At this time embalming had been invented and soldiers who died many miles away from home, could have their bodies preserved and shipped back to their family for burial. Before the Union army began to offer this service, an insurance policy could be purchased to have this procedure carried out should you be killed on the battlefield. To identify you, a tag was issued with your policy number inscribed upon it and worn around your neck. Once your body was found on the battlefield with this disk, you would be removed and taken to the rear where there were embalming sheds. Here your body would be treated and shipped home in a zinc lined coffin. You would be visible to your loved ones through a glass window in the lid showing head, chest and shoulders.
In May 1862, John Kennedy from New York proposed that each Union soldier be issued with an ID tag. This idea was rejected but it did not stop soldiers on both sides from buying or making their own. And so, the premise for an ID Tag, dog-tag as it resembles those tags worn by our pets, was sown. The first army to issue its troops with dog tags was the Prussians. Their troops wore them in the 1870 Franco Prussian war and they were called ‘recognition tags’. After this, many other countries began to follow in their footsteps.
The British Army however stayed with identification cards and it was not until 1907 when the first British ‘Disk’ Identity was introduced by Army Order Number 9. This order stated that an aluminium disk would be hung from a piece of cord 42-inches in length and worn around the soldier’s neck. Each disk would be 35mm in diameter with an 8mm tab. The information stamped onto the disk would be the soldier’s number, name, regiment and religious denomination. If he changed his rank then a new disk would be issued. In 1908 these tags were also issued to special reservists.
This embalming tag is said to have spawned the idea for dog tags to identify the troops.
It’s not surprising to find that the Romans were one of the first armies to issue dog tags to their soldiers. Upon joining a legion they were given a disk made of lead called a signaculum which was worn around the neck on a piece of string. This disk had the recruit’s name on it and the legion he belonged to.
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the the identification of the killed soldiers was daunting due to the number of casualties during the many battles. The issue was further complicated by inadequate record keeping of personnel assigned to and fighting as regulars or volunteers in both the Union and Confederate militaries, and lost records pertaining to burial locations. The first attempt to provide identification tags were called “name discs” or “soldier pins” of various designs and there was no specific uniformity pertaining to the information provided. Despite their best efforts to mark themselves, historians estimate that 50 percent of those killed in the Civil War were either unaccounted for or simply marked unknown. The nation debated how to address this issue to ensure Americans were properly accounted for, returned home, and given proper burial.
During the 1950s, the two dog tags were detailed to each service member for a specific purpose regarding accountability. One identification tag was placed on a long chain, while the second was hung on a shorter chain. Upon death, the identification tag on the shorter chain was placed around the toe of the deceased, thus the nickname “toe tag” was given to this identification tag. The other dog tag was to either remain with the deceased or collected, as time permitted, by survivors to report back the name of the deceased.
Today, the issuance of military dog tags remains an important component of military culture, but reliance on dog tags is more symbolic as technology advances. The dog tags are still stamped with important information (name, serial/social security number, blood type and religious preference), but the military uses medical/dental records and DNA sampling to positively identify deceased military service members. To note, the first identification tags were brass and later a corrosion-resistant alloy of nickel and copper. Today, military dog tags are made of stainless steel. As technology advances so have the materials and processes used to properly identify America’s service members and return them home with honor.
Then later, during the Vietnam War (1955-1975), military service members began to place one custom dog tag in their boot, tied in with their bootlaces. The thought was if their body was dismembered to an extent they were unidentifiable, the dog tag in the boot helped with the recovery of their remains.
On December 20, 1906, by General Order #204, the United States government decided upon a circular aluminum disc to be worn as an identification tag, and by 1913 the identification discs were required for all military service members. An aluminum disc the size of a silver half dollar–imprinted with the name, rank, company, regiment or corps, worn by both officer and enlisted member in the field–suspended around the neck.
“This news was widespread and easily caught on,” said Ginger Cucolo during a presentation called “Dog Tags: History, Stories & Folklore of Military Identification” at the Library of Congress. “We believe that that is where dog tags and the label did stick.”
Seaman Apprentice Anthony Manning, a hospital corpsman with 7th Communication Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force, relocates dog tags from the U.S. Marine Corps monument Sept. 9, 2009 on Iwo Jima. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Monty Burton.
While DNA analysis can identify anonymous remains, dog tags are still standard issue for US service members today. In an effort to honor the legacy of those killed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Museum of the Forgotten Warrior outside of Beale Air Force Base in California has an outdoor exhibit featuring thousands of individual dog tags. The Iraq/Afghanistan Dog Tag Memorial, as of 2011, contains 6,296 individual dog tags.
To ease their minds, some soldiers tattooed their epitaphs on their bodies, while others made personalized dog tags out of paper or stitched them onto clothing. These identification symbols were also fashioned into coins or carved into wood chunks and hung around their necks. It was their way to assist the living when no official process was in place.
Seaman Apprentice Anthony Manning, a hospital corpsman with 7th Communication Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force, relocates dog tags from the US Marine Corps monument Sept. 9, 2009, on Iwo Jima. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Monty Burton.
Monument Guys: The History of Military I.D. Tags (S1, E5) | History
In the days long before military dog tags were even a thought, U.S. Army officers at the attack on Confederate fortifications at Cold Harbor, Virginia, noticed troops sewing their names into their jackets. After more than three years of bloody fighting, everyone knew how dangerous the coming battle would be.
They were about to attack six miles of zigzagged earthworks that would expose them to withering cross-fires. The men wanted to give the Army a way to identify their bodies once the shooting was over.
Throughout the war, attempts to give soldiers ways to identify themselves were varied. Units used circular discs and “soldier pins” in an effort to identify and record the names of the men in their ranks — but only one per person. None of these efforts were uniform, however, and tens of thousands of soldiers killed in action were buried in mass graves or marked as unknowns.
Other soldiers fixed paper identification tags to themselves and their belongings. Others fashioned crude identification markers from wood. Still, 42% of Civil War dead remain unidentified, according to U.S. military historians.
In 1906, General Order #204 required the issue of an aluminum disc the size of a half-dollar coin to be worn around troops necks. Though it came after the Spanish-American War, it was a more uniform way of identifying soldiers and a step in the right direction — but still only issued one at a time.
By the beginning of World War I, the “dog tag” as we know it began to take shape. Soldiers deploying to fight in the trenches of WWI were given two coin-like metal discs, each marked with their name. They wore them into combat and, if they were killed, one coin stayed on their remains.
In World War II, identification tags started to look more like todays standard-issue dog tags. They were metal and rectangular, with a notch in a lower corner. The soldiers information was imprinted on the metal tag. That notch was used to align the metal plate on the machine that embossed the information.
The notch became the center of U.S. military troops first myth around their dog tags. Common belief held that a medic would take one of the fallen soldiers tags and put it in his mouth, using the notch to line up the tag with his front teeth. Then, the medic or doctor would kick his jaw shut over the tag to ensure it stayed in place, according to the myth.
During the Korean War, the second tag was put on a much shorter chain, attached to the main chain, for a similar reason. But it wouldnt be put in the mouth of the deceased. Instead, it was used as a toe tag. In the Vietnam era, combat troops started to lace their second tag in their boots, the way United States Marines wear them today.
Notched dog tags were phased out by the 1970s, when the machines that required notches were replaced with more advanced embossing machines. Aluminum tags gave way to stainless steel.
Today, dog tags arent as necessary for identification purposes, given the advances in DNA technology, along with more detailed recordkeeping by the U.S. military. Identifying remains is a more detailed process than simply relying on the service members dog tags.
But still, dog tags remain an important symbol of military service, one that connects todays troops to the traditions of the past.
— Blake Stilwell can be reached at [emailprotected] He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.
It took a few years, but in December 1906, the Army put out a general order requiring aluminum disc-shaped ID tags be worn by soldiers. The half-dollar size tags were stamped with a soldier's name, rank, company and regiment or corps, and they were attached to a cord or chain that went around the neck.When did the army quit using notched dog tags? ›
Notched dog tags were phased out by the 1970s, when the machines that required notches were replaced with more advanced embossing machines. Aluminum tags gave way to stainless steel.Will the military replace dog tags? ›
If you are currently serving in the military and need a replacement set, you can get them issued at no cost. Contact your personnel unit and they can issue them to you or tell you where you can get a set issued.What was the purpose of the Dog Tag for soldiers? ›
Identification tags, more commonly known as dog tags, have been used by the Marine Corps since 1916. They serve to identify Marines who fall in battle and secure a suitable burial for them. Identification tags were probably first authorized in Marine Corps Order Number 32 of 6 October 1916.Did soldiers wear dog tags in the Civil War? ›
There were no government-issued military “dog tags” during the war. And soldiers were terrified that if they were killed, in the chaos of battle their bodies would never be identified. So a man might write his name on a piece of paper and pin it to his uniform before going into combat.Do soldiers ever take off their dog tags? ›
There's no specific protocol for what happens to dog tags after leaving the service, whether by discharge or death. Former service members do not have to return them to the military, but they also can choose whether or not to keep them.What does a black dog tag mean? ›
The black dog tag was first used by the military personnel. It was used as identification for the military personnel. It is similar to dog tags which are placed on dogs to be able to identify them, if they get lost or killed.What happens to fallen soldiers dog tags? ›
If the soldier should die, one side is removed and kept for the army's official records, while the other side is left attached to the body.What does a red dog tag mean? ›
Bright RED dog tags help signal emergency personnel of drug allergies or medical conditions. Dog tags are often used for soldiers who are wounded or who have fallen in service. Dog tag and chain are USA made. More Information. More Information.What does a POS mean on dog tags? ›
POS means "position" on a set of dog tags. The second line of the set has a series of numbers that tell the military the wearer's blood type, religion, and SSN. In 2015, SSN was removed from the dog tags and was replaced by the service members' Defense Department ID number.
• T43 Tetanus Shot and Year.How many dog tags does a soldier get? ›
Generally, each soldier is allotted two dog tags. One of them is worn at the neck as a chain and the other is kept inside the shoes of the soldier.Why do Marines put dog tags in boots? ›
One really tough part of your uniform is your boots and if you get blown up or apart your boots will generally survive intact. So they decided to have us put a dog tag in our boot lacing so that if the worse happens they can know either you are dead or you really are in the need of your foot somewhere.Why did the Navy stop issuing dog tags? ›
The Navy stopped issuing dog tags in order to reduce the number of tags issued and the amount of time spent on tag issuance. 3. Dog tags were also seen as a symbol of navalmanship and professionalism.What should you not put on a dog tag? ›
Never put your dog's name on the identification tag.
The buyer will trust because the dog will show response upon calling by his name. It is especially the case with friendlier dogs. That's why it is always recommended not to put your pet's name on their tags to avoid possible chances of dog theft.
Chaplain Charles C. Pierce, who was in charge of the Army Morgue and Office of Identification, recommended soldiers wear circular disks to identify those injured or killed in battle. In 1906, the Army issued a general order requiring aluminum disc-shaped ID tags to be worn under soldiers' field uniforms.Did soldiers wear dog tags in Vietnam? ›
The dog tags worn by soldiers in the Vietnam war and other wars throughout the years are a recognizable symbol of the American GI. As memorable as they are, many people do not understand their meaning or why soldiers wear them.What does T42 mean on dog tags? ›
The dog tags were marked in the following manner: 1st Line - soldier's full name, 2nd Line - his full seven or eight digit service number and date of any Tetanus injections (e.g., T42 or T41 42); an initial to indicate blood group.Why do military dog tags have a notch? ›
Known as the “locating notch” in military manuals, the notch helped medical personnel properly seat the dog tag into the imprinter. The Model 70 allowed medical or mortuary affairs personnel to transfer a soldier's personal information on the dog tag and imprint it directly onto medical documents.Does every branch of the military get dog tags? ›
Much like uniforms and footwear, every branch of the United States military wears dog tags, but, much like uniforms and footwear, the tags contain slight differences from branch to branch.
Black Dog Tags are used by Special Operations forces such as the Army Rangers, Navy Seals, Green Berets, Commandos, and Delta Force. Black Dog Tags were mandated by a regulation on January 15, 1967 of the United States Army, Vietnam (USARV).What does a yellow dog tag mean? ›
About The Yellow Dog Project
The yellow ribbon indicates that you should ask before approaching that dog, so their owner can keep them safe.
The chains for the tags are each of a specific length. The longer one has 365 beads, which represent the 365 days of the year. The shorter one, which goes with the toe tag, is 24 beads, which represents the months in two years.Are Navy dog tags no longer issued? ›
The U.S. Navy no longer issues Dog Tags to its sailors, however you can still order replica mil-spec tags as replacements from us. Read more about the history of US Navy Dogtags. Surprised my services was available to have tags created. I love my tags!Can I wear my dad's dog tags? ›
Yes. It's a great way to honor his service, as long as it's ok with him.What can I do with old military dog tags? ›
- Write on a piece of paper where you found the tags, the date you found the tags, your full name and contact information.
- Place the letter and dog tags into an envelope.
- Seal the envelope and address it to the Secretary of Defense.
Some people are of the opinion that if their dog is microchipped, they do not require a dog tag with their contact details on it. This is incorrect, and you should always have a dog tag on your dogs collar.What does RA mean in the military? ›
In modern times the professional core of the United States Army continues to be called the Regular Army (often abbreviated as "RA").What was on Vietnam dog tags? ›
Each dog tag represents a person in the Vietnam War and is arranged in date order of death. And, each dog tag shows their name, casualty date, and military branch.What religion can you put on dog tags? ›
Whatever religion you follow. If you don't follow one, you can put down “No Preference” when you fill out the form in Boot Camp. Why do soldiers have dog tags?
The tags were worn under the field uniform. According to the Defense Department, in July 1916, the U.S. Army amended its initial order and required a second disc. Why two dog tags? The first tag was to remain with the body, while the second was for burial service record keeping.What do real military dog tags say? ›
The tags were engraved with the name, rank, service number, blood type and religious preference. The name and address of next of kin was also included, as well as immunization information, but that information eventually was removed from dog tags after the war. That's a lot of information in a little space.How do you decode dog tags? ›
Finally ASNs were dropped June 30, 1969, and as such the new data (on Dog Tags) looked as follows: 1st line = SURNAME, 2d line = FIRST NAME + INITIAL, 3d line = SOCIAL SECURITY ACCOUNT NUMBER, 4th line = BLOOD TYPE + RHESUS FACTOR, 5th line = RELIGION.Do pilots wear dog tags? ›
They are required when we're flying. ... I found out that their dog tags were essential to figuring out who was who. Black Dog Tags were mandated by a regulation on January 15, 1967 of the United States Army, Vietnam (USARV).Can a civilian wear dog tags? ›
You can do whatever you want. You can wear dog tags that make it look like you served in the military, if you want. You can wear custom dog tags if you want. Some people will call you a fake, a poser, and will see it as disrespectful no matter what you do.What do Marines call dog tags? ›
This format is for Marines who were issued tags between 1975 to 2015 using a Social Security number. This was eventually replaced in 2015 with the DoD ID number (EDIPI) (which we offer as Modern Issue Dog Tags).Do Marines get to keep their uniforms? ›
A person who is discharged honorably or under honorable conditions from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Space Force may wear his uniform while going from the place of discharge to his home, within three months after his discharge.Can you sleep with a dog tag on? ›
It's often overlooked, but remember to remove your dogs collar when he/ she is in the crate. It can be dangerous to leave on, as the tags or actual collar can become stuck putting your pet at risk for strangulation. All veterinarians and dog trainers would agree that the collar is not designed to be a 24/7 accessory.Is it a good idea to put your address on a dog tag? ›
The rule of thumb is to include three important pieces of information on your pet's tag: your pet's first and last name, your address and your phone number. These are the basic things a person would need to know in order to get your pawed pal back home safely.Did World War 1 soldiers have dog tags? ›
Though some form of identification (other than details written on equipment and uniforms) was carried by many soldiers for centuries (covering everything from paper labels to carved stones and pieces of wood), the Great War was the first war in which the majority of belligerents were officially issued with and wore ...
In World War II, identification tags or “dog tags,” as they were called, were a required uniform item in the American military, and were provided at the expense of the government. They are often found in donations with almost 500 dog tags represented in the Museum's collections.What did dog tags look like in the 1940s? ›
In 1940 the US Army issued Dog Tags with the top two lines for the soldier's name and serial number respectively. Lines three to five were used to record the emergency contact information, usually their next of kin's name, address, city and state.What does a red dog tag mean in the military? ›
In essence, red dog tags are used in the same manner as regular ones. They are essential when soldiers have been injured in battle and need to be treated by the medical team. In many scenarios, military personnel that has been injured may be incapacitated.What do black dog tags mean? ›
Black Dog Tags are used by Special Operations forces such as the Army Rangers, Navy Seals, Green Berets, Commandos, and Delta Force.Were dog tags used in Vietnam? ›
Considering the fact that 2.5 million American troops served in Southeast Asia, it's not surprising that thousands of dog tags have ended up on the streets of Vietnam.Why are military dog tags notched? ›
Known as the “locating notch” in military manuals, the notch helped medical personnel properly seat the dog tag into the imprinter. The Model 70 allowed medical or mortuary affairs personnel to transfer a soldier's personal information on the dog tag and imprint it directly onto medical documents.Why are dog tags taped together before battle? ›
Soldiers took to taping metal dog tags together to reduce the clinking sound, which could give away their position. Rubber “silencers” around the rims became standard in the Vietnam War.