The 1973 National Personnel Records Center fire in St. Louis, Missouri is a prime example of how huge collections of records can be tragically lost to fire or an other such disaster. The loss of these valuable military records had a tremendous impact on the military veterans as well as terminating the availability of the records for future generations of researchers. Quoting from the National Archives Website:
On July 12, 1973, a disastrous fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF). The records affected:
BranchPersonnel and Period Affected and Estimated Loss
Army Personnel discharged November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960 80%The key phrase here is "no duplicate copies of these records were ever maintained." To add to the tragedy of the situation FamilySearch is willing to digitize, duplicate and preserve these kinds of records and FamilySearch's services are free.
Air Force Personnel discharged September 25, 1947 to January 1, 1964
(with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.) 75%
No duplicate copies of these records were ever maintained, nor were microfilm copies produced. Neither were any indexes created prior to the fire. In addition, millions of documents had been lent to the Department of Veterans Affairs before the fire occurred. Therefore, a complete listing of the records that were lost is not available. However, in the years following the fire, the NPRC collected numerous series of records (referred to as Auxiliary Records) that are used to reconstruct basic service information.
Here is a recent article from FamilySearch outlining the worldwide digitization effort. See "Preserving Historical Records: Lesson of the National Personnel Records Center Fire."
What can you do to help preserve these records? First, you can read the linked article. Second, you can send a copy of this article to anyone you know who is involved in record keeping around the world. This includes anyone you know in a library, courthouse, historical society or other institution that might have any interest in preserving their collection.
Send the link or send the article, but get the word out. FamilySearch and the world's genealogical community need your help.