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World War I Army Service Numbers

By Constance Potter

"There is a price which is too great to pay for peace, and that price can be put in one word. One cannot pay the price of self-respect."-- President Woodrow Wilson, 1917

Before 1918, members of the United States Army did not have service numbers. Beginning in February 1918 enlisted men only had service numbers; officers did not. When the United States entered WWI there were only about 30,000 men in the Regular Army. Before February 1918, men were tracked by rosters and muster rolls. 

Beginning with the enlistment of the National Army in 1918, the only way to track the four million service members was through a system of service numbers.

Next article: Army Officer Commission records


Constance Potter is a retired reference archivist. She worked at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC for more than 30 years.

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