Military dog tags play an important part in the armed forces of the United States and they have an interesting history. Actually, the first dog tags were used by Chinese soldiers in the mid-century. These tags were made of wood and attached to their belt with a tag. It had the soldier’s age, unit, birthplace, name and date the joined the service.
1. Dog tags were not available to soldiers during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and many tried to form their own ID record with notes in their coats, small pieces of wood or marking their knapsacks or belt buckles. As a result, over 300,000 Union Veterans, who perished, were classified as unidentified. The unknown who are buried in National Cemeteries are identified by a small square block with a grave number.
Originally, manufacturers made pins in various shapes that denoted the service branch. They were engraved with the solder’s unit and name. However, in 1862 the U.S. army refused a proposal to have discs manufactured for members of the Federal Army.
2. It was not until 1899 that mention was again made regarding issuing identification tags. It was recommended by Chaplain Charles C. Pierce who was stationed in the Philippines. By 1913, loose identification tags were being required of all military personnel. In 1917, all active soldiers were wearing chains around their necks that with aluminum ID discs.
War Department General Order No. 204 authorized the U.S. Army to issue identification tags. This order was issued December 20, 1906.
3. Tags issued between 1941 and 1970 had a notch on one end of the disc. Although many rumors prevailed regarding its purpose, in reality the reason was so it would fit on the embossing machine. Currently, due to a change in machine design, the notch no longer exists.
It was during the Vietnam War that ‘silencers’ came into use. These were made of soft material and taped between the discs to reduce noise. This practice was discontinued following the war.
4. The U.S. Armed Forces has stopped calling these discs ‘dog tags’ and now identifies them as ‘ID tags’. It issues both debossed (imprinted with letters stamped in) and embossed (imprinted with letters raised). They include the recipient’s full name, social security number, blood type, inoculations and religion.
5. These tags continue to be changed. For example, currently the Marines are testing a TacMeddCS that can pinpoint a wounded personnel’s location by means of radio frequency technology, global-positioning and electronic systems. A new tag is also being developed by the Department of Army that will contain a microchip with 80% of the holder’s dental and medical data. This latest chip will augment the current tag and will make rescues much easier.