By David Langbart
The motto of the National Archives is “What is Past Is Prologue.”
Recently, while assisting a researcher at Archives II, I ran into my Dad, even though he died several years ago. A bit of background will help you understand. My father’s first Government service, like most in his generation, came in the military during World War II. He served in the 99th Infantry Division and saw action on Elsenborn Ridge on the north shoulder of the Battle of the Bulge, crossed the Rhine River at Remagen (the 99th was the first complete division across the river), helped round up hundreds of thousands of the German prisoners-of-war in the Ruhr Pocket, and was part of the race down into Bavaria. That’s him on the right in this picture (we do not know where the picture was taken or the identity of the other soldiers).
After the war, Dad went to law school on the G.I. Bill and then joined the Department of Justice in 1948, beginning his long career as a dedicated public servant. He worked in the Department of Justice until 1961, then at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) until 1975, when he joined the Department of Labor. He retired in 1980 as an Administrative Law Judge. His official credential is one of the best pictures we have of him.
So, back to the researcher. I was assisting her with some Department of State records, but her research crossed over into Department of Justice files. She had a specific file citation and it was very easy to locate the pertinent files and screen them for use. In doing so, I concentrated on the contents of the files, not its cover. While returning the files to their proper location, however, I happened to glance at the list of users on the front of the folder, and a name jumped out at me . . . my own last name.
This could only mean that my father had handled the case file 60 years ago while working in the Department of Justice. (This was a few years before I entered the picture). It should not have surprised me, since he worked for the Government and many Government records end up in the National Archives, but it caught me by surprise. My own personal prologue.