The Depot

Why Are There Two Dog Tags?

If there is one issued piece of equipment given to military personnel that is swirling with urban legend and myths, it is dog tags.

The origins of the dog tag are unknown. Some military historians believe the practice started with the Roman Empire. Like most good military ideas, it is not surprising the Romans would be given credit for developing the dog tag.

Other researchers believe the practice of tagging military personnel started to take shape during the Civil War when soldiers wrote notes with their personal information on them so they could be identified if they became a casualty.

The U.S. Defense Department supports the argument that dog tags, officially known as identification tags, came about during the Civil War because soldiers were afraid of being unidentified and buried in unmarked graves. Soldiers marked their clothing, pinned tags of paper and cloth onto their uniforms, used old coins or bits of metals to identify themselves, and some men carved their names into wood pieces strung around their necks. 

Their concerns were legitimate. By the end of the Civil War, more than 40 percent of the Union Army’s dead were unidentified. For example, of the more than 17,000 troops buried in Vicksburg National Cemetery, nearly 13,000 graves are marked as unknown.

After the Civil War, the U.S. military embraced better practices of casualty identification. At the end of the Spanish American War, service members were issued identification tags in 1899 after U.S. Army Chaplain Charles C. Pierce, an officer in charge of morgue operations in the Philippines, recommended the Army outfit all soldiers with the disks to identify those who were injured or killed. 

The U.S. Army started to issue the tags in 1906. The tags included personal biographical information that could be used to identify a casualty. 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. 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. Like all things military, it is likely the military figured out the need for two dog tags amidst operations. Remember, Donald Rumsfeld’s famous words: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

The U.S. Navy didn't require dog tags until May 1917. By then, all U.S. combat troops were required to wear them. Toward the end of World War I, American Expeditionary Forces in Europe added religious symbols to the tags. 

During the Korean War, the answer to the question why two dog tags got a new answer. One of the tags was put on a much shorter chain and attached to the main chain. However, it was never placed in the mouth of a deceased soldier as military folklore suggests. Instead, the tag on the shorter chain was used as a toe tag when a soldier was killed and his body was being processed. At the end of the 1950s, after the Korean War, procedures changed to keep both dog tags with the service member if they died.

In Vietnam, combat troops started to lace their second tag in their boots. So, the answer to the question, why two dog tags, was for the most part, the same reasoning for issuing two dog tags in Korea. One stayed with the body, the other was used as a toe tag.

Regulations have vacillated regarding how the two tags should be used. Many still ask, why two dog tags? And should the tags stay together or be separated?

Today, service personnel are issued two dog tags on a long and short chain, but given the advances made in DNA forensics and in utilizing medical profiles and information to identify the fallen, the role of the dog tag is still important, but only a piece of the process of identifying our nation’s war casualties.

Why two dog tags? Because as a nation we need to ensure that those who fight for our country get the recognition they deserve. They are entitled to be known to us and the world and if two tags help, then we owe them that.

WWII Dog Tags Explained

The dog tag; few military items are as widely recognized and known to people, both military and civilians, as the dog tag. There are lots of myths about them and their origins, but that’s the subject of a different dog tag article. But the primary purpose of the dog tag was to help identify soldiers who had been wounded or killed in battle.

In this article, we want to show you how to read a WWII dog tag. Why? Because many of you had relatives who fought in World War II and hopefully you are fortunate enough to still have them around. Research shows that only about 300,000 of the 16 million who served in WWII are still alive.

But if the WWII veteran in your life has passed, deciphering their dog tags can help you get a sharper image of their military service and how to read WWII dog tags is a great place to start in recreating a veteran’s military service.

Part of understanding how to read WWII dog tags is knowing that dog tags during this period evolved and had several iterations starting in 1940. The first edition of WWII dog tags included a service member’s name, blood type, serial number, the name of their next of kin and the address, city and state of their next of kin. If you’re trying to figure out how to read WWII dog tags, all of this information can be a bit much to process.

In late 1941, the next version of dog tags began to be issued. These dog tags included a service member’s religious denomination as well as whether or not the service member had been inoculated for tetanus. This dog tag was issued until 1943.

Then in mid-1943, the services removed the next of kin and inoculation information. If you look at a dog tag from 1943 to 1944, it will include the service member’s name, serial number, blood type and religious preference. That’s how to read a WWII dog tag from this period.

Finally, in 1944, the dog tag went through its final change for WWII. The services up until 1946 decided to list the last name first, followed by the first name and middle initial. Making it easier to identify the casualty.

Dog tags have changed since 1946 and today they include different information, but if you find a dog tag which includes information as it is listed above, odds are great you’ve come across a piece of American history that should be treasured because it once belonged to one of the members of the Greatest Generation.

Using the above information, you can learn how to read WWII dog tags and teach others how to read WWII dog tags so these pieces of American history can be protected.