Military Style Dog Tags: A Little Backgrounder

BY Rowena Taylor

Military Style Dog Tags

How did military style dog tags come to be used by the armed forces for identification purposes? Why is it that every person in the military is issued these tags? Were these tags shaped this way when they first became standard issue for people in the service?

In the beginning, these dog tags were actually round discs that were then called “identity discs”, and were worn around the neck with the use of a leather cord, as opposed to the metal chain that is being used these days. These then progressed to different variants of the rectangular shape, with the tags used by those in the Navy being more oval than rectangular, and those used by the Army and the Air Force being in the shape they are in right now.

These were imprinted with information about the soldier wearing it, with certain divisions having different sets of information on their tags as opposed to those worn by others. For instance, tags worn by those in the US Air Force carry on them the person’s last name, first name, and middle initial on the first line, which is then followed by their social security number on the second line, and blood type on the third. Those that are worn by the US Marine Corps however carry their last name at the top, then the next line carries their first and middle initials, plus their blood type, with the third line carrying their social security number, the fourth line with their branch and gas mask size, and the last line carrying their religion.

In the past, these were made out of a metal alloy called Monel, which consisted of nickel, manganese, copper and iron. When the attack at Pearl Harbor occurred, and massive deployment of troops happened, they ran out of this particular type of allow for the creation of dog tags. This was when stainless steel and brass came into the picture, and have been used for the creation of these tags up to this day.

There have been quite a number of myths and rumors surrounding the many different elements found on these tags. For instance, the old dog tags worn by those who served during World War II had a notch on one side of the oval tag. It was rumored that this was to allow for the tag to be placed easily between the two front teeth of the deceased soldier. The real reason why these notches existed in the first place is actually less dramatic, with the notch being there due to the embossing machine’s need for something to hold the tag properly in place while the embossing was being done.

Another myth that circulated about these tags is the one that concerns the chain. These tags come with beaded chains on them and the rumor is that these chains have 365 beads, one for each day of the year. It has been said that these beads are used by captured soldiers to count how many days they have been incarcerated and remove one bead for each day they count. This is just a myth since a chain with 365 beads would be too long to wear around one’s neck, and the standard chain actually has only 200 beads.

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