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What are Dog Tags?

Dog tags are a form of identification worn by military personnel, inscribed with vital information like name, social security number, and blood type. These small, metal tags serve as a critical tool for identification in challenging situations. Curious about their evolution and how they've saved lives? Dive deeper into the fascinating history and modern uses of dog tags in our full article.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

In military circles, dog tags are the regulation identification tags issued to all active duty soldiers, although they are now formally called "I.D. tags" to avoid any derogatory implications. Military personnel are required to keep two sets of I.D. tags around their necks while in uniform, one on a neck-length chain and another on a shorter chain attached to the first. The longer set remains with an injured or deceased soldier, while the shorter set is sent off to the hospital or graves registration unit for processing.

The unofficial name for these I.D. tags comes from their resemblance to actual tags used for identifying dogs. Modern tags are generally made from aluminum blanks fed through a metal embossing machine. Vintage ones from the 1940s through the early 1970s had a notch on one side, but modern dog tags are completely smooth. Advances in identification technology now give military officials the ability to store all of a soldier's medical records on a small electronic chip contained in the tags.

Dog tags help identify active duty soldiers.
Dog tags help identify active duty soldiers.

Dog tags were not always standard military gear, however. During the Civil War, the identification of individual soldiers lost on a large battlefield was nearly impossible. Some soldiers would sew strips of cloth with personal identification to the backs of their uniforms, or else purchase special commemorative pins stamped with their name and regiment. At that time, the United States military had no established policy on the identification of soldiers, although there were several purveyors of commemorative pins who offered their services to the government.

It wasn't until 1906 that military regulations were changed to require a standard set of identification tags, and the system of wearing two separate sets of tags only became required in 1916. Dog tags issued by the quartermaster's office included the soldier's full name (in reverse order), Social Security number, military service number, blood type and religious affiliation. Older tags may also include information on a soldier's tetanus shot history.

The notch contained in sets of dog tags has long been a source of controversy. Some believed it was created to accommodate the front teeth of deceased soldiers as the tags were placed in their mouths. The notch allegedly made it easier for other soldiers to forcibly maneuver them into the proper position. Others suggested the notch held a deceased soldier's mouth open to prevent a dangerous build-up of internal gases. There was also a rumor that it indicated the position of the first nail in a deceased soldier's coffin.

Ironically, one of the leading theories debunking these battlefield myths is, in fact, a myth itself. Allegedly, the notch in standard dog tags was created to align the metallic blank in the embossing machine properly, and it promptly disappeared when more modern embossing equipment became available. In reality, the notch had nothing to do with the creation of a tag. Whenever military medics needed to transfer a soldier's dog tag information to official paperwork, they used a machine called the Addressograph Model 70. This machine had a slot for the proper placement of the tags while the embossed side was inked and pressed onto the paper. The notch ensured that the I.D. would be oriented correctly, since they would not fit into the machine in any other position.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of dog tags in the military?

Dog tags serve as a form of identification for military personnel. They are essential for the quick identification of soldiers in the event of casualties during combat. Each tag typically contains vital information such as the service member's name, Social Security Number (or service number), blood type, and religious preference. This information is crucial for medical teams and for notifying next of kin in case of injury or death.

How did dog tags get their name?

The term "dog tag" is an informal but widely used nickname for military identification tags. According to some sources, they received this nickname because they resemble the tags used to identify dogs. The comparison may also stem from the tags' purpose of identification and the fact that they are worn around the neck, similar to a dog's collar.

What material are military dog tags made of?

Military dog tags are traditionally made of a corrosion-resistant metal. During World War II, they were made of Monel or stainless steel, but modern U.S. military dog tags are commonly made of a T304 stainless steel alloy. This material is chosen for its durability and resistance to rust, ensuring the tags remain legible under harsh conditions.

Can civilians wear dog tags?

Yes, civilians can wear dog tags, and they often do so as a fashion statement or to show support for the military. Some people wear them as a form of personal identification or medical alert. However, it's important for civilians to be respectful and avoid wearing dog tags that replicate those of actual service members, as this could be seen as impersonation or disrespectful to those who serve.

Are dog tags still used by the military today?

Yes, dog tags are still used by the military today. They remain an essential part of a service member's uniform. While the design and information included on the tags may have evolved over time, their fundamental purpose as a means of identification in times of crisis remains unchanged. Modern militaries continue to issue dog tags to their personnel for this reason.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular HistoricalIndex contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular HistoricalIndex contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...

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    • Dog tags help identify active duty soldiers.
      By: Pavel Bernshtam
      Dog tags help identify active duty soldiers.