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North Carolina veteran surprised by long-lost military records

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FAYETTEVILLE (AP) — Bobby Ivey didn't quite know what to make of the rolled sheets of paper - tied off with a small ribbon - that were thrust into his hand one recent Friday morning.

Ivey, 84, believed he was coming to Certainty Home Loans on Boone Trail Extension to finalize a loan. He didn't know that he'd also be gifted a piece of his own history.

The elderly man appeared a little shocked at the paperwork handed to him. He shifted his cane to the other hand. Then flipped past a letter to focus his eyes on a familiar form.

Ivey read out the first words he found.

"Fort Campbell, Kentucky," he said, seemingly testing the words. "Woo."

For the first time in many years, Ivey once again has proof of his Army service, more than six decades after he last wore an Army uniform.

A DD-214 - copies of which were twice lost to fire - was presented to Ivey by CJ King, a loan officer who worked with Rep. Robert Pittenger's office to obtain the missing document.

The DD-214 is a certificate of release from the military that details a veteran's service. The document is required for several veterans benefits, including Department of Veterans Affairs home loans.

Ivey, who lives on a fixed income with a live-in caretaker, had been trying to obtain such a loan so that he could move into a larger home closer to the church where his late wife is buried.

VA Home Loans are guaranteed in part by the VA, which means they often have more favorable terms than other loans.

King said the VA loan will allow Ivey's mortgage payment to be lower than what he currently pays in rent for a smaller home. She and others at Certainty Home Loans had been working with Ivey to obtain proof of his service since January.

"This is wonderful," Ivey said. "It's a beautiful surprise."

The document had the added benefit of sending Ivey on a trip down memory lane.

A Fayetteville native, Ivey said he enlisted in the Army in 1953 and served for three years, most of which was spent at Fort Campbell.

When he left the Army, Ivey was a corporal with the 601st Quartermaster Aerial Supply Company, part of the 11th Airborne Division. The unit was trained to perform heavy airdrop missions to re-supply troops cut off from ground supply channels.

But when the 11th Airborne Division moved to Germany, Ivey decided to leave the military and instead go back to school.

He moved to Virginia - where he met the woman who would become his wife - and began a career working for a telephone company.

His original copy of his DD-214 and other important papers were stored with his parents, who had also moved to Virginia. Years later, the papers were destroyed in a fire.

Ivey said he had not needed the paperwork before. But circumstances have changed.

He and his wife, Geneva Gordon Ivey, lived in Virginia for some time, but eventually moved "home" to Fayetteville.

The pair lived in the Gray's Creek community and attended Mount Vernon Baptist Church before Geneva Ivey's death following a battle with a brain tumor in 2013.

After her death, Ivey said he lived on a farm near Turnbull, but later moved into a smaller home off Cedar Creek Road at the advice of his children and doctor.

"I found this little house that suited me," he said.

But with a caretaker, Ivey's needs have outgrown the small home.

He wanted a bigger place, with two bathrooms, to better accommodate him and his caretaker.

Ivey said he also wanted to return to Gray's Creek so that he could be closer to Mount Vernon Baptist Church, where his wife is buried.

He found the perfect home, he said, and was surprised to learn that his neighbors were old friends from the church.

Ivey said it was a sign that he's making the right decision.

"I'm looking forward to having good neighbors were I'm going," he said.

But first, he needed proof of his military service to get the home loan.

King said she and Ivey tried several local organizations in hopes of finding out how to obtain a copy of his military records, to no avail.

Officials with the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis told them that Ivey's records were damaged in a fire there in 1973 that destroyed approximately 16-18 million files.

They suggested Ivey fill out forms to request a search for his records, but warned that the process could take several months and that, even then, there was no guarantee that anything would be found.

King said the pair reached out to Pittenger's office after someone suggested a congressional inquiry.

Officials with Pittenger's office have said the congressman's staff, on any given day, is working on about 500 separate cases related to veterans issues, such as obtaining records or resolving issues with the VA.

Pittenger's office was able to obtain Ivey's records quickly, King said. And the staff at Certainty Home Loans decided to surprise the veteran with the documents.

Ivey said he wasn't expecting to see his records again. And promised they would be kept in a safe place.

"It's going in a vault in the bank," he said. "We're not going to lose it again, I'll tell you."

"And no more fires, please."

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