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.

The History and Mysteries Behind Dog Tags

 

One of the most gruesome rumors to ever circulate throughout the military ranks is still alive today. Ask some of the older men and women in uniform about dog tags, and specifically, notched dog tags and you will get horrid tales of about how war dead are treated. Fortunately, the tales are untrue and U.S. casualties are treated with respect and dignity.

In the 1940s and for about 30 years, U.S. military dog tags, the M-1940 dog tag to be exact, had this noticeable notch in it along the edge. Soldiers tell stories, as soldiers do, so when people started asking, why were dog tags notched, military personnel began to tell tales of how when a soldier died on the battlefield, medics would take the notched part of the dog tag and place it between the teeth of the deceased soldier. The medic or mortuary affairs member would then nudge or kick the jaw so the tag could become lodged between the soldier’s teeth. Why was it necessary for it to stay lodged between their teeth?

For starters, transporting a dead soldier across a battlefield in the 1940s was an arduous task and there were plenty of opportunities where a soldier’s identity could be lost. If a tag was secured between the teeth, this aided the identification process, despite how uncivil the act might be. Why were dog tags notched? Hint, it wasn’t because of the challenges the U.S. military faced in removing the dead off the battlefield in the 1940s.

Another reason for notched dog tags was popular for many years and has since subsided. The tale went that once a soldier was taken off the battlefield, their bodies would produce gases. In order to allow the gases to escape the dead body, a dog tag was placed in the mouth, between the teeth, to keep the body’s mouth open to allow the gases to escape. This was another reason offered when people asked why were dog tags notched?

The truth is, neither of those two stories are true. They make for dramatic anecdotes and war stories, but they are completely false. It is true that dead bodies bloat from gas buildup, but venting them with an open mouth would have no impact on the bodies since gases do not pass through the mouth and are present throughout the body.

Why were dog tags notched? The truth is far less compelling.

The notched dog tags used until 1970 were part of a casualty identification process that included a tag that was created using a machine that allowed the tag-making apparatus to hold the blank tag while it was stamped with the soldier’s personal information. In other words, the tag was there to help the machine hold the dog tag in place as it was stamped. Current dog tags are manufactured by machines that do not need the notch to hold the tags in place.

But there is more to answer the question, why were dog tags notched? If a soldier was a casualty, the dog tag was removed from his body and it was placed into a handheld, gun-like tool called the Addressograph Model 70. This device would transfer the soldier’s information from his dog tags to his medical records. The importance of the notch, again, was to hold the dog tag in place in the Addressograph which was a medical imprinter.

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. They would squeeze the handle of the unit and it would imprint dog tag information onto a document like an old typewriter ribbon.

So if you hear someone telling tall tales about dog tags and why they were notched, remember, you know the real answer to the question, why were dog tags notched?

Given the advances in DNA technology, along with advances in record management by the U.S. military, today dog tags aren’t a necessity for the identification of casualties. The identification of remains is a forensic process, reliant on more than just dog tags.