The Depot

What Goes On Military Dog Tags? An In-Depth Look

There is no term linked as closely to military service as the term “dog tag.” It is synonymous with the military and for hundreds of years these emblems of sacrifice and service have etched their place into American military culture.

Over the years, much like the uniforms and equipment worn and used by service personnel, dog tags have changed and what goes on military dog tags has also changed. In order to understand what goes on military dog tags today, we have to understand what information has been placed on them in the past. Like the soldiers who wear them, dog tags have evolved over the years.

Civil War
During the Civil War, some battles had casualties numbering in the thousands and soldiers became afraid that they would not be identified if they were killed in action. They wanted to be properly identified and buried in a marked grave if they died, so naturally, military ingenuity kicked in and soldiers devised ways to be identified if they were killed.

What goes on military dog tags during the Civil War? That’s a hard question to answer since there was no uniformity, but back then primarily soldiers stitched their names into their uniforms while others pinned pieces of paper to themselves. Many more used coins or other bits of metals and some men carved their names into chunks of wood strung around their necks. Soldiers with financial resources purchased engraved metals tags from vendors who followed the armies during the war.

When the Civil War ended, more than 40 percent of the Union Army’s dead were unidentified, according to the U.S. Defense Department. The soldiers’ concerns were validated and the use of dog tags on the battlefield took root in military history.

Early 1900s
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the first official request to issue service members with dog tags was in 1899 at the end of the Spanish-American war. U.S. Army Chaplain Charles C. Pierce, who was in charge of the Army Morgue and Office of Identification in the Philippines, recommended that all soldiers be issued circular disks to identify those who were severely injured or killed in action. 

By 1906, the Army required that dog tags be worn by soldiers and thus the Army ushered in a new chapter in military dog tags history. But what goes on military dog tags in the 1900s? The dog tags were stamped with a soldier's name, rank, company and regiment or corps. The tags were worn around the neck with the field uniform, secured by a chain or cord.

Ten years later, the original dog tag order was modified and a second identical disc was required to be worn. The first dog tag would remain with the body of the fallen soldier, while the second was for burial service record keeping.

In 1917, when the U.S. Navy required all their sailors wear dog tags, the War Department finally mandated that all American combat troops have dog tags. Certainly, back then military leaders were asking themselves, “what goes on military dog tags?” So, they decided the tags included the service member’s name, serial number and religious denomination to help with the disposition of remains. The Army, Navy and Marine Corps all had their own variety of dog tags.

World War II and Korean War
Some believe that the term dog tag was a nickname that World War II military draftees called the tin tags because the draftees joked that they were treated like dogs. Another military rumor is that they looked like tags on a dog’s collar. But while the term “dog tag” seems to have caught on around World War II, the concept of identifying soldiers originated long before World War II.

During World War II, dog tags did not change much and they became part of the uniform evolving into the size and shape they are today. What goes on military dog tags from the World War II era? 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.

Vietnam and beyond
Dog tags for decades had notches on them. Despite the untrue reasoning for this notch covered in a previous Depot Blog post, the notches existed because of the type of machine used to create them and by the 1970s, those machines became obsolete and the notched dog tags assumed their rightful place in history. What goes on military dog tags from the Vietnam Era? The usual; name, serial number, blood type and religious denomination.

Today, dog tags continue to be issued and they are an important part of battlefield identification. Dog tags at some point transitioned from using serial numbers to social security numbers, and that lasted more than 40 years until 2015 when the services began to remove social security numbers over privacy concerns.

What goes on military dog tags today? Name, blood type, religious denomination, but some still have social security numbers on them. While what goes on military dog tags is the same across the service branches, the information is placed in different order depending on the service branch.

Conclusion
Dog tags were developed at a time when American warfighters desired to be properly identified should they fall in battle. They wanted their ultimate sacrifice to be known. That same purpose has carried on for decades, ensuring the proper and dignified processing of American fallen warriors.

Today, with advancements in DNA science and technology, what goes on military dog tags seems less important, but dog tags are still as much of military culture as they have ever been.

Lost Military Dog Tags: 5 Inspiring Stories of Dog Tags Returned Home

Considering that the United States has thousands of military members still accounted for, it should come as no surprise that there are thousands of lost dog tags. Lost dog tags have been found overseas and domestically. And these lost dog tags somehow stir in those that find them an energy that drives them to find the owners or their next of kin. While we can’t explain why people choose to hunt down the homes of these lost dog tags, we can share five great stories of how lost dog tags found their way back where they belong.

World War II
At a Florida flea market, a man came across a set of lost dog tags. The gentleman, a veteran, was angry that someone would be selling the dog tags. The vet tried, unsuccessfully, to have the vendor give him the lost dog tags, so he purchased them and thus began his attempt to home the lost dog tags.

The veteran turned to a non-profit that helps connect people who find dog tags with owners of lost dog tags. The veteran learned that the lost dog tags belonged to Army WWII Veteran, George Kroeger, who was originally from Ohio, but after the war Kroeger and his family moved to Florida.

Sadly, Kroeger passed away in 1986 and his wife and a son both died in 2005. There was no way to determine how his dog tag ended up in a flea market, but some guess that in the shuffle of estates the lost dog tags ended up in the hands of a vendor.

Luckily, the folks at the non-profit found a surviving son of Kroeger and he was presented his father’s dog tags.

Korea
A young boy in Missouri crawled underneath the wrap-around porch of his friend’s house where the two would go and hide. It was under that porch in Cassville, Missouri that the boy would find a lost dog tag that belonged to a Korean War draftee.

The boy grew into a man and kept the lost dog tag for years and as an adult he eventually figured out that the dog tags that he had were likely valuable to someone else. Like others, he reached out to a non-profit for help. 

They researched and discovered that the lost dog tags belonged to Billy Ray Fogg who was drafted into the Army in 1952. Sadly, Fogg was deceased, having died in 1989, but his wife survived and she was reunited with her husband’s dog tags.  

Vietnam
The dog tags of U.S. Army soldier Jackie Dale Walker from Oklahoma made their way home in 2012 after spending decades in the jungle in Southeast Asia. The lost dog tags belonging to Walker, who left behind a mother, father, sisters and brothers when he died in Vietnam in 1968, were returned to his family.

The lost dog tags were presented to his family 44 years after his death. This was made possible because a Wall Street trader was touring the Ho Chi Minh trail in 1998 and he came upon a Vietnamese man who had collected dog tags he had found over the years. He had more than 100 of them and the trader purchased them for $1 each.

Over the years, many more were returned by the trader, but eventually his efforts turned into an organized effort to help return the lost dog tags to their rightful owners.

Cold War
In 2021, a wildland firefighter in Arizona found a set of lost dog tags wrapped around a rear-view mirror, on I-17 just outside of Phoenix. Interestingly, 22 years earlier, a Marine Corps veteran was involved in car accident at that same site.

The Marine’s vehicle went off the road and flipped several times causing the veteran to suffer internal injuries and multiple fractures. A passenger in his car died from injuries sustained in the crash.

The rear-view mirror from the Marine vet’s car was broken off and thrown from the vehicle where they were found, more than 20 years later by the firefighter.

In 2021, the firefighter returned the lost dog tags to the Marine veteran. It turns out the two live close to each other.

Global War on Terror
An employee at an Ohio-based company found a set of lost dog tags in their work space and with some help they tracked down the retired Army National Guard officer who was the rightful owner.

The gentleman served in Iraq as a public affairs officer in 2004 and the tags have since been reunited with him.

If you have come across a set of lost dog tags, please consider reaching out to a veteran service organization. They might be able to direct you to an organization that helps home lost dog tags with their rightful owners or their families.

Military Dog Tags: A Brief History and Overview

The American military, like American culture, has plenty of tall tales, myths and legends. Americans, especially American soldiers, can spin a yarn like nobody else. It makes the military culture, and the people in it, more colorful and robust.

So, it should come as no surprise that dog tags have a bit of mystery swirling around them in some mythical orbit. Much of it is untrue, like the reason why dog tags used to be notched, but to help remove some of the misinformation out there about dog tags, maybe it is best to cover a bit of military dog tags history.

According to the Army, the term "dog tag" was first coined by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in 1936 when Hearst heard of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's plan to issue cards for personal identification to help manage the newly formed Social Security Administration. Hearst tagged them, no pun intended, "dog tags."

Then of course there is the military dog tags history that military personnel know. Many believe that the term dog tag was a nickname that World War II military draftees called them because the draftees joked that they were treated like dogs. Another military rumor in military dog tags history is that they looked like tags on a dog’s collar. But while the term “dog tag” seems to have caught on around World War II, the concept of identifying soldiers originated long before World War II.

During the Civil War, some battles had casualties numbering in the thousands and soldiers became afraid that they would not be identified if they were killed in action. They wanted to be properly identified and buried in a marked grave if they died, so naturally, military ingenuity kicked in and soldiers devised ways to be identified if they were killed.

Some soldiers stitched their names into their uniforms while others pinned pieces of paper to themselves. Many more used coins or other bits of metals and some men carved their names into chunks of wood strung around their necks. Soldiers with financial resources purchased engraved metals tags from vendors who followed the armies during the war.

When the Civil War ended, more than 40 percent of the Union Army’s dead were unidentified, according to the U.S. Defense Department. The soldiers’ concerns were validated and the use of dog tags on the battlefield took root in the long military dog tags history.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the first official request to issue service members with dog tags was in 1899 at the end of the Spanish-American war. U.S. Army Chaplain Charles C. Pierce, who was in charge of the Army Morgue and Office of Identification in the Philippines, recommended that all soldiers be issued circular disks to identify those who were severely injured or killed in action. 

By 1906, the Army required that dog tags be worn by soldiers and thus the Army ushered in a new chapter in military dog tags history. The dog tags were stamped with a soldier's name, rank, company and regiment or corps. The tags were worn around the neck with the field uniform, secured by a chain or cord.

Ten years later, the original dog tag order was modified and a second identical disc was required to be worn. The first dog tag would remain with the body of the fallen soldier, while the second was for burial service record keeping.

In 1917, when the U.S. Navy required all their sailors wear dog tags, the War Department finally mandated that all American combat troops have dog tags. The tags included the service member’s serial number and religious denomination to help with the disposition of remains. The Army, Navy and Marine Corps all had their own variety of dog tags, but the service branches were now a part of military dog tags history.

During World War II, the military dog tags history did not change much. Dog tags became part of the uniform and they evolved into the size and shape they are today. The dog tags from the World War II era 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. 

As previously mentioned in this post, at one point in military dog tags history, dog tags had notches on them. Despite the untrue reasoning for this notch covered in a previous Depot Blog post, the notches existed because of the type of machine used to create them and by the 1970s, those machines became obsolete and the notched dog tags assumed their rightful place in military dog tags history.

Today, dog tags continue to be issued and they are an important part of battlefield identification. Dog tags used to include social security numbers as the military transitioned from serial numbers, and that lasted more than 40 years until 2015 when the services began to remove social security numbers over privacy concerns.

Lastly, advances in DNA technology and science have helped make identification of the fallen more exact and it has made military dog tags history. Nonetheless, dog tags are invaluable and continue to help bring our men and women in uniform home from the battlefield when they fall.

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.