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U.S.  Navy  Personal  ID  " Dog Tags "

The purchasing of unofficial identification tags goes back to the Civil War.  In the Navy, official identification tags, nicknamed "dog tags," go back to World War I.  They were first prescribed by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels in General Order No. 294 of 12 May 1917.  These first tags were oval, of Monel metal (a patented corrosion-resistant alloy of nickel and copper, with small amounts of iron and manganese), 1.25 inches wide and 1.5 inches long.  Perforated at one end, a small single tag was to be worn around the neck on Monel wire "encased in a cotton sleeve."  One side of the tag bore an etched print of the right index finger.  The other side was stamped "U.S.N." and etched with individual's personal information.  Officer's tags bore initials and surname; rank; and date of appointment, in numerals denoting month, day and year (e.g. 1.5.16).  Enlisted tags bore initials and surname, with date of enlistment and date of birth, in numerals as on officer's tags.

The tags were, apparently not used in the years after World War I.  The Bureau of Naval Personnel Manual, 1942, provided that, "in time of war or other emergency, or when directed by competent authority, individual identification tags shall be prepared and worn by all persons in the naval service."  Suspended from the neck or from the wrist on cotton-sleeved Monel wire.  Monel-metal chain could be used at the individual's expense.  These still appear to have been individual tags.  Tags continued to be made of Monel metal, 1.25 by 1.5 inches, but perforated at each end.  The face of each tag was to bear the individual's name; officer rank or enlisted number; blood type; if vaccinated for tetanus, the letter "T" with date in numerals (e.g. 8/40); and service (USN, USMC, USNR, USMCR).  A right index fingerprint was etched on the reverse.

As World War II went on, a change to the Bureau of Naval Personnel Manual prescribed the use of a second tag, individually suspended by a short length of chain so that one tag could be removed "on death or capture, leaving the other in place."  Dimensions remained the same, but the tag was to be of "corrosion-resisting material" (Monel metal was no longer specified), perforated at each end, and the etched fingerprint was omitted.  Markings consisted of name; officer file number, or enlisted service number; blood type; date of tetanus inoculation; service; and religion, if desired by the service member: Catholic (C), Protestant (P), or "Hebrew" (H).  When a service member was buried ashore or at sea, one tag was left with the body and the other sent to BuPers "as soon as practicable under the circumstances."

Post-World War II tags were worn on a bead chain, with attached short loop for the second tag.  They bore name (surname, followed by initials); service number; service; blood type; and religion, if desired by the individual.

Sources of Information :

Braddock, Paul F. "Armed Forces IDentification Tags." Military Collector & Historian 24, No. 4 (Winter 1972): 112-114

Bureau of Naval Personnel Manual, 1942 & 1945

Department of the Navy

Naval Historical Center

Washington, DC 20374-5060

U.S.  Marine Corp  Personal  ID  " Dog Tags "

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.  This order stated:

Hereafter identification tags will be issued to all officers and enlisted men of the Marine Corps.  They will always be worn when engaged in field service, and at all other times they will either be worn, or kept in the possession of the owner.

The order further provided that the tags would be stamped as follows: "Officers - full name and rank at date of issue; enlisted men - full name and date of first enlistment in the Marine Corps."  These tags were regarded as part of the field kit and were to be suspended from the neck under clothing.

General Order Number 21, Section VI, Headquarters, American Expeditionary Force in France (33 August 1917) authorized square tags. This order was amended on 15 February 1918 by General Order Number 30, paragraph IV, 7n, which provided that:

1.  Two aluminum identification tags, to be furnished by the Q. M. C. (Quartermaster, Marine Corps), will be habitually worn by all officers and enlisted men, and also by all civilians attached to the American Expeditionary Force.

2.  Both tags will be stamped with the name, rank, company and regiment or corps to which the wearer belongs; and the second tag will be worn suspended by a cord one inch long from the bottom of the first tag.  This was the same time when Army serial numbers were assigned to the Marines in France.  General Order Number 10 of the 6th Regiment of Marines dated 15 February 1918 specifically stated, "The numbers assigned to all men present will be stamped in identification tags."

There was some clarification in General Order Number 91, paragraph II, of 10 June 1918, which read as follows: The aluminum identification tags, each the size of a silver half dollar and of suitable thickness, will be worn by each officer and soldier of the American Expeditionary Force and by all civilians attached thereto.  These tags will be worn suspended from the neck underneath the clothing by a cord or thong passed through a small hole in the tag, the second tag to be suspended from the first by a short piece of string or tape. ...The square tags authorized by Section IV, General Number 21, A.A.E.F., 1917, will be issued until the present supply is exhausted."

The Marine Corps Manual of 1921 stated in Article 25 that "The Secretary of the Navy has authorized the use of the Marine Corps identification tag until the exhaustion of the present supply, after which the tag prescribed in the Navy regulations will be used."

The 1940 Marine Corps Manual stated in Section 1, Article 58 that identification tags will be used "in time of war or national emergency and at other times when directed by competent authority."  During this period, the below information was stamped onto oval shaped monel identification tags:

(a) Name (b) Officer's rank or man's service number. Approximately three spaces to the right of rank or service number, indicate religion by "P", "C", or "H", for Protestant, Catholic, or Hebrew. If no religion is indicated this space will be left blank. (c) Type of blood; and if the man has received tetanus toxiod, the letter "T" with the date (T-8/40) to so indicate.  (d) At one end of the tag the letters "USMC" or "USMCR", as may be appropriate.

During the early 1960s two revisions were made to the standardized 1940 identification tags: the tetanus shot date was eliminated and serial numbers were replaced by Social Security Numbers.

Identification tags are issued today as they were in 1916.  They secure the proper interment of those who fall in battle and establish beyond a doubt their identity.  Should it become desirable subsequently to disinter the remains for removal to a national or post cemetery or for shipment home, the identification tag suspended from the neck of the Marine is in all cases interred with the body.  The duplicate tag attached is removed at the time of burial and turned over to the surgeon or person in charge of the burial.  A record of the same, together with the cause and date of death are made and reported to the commanding officer.

The tags are prescribed as part of the uniform and when not worn as directed, they are habitually kept in the owner's possession.  When they are not worn, the identification tags are considered part of the individual's equipment and they are inspected regularly.  Tags for officers are issued upon first reporting to active duty and tags for individuals enlisting are stamped and issued at the recruit depots.

Source of information :

History and Museums Divisions, HSMC

26 April 1982

Headquarters USMC

History and Museums Division

Marine Corps Historical Center

Washington, DC 20374-5040

U.S.  Army  Personal  ID  " Dog Tags "

Note: At the time this article was written the term Graves Registration was used for what is now call Mortuary Affairs.

The Civil War provided the first recorded incident of American soldiers making an effort to ensure that their identities would be known should they die on the battlefield. Their methods were varied, and all were taken on a soldier's own initiative. In 1863, prior to the battle of Mine's Run in northern Virginia, General Meade's troops wrote their names and unit designations on paper tags and pinned them to their clothing. Many soldiers took great care to mark all their personal belongings. Some troops fashioned their own "ID" (identification) tags out of pieces of wood, boring a hole in one end so that they could be worn on a string around the neck.

The commercial sector saw the demand for an identification method and provided products. Harper's Weekly Magazine advertised "Soldier's Pins" which could be mail ordered. Made of silver or gold, these pins were inscribed with an individual's name and unit designation. Private vendors who followed troops also offered ornate identification disks for sale just prior to battles. Still, despite the fact that fear of being listed among the unknowns was a real concern among the rank and file, no reference to an official issue of identification tags by the Federal Government exists. (42% of the Civil War dead remain unidentified.)

The first official advocacy of issuing identification tags took place in 1899. Chaplain Charles C. Pierce, who was tasked to establish the Quartermaster Office of Identification in the Philippines, recommended inclusion of an "identity disc" in the combat field kit as the answer to the need for standard identification. The Army Regulations of 1913 made identification tags mandatory, and by 1917, all combat soldiers wore aluminum discs on chains around their necks. By World War II, the circular disc was replaced by the oblong shape familiar to us today, generally referred to as "dog tags."

Since then, some myths have arisen in connection with the purpose of the identification tags. One of the more common myths involves the reason for the notch on the tag issued between 1941 and the early 1970's. Battlefield rumor held that the notched end of the tag was placed between the front teeth of battlefield casualties to hold the jaws in place. No official record of American soldiers being issued these instructions exists; the only purpose of "the notch" was to hold the blank tag in place on the embossing machine. The machine used at this time doesn't require a notch to hold he blank in place, hence, today's tags are smooth on all sides.

Thee sole purpose of the dog tag is stated by its designation. Dog tags found around the neck of a casualty, and only those tags found around the neck, stay with the remains at all times tags found any place besides around the neck are made note of in the Record of Personal Effects of Deceased Personnel, and placed in an effects bag.  They are not removed unless there is a need to temporarily inter the remains. If there is only one tag present, another is made to match the first. If the remains are unidentified, two tags marked "unidentified" are made. One dog tag is interred with the individual, the other placed on a wire ring in the sequence of the temporary cemetery plot. This enables Graves Registration personnel to make positive identification of remains during disinterment procedures; when the remains are disinterred, the tag on the wire ring is removed and placed with the matching tag around the neck.

The Department of the Army has developed and is currently testing a new dog tag, which will hold 80% of a soldier's medical and dental data on a microchip. Known as the Individually Carried Record, it is not intended to replace the present tag, but rather to augment it as part of the "paperless battlefield" concept. This development is in keeping with the Army's dedication to positively identify each and every fallen soldier.

 In recent years, a near perfect record of identifying service members who have died in the line of duty has been achieved, a far cry from the 58% rate of identification that stood during the Civil War. The dog tag has been and remains a major part of the reason for this record.

At the time this article was written CPT Richard W. Wooley was Chief of Individual Training. Graves Registration Department (now the Mortuary Affairs Center), U.S. Army Quartermaster School, Fort Lee, Virginia.

The Infamous Dog-Tag

The publisher William Randolph Hearst was a fervent enemy of President Roosevelt and the New Deal.  All the newspapers in the Hearst chain were expected to regularly publish unfavorable stories about New Deal programs.  On the eve of the 1936 presidential election Hearst sought to undermine support for Social Security with allegations that workers would be required to wear "dog-tags" with their Social Security number and would be forced to fill-out questionnaires probing for personal information.  In fact, neither allegation was true. However, the "dog tag" story did have a basis in fact.

When considering ways to assign Social Security numbers, one proposal was to issue metal nameplates, not unlike military "dog-tags." Commissioner Altmeyer vetoed this idea as soon as he heard about it. This did not, however, stop the Hearst syndicate from reporting it as fact.  During the early discussion of the metal nameplate idea, one company eager for this potential government business (the Addressograph Corp.) went so far as to prepare a sample I.D. tag in Commissioner Altmeyer's name.  Altmeyer kept this sample "dog-tag" in his desk drawer throughout his career with SSA, and he donated it to SSA after his retirement.  So the one and only Social Security "dog-tag" ever issued is now on display in the History Room at SSA headquarters in Baltimore.

- the S.S. dog tag -

Smarter Dog Tags

The military has decided to give the tried and true Dog Tag a makeover.  The Dog Tag, used for generations to carry a soldier's blood type, name, religion, etc., is being revamped to contain a computer chip.  Instead of five lines of information being available, the military will be able to store just about anything.

Considerations :

There are at least a few issues to worry about before these Tags get issued.

For example:

  • What happens if someone gets caught by the enemy?
  • What about privacy issues?
  • What will they cost?

Thoughts :

Those dog tags spoken of are now "has been" already.  It's now a matter of priority distribution.  (Deployments to Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, South East Asia . . . to name a few places).  It wasn't too long ago that the Air Force Times printed several articles in several issues regarding these nifty-plugin gadgets.  There's a bug to be worked out yet.  Immunization documentation (or rather, downloading/uploading) in the field.  Creating the database storage & retrieval of this information has been a monumental task until now.

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