in this building are part of the backbone of our democracy—important pieces of the story of the American journey.  They contain accounts of heroism and of tragedy—the sacrifices men and women have made to defend our country. 

They document the service that Americans have given to their country— either in or out of uniform—to keep our democracy safe and to maintain a government that remains vibrant through citizen participation.

And, just by the fact that this facility alone receives a million requests annually, we know that these records—and all records— really matter.

Thank you all for being with us today.

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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
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