BUCKNER, Mo. — “You know, you don’t get bothered by stuff you can’t control,” said 85-year-old Richard Romo as he mused philosophically about his missing military records.
But Romo’s grandson refused to accept the government’s position that no documents existed of his grandfather’s six years of service.
“You know, these men who have fought for us to have these freedoms… I would like for all of them to have respect and whatever else is deserving of them,” said grandson Eric Dunning.
Dunning knows those missing service papers could help his grandfather, a Navy veteran, qualify for veterans benefits that would help him live out his final days in hospice care more comfortably, plus, qualify for a burial plot and military honors.
Finding the missing documents became a goal for Dunning after learning in recent years of his grandfather’s service.
“He didn’t want to talk about it for a long time,” Dunning said. “He didn’t want recognition from it. He felt like it was part of his past life and he just wanted to leave it alone.”
But Dunning encouraged him to share his memories over Sunday visits and spicy chicken sandwiches. The stories slowly flowed forth of a young Richard Romo, a Native American who grew up on a reservation in San Diego County and left high school in the early 50s to enlist. He told tales of boot camp and trips to Korea and Vietnam.
“I did enjoy it,” Mr. Romo said of his service. “I’ve got to say I did learn quite a bit.”
Starting with only the scarcest of information, Dunning and other family members wrote the National Personnel Records Center and the Department of Defense at least six times over the last four years asking for help finding proof of Mr. Romo’s service.
“Nothing, lots of nothing,” Dunning said. “We just got lots of denial letters that nothing exists.”
The fight goes on
Determined not to give up, another family member turned to ancestry.com. That’s where they found a handful of documents proving exactly what Mr. Romo had always claimed: that he had served in both the Navy and the Marine Reserves. The few images on Ancestry even included a U.S. Marine Corps record that showed his service number.
Then came the discovery of another surprise. Buried in an attic crawl space in Mr. Romo’s Buckner home was a Navy yearbook for the VF-11 Squadron. It had been tucked away in a box for decades. Not only is Mr. Romo’s photo inside, so is a picture of his ship the USS Boxer. Dunning thought that surely all this would prove Mr. Romo’s service. He wrote the National Personnel Records Center again. But it still wanted more – Mr. Romo’s military discharge papers.
No one in Mr. Romo’s family could find it.
He wrote the National Personnel Records Center again. But it still wanted more – Mr. Romo’s discharge papers. That’s something Mr. Romo no longer has.
That’s when Taci Hicks took up the challenge. Hicks is Mr. Romo’s hospice social worker and has a special place in her heart for veterans.
“We did a veteran ceremony for Richard back in July and I saw how tearful he was,” she said. “He told me, ‘You know, I never got any recognition from anyone for my service.'”
Hicks, who had helped other veterans find missing records, went to work on Mr. Romo’s, but also had no luck.
“I started reaching out to the different groups and Veterans Affairs and I couldn’t get anywhere. I just kept getting denials. ‘Sorry, we’ve lost his records, probably in the fire, so he doesn’t get anything,'” she recounted.
That’s when she called FOX4 Problem Solvers.
Finding the needle in the haystack
The fire Hicks was referring to was in 1973 in St. Louis. It burned 22 hours and destroyed thousands of military records, but only Army records were stored in the building that burned, not the Navy or Marines, where Mr. Romo served.
FOX4 Problem Solvers contacted the Department of Defense. We explained to Les Melnyk, the chief of public affairs for the National Cemetery Administration – Department of Veterans Affairs, that time was of the essence. He took a personal interest in Mr. Romo’s case, passing it on yet again to the National Personnel Records Center. But this time, the VA was there to assist in the search.
The possible key element in finding Mr. Romo’s records was that service number that Ancestry.com had unearthed. It’s the one number you have to have to track old military records. They aren’t listed alphabetically or by Social Security number.
After a week of waiting, success. Proof of Mr. Romo’s four years of active service and honorable discharge from the Navy was found buried deep in the halls of government.
We told the news to a grateful Mr. Romo, who will finally get the benefits he earned while serving more than 50 years ago. A problem solved thanks to a determined grandson’s quest to make sure his grandfather’s sacrifices aren’t forgotten.
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