Race boxes on US military records

ABCMR rejects application to change "Malayan" to "Hawaiian"

By William Wetherall

Drafted 9 September 2009
First posted 11 September 2009
Last updated 11 September 2009

US military race boxes

In 2008, an American woman who had served in the Women's Army Corps between 1958 and 1960 applied to the Army Board for Correction of Military Record to change the racial classification on her military records from "Malayan" to "Hawaiian". She argued that she was "Hawaiian-born" and her family was "all Hawaiian" -- and alleged that the recruiter had probably changed her classification.

The board reviewed the woman's request despite the decades which had passed since the lapse of the 3-year statute of limitation that usually applies to corrections of military records. It found that "Malayan" had consistently appeared on a long list of forms, from enlistment to discharge, which the woman had partly completed and/or signed. Moreover, she was unable to document her claim that she was "Hawaiian".

The board determined that "The evidence presented does not demonstrate the existence of a probable error or injustice." It therefore declined to accept her request.

My own military race box data

I served in the same US Army for a similar tour of duty not long after the WAC in the above case. When enlisting I was a "CAU" for "Caucasian". When discharged I was "NA" for "Non applicable".

The standalone box called "7. RACE" on my DA FORM 20 "Enlisted Qualification Record" says "CAU" -- as contemporary Army regulations required that one "Enter the first three letters of one of the following: Caucasian, Negroid, Mongolian, Indian (American), or Malayan. Example: Caucasian will be entered as Cau."

My DA FORM 214 "Report of Transfer or Discharge" -- which honorably released me, in 1966, from my 3-year enlistment in the United States Army in 1963 -- has a race box called "7a. RACE". On the form, "RACE" appears as an unreadable black bar and "NA" is typed in the box. "b. SEX" says "MALE" and c, d, e, and f are COLOR HAIR, COLOR EYES, HEIGHT, and WEIGHT. Race, in other words, had been the highest order of physical trait on this form.

By the time I enlisted in the Army, I had lived, attended school, and worked in racially complex neighborhoods in San Francisco and Berkeley. The news I read and saw from civil rights movements in the South seemed to come from a different country than the one I knew in Northern California. I was aware of discrimination, and for sure there were pockets of segregation, in my own backyard as it were. But nothing in the Bay Area compared to Alabama or Mississippi.

In 1963, though, I didn't imagine that I could simply refuse to complete a race box. I shrugged them off as a matter of course. Bureaucratic noise you just live with.

By the time I mustered out of the Army -- having successfully applied for recognition as a conscientious objector, and in an unrelated matter been court-martialled for intentionally disobeying an order -- I knew I was capable of resisting what I didn't like and resorting to disobedience if push came to shove. I can't remember the first time I crossed out a race box -- probably in the late 1960s after returning to college at Berkeley.

Today, when confronted with a race box, I completely cross it out so that no one else can complete it. No official has ever hassled me about it, but I'm prepared to tell anyone who insists that I complete a race box that I'm just a human being, and whatever else I might be is none of their business.

See also Racial stigmas on "Yosha's Crying Wall".


WAC v ABCMR, 2008
Army Board for Correction of Military Records
says no "Malayan" woman who says she's "Hawaiian"

The following text is a slightly reformatted version of a text file I retrieved on 9 September 2009 from Boards of Review Reading Rooms -- a web service of the Boards for the Corrections of Military/Naval Records (BCMR) -- a component of the United States Department of Defense.

The file is "20080011623.txt" under "CY2008" in the "Army Boards" section of the website. The file, one of 3996 listed under 2008, was posted on 10 October 2008, one day after its determination.

The website describes itself as follows.

This is the Department of Defense Electronic Reading Room for the Military Departments Boards for the Corrections of Military/Naval Records(BCMR) and the Discharge Review Boards(DRB). The Reading Room contains the decisional documents for each of the Boards from October 1998. Prior decisional documents can be viewed by contacting the Army Review Board Agency at 703-607-3566.

          IN THE CASE OF:

          BOARD DATE: 9 October 2008

          DOCKET NUMBER: AR20080011623


1. Application for correction of military records (with supporting documents provided, if any).

2. Military Personnel Records and advisory opinions (if any).


1. The applicant requests, in effect, that her race be changed from "Malayan" to "Hawaiian," on her DD Form 214, Armed Forces of the United States Report of Transfer or Discharge.

2. The applicant states, in effect, that her race needs to be changed from "Malayan" to "Hawaiian." Her race, she states, may have been changed by the recruiter. She adds that she is Hawaiian-born and her family is all Hawaiian. She just took a look at her papers again and the same was wrong.

3. In support of her request, the applicant provides a copy of his DD Form 214.


1. Title 10, U.S. Code, section 1552(b), provides that applications for correction of military records must be filed within 3 years after discovery of the alleged error or injustice. This provision of law also allows the Army Board for Correction of Military Records (ABCMR) to excuse an applicant's failure to timely file within the 3-year statute of limitations if the ABCMR determines it would be in the interest of justice to do so. While it appears the applicant did not file within the time frame provided in the statute of limitations, the ABCMR has elected to conduct a substantive review of this case and, only to the extent relief, if any, is granted, has determined it is in the interest of justice to excuse the applicant's failure to timely file. In all other respects, there are insufficient bases to waive the statute of limitations for timely filing.

2. The evidence shows the applicant enlisted in the Women's Army Corps for three years on 27 March 1958. She completed her basic combat and advanced individual training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, and was awarded the military occupational specialty (MOS) 710.00 (Clerk).

3. At the time of her enlistment, the applicant was interviewed and an NME Form 9 (WAC and WAF Interview Report) was completed. The entry, "Malayan" appears in the space provide for race on the form.

4. Item 8 (Race), of the Standard Form (SF) 88, Report of Medical Examination, which was completed in part by the applicant on 24 March 1958, in preparation for her enlistment, shows "Malayan" as her race.

5. Item 8 (Race), of the Standard Form (SF) 89 (Report of Medical History) completed in part by the applicant on 24 March 1958 in preparation for her enlistment, shows "Malayan" as her race. The applicant's signature appears on the reverse side of the form in the certification portion of the form.

6. Item 4 (Race), of the applicant's DD Form 4 (Enlistment Record · Armed Forces of the United States) shows the applicant's race to be "Malayan." The applicant's signature appears Item 38 [in the acknowledgements section] and again in Item 41 (Oath of Enlistment), of the DD Form 4.

7. Item 9 (Race), of the applicant's DA Form 20, Enlisted Qualification Record, shows her race to be "Malayan."

8. Item 8 (Race), of the SF 88, completed in part by the applicant on 5 October 1960, in preparation for her separation, shows "Malayan" as her race.

9. The applicant was honorably discharged in the rank and pay grade of Specialist Four, E-4, on 31 October 1960. At the time of her discharge, she had completed 2 years, 7 months, and 4 days active military service.

10. Item 7a (Race), of the applicant's DD Form 214, shows her race as "Malayan." The applicant's signature appears in Item 34 (Signature of Person Being Transferred of Discharged) of her DD Form 214.

11. All documents on file in the applicant's service personnel record which required entry of her race consistently show she was identified as Malayan. There is no evidence, and the applicant provided none to show she ever contested to this identification or that she ever applied to have appropriate action taken to change her race to any other race code. The applicant provided no documentary evidence with her application to the Board to show that she is other than "Malayan" in race.

12. The authority for making an entry to reflect an individual's race on official Army records at the time of the applicant's service was Army Regulation 640-203. This regulation was superseded by Army Regulation 600-200. Chapter 9, of this regulation, in paragraph 9-20 states, in pertinent part, "Enter the first three letters of one of the following: Caucasian, Negroid, Mongolian, Indian (American), or Malayan. Example: Caucasian will be entered as Cau." No other choices for race were given.

13. Army Regulation 635-5 prescribes the separation documents prepared for Soldiers on retirement, discharge, release from active duty service, or control of the Active Army. It establishes standardized policy for preparing and distributing the DD Form 214. In pertinent part, it states that the DD Form 214 is a synopsis of the Soldier's most recent period of continuous active duty and it will provide a brief, clear-cut record of the individual's Army service at the time of release from active duty, retirement or discharge.


1. In order to justify correction of a military record, the applicant must show to the satisfaction of the Board, or it must otherwise satisfactorily appear, that the record is in error or unjust. The applicant has failed to submit evidence that would satisfy this requirement.

2. The evidence shows the applicant enlisted and was identified as "Malayan." The evidence further shows that the applicant was or should have been aware that she was identified by the Army as being "Malayan" since she consistently applied her signature to documents that required the entry of race. These documents included those documents that were prepared in preparation for her entry into the Army, in preparation for her discharge from the Army, and her DD Form 214 at her discharge from the Army.

3. When the applicant was discharged, a DD Form 214 was prepared to document her honorable service. The race that was entered on this official document was the same race as that under which she was enlisted and the same race that was consistently used to identify her throughout her military service.

4. The applicant's desire to have her race changed in her Army records is acknowledged; however, there is an insufficient basis for compromising the integrity of the Army's records. The Army has an interest in maintaining the accuracy of its records for historical purposes. The data contained in those records should reflect the conditions and circumstances that existed at the time the records were created, and in the absence of a showing of material error or injustice, there is little basis for recommending that the records be changed. This Board action will be filed in the applicant's official military personnel records so her preference will be a matter of record and will be available to others having an official need to know.

5. In view of the foregoing, there is no basis for granting the applicant's request.


________ ________ ________ GRANT FULL RELIEF

________ ________ ________ GRANT PARTIAL RELIEF

________ ________ ________ GRANT FORMAL HEARING

___x____ ___x____ ____x___ DENY APPLICATION


The evidence presented does not demonstrate the existence of a probable error or injustice. Therefore, the Board determined that the overall merits of this case are insufficient as a basis for correction of the records of the individual concerned.


I certify that herein is recorded the true and complete record of the proceedings of the Army Board for Correction of Military Records in this case.

ABCMR Record of Proceedings (cont)





ABCMR Record of Proceedings (cont)