Definitions

enlisted-man

Dog tag (identifier)

A dog tag is the informal name for the identification tags worn by military personnel, because of their resemblance to actual dog tags. The tag is primarily used for the identification of dead and wounded along with providing essential basic medical information for the treatment of the latter such as blood type and history of inoculations. In the event the member has a medical condition that requires special attention, an additional red tag with the pertinent information is issued and worn with the dog tags.

Wearing of the tag is required at all times by soldiers in the field. It may contain two copies of the information and be designed to break easily into two pieces. This allows half the tag to be collected for notification while the other half remains with the body when battle conditions do not allow the casualty to be immediately recovered. Alternatively, two identical tags are issued. One is worn on a long chain around the neck; the second on a much smaller chain attached to the first chain. In the event the wearer is killed the second tag is collected and the first remains with the body.

Dog tags in history

During the American Civil War of 1861-1865, some soldiers pinned paper notes with their name and home address to the backs of their coats. Other soldiers stencilled identification on their knapsacks or scratched it in the soft lead backing of the Army belt buckle.

Manufacturers of identification badges recognized a market and began advertising in periodicals. Their pins were usually shaped to suggest a branch of service and engraved with soldier's name and unit. Machine-stamped tags were also made of brass or lead with a hole and usually had (on one side) an eagle or shield and such phrases as "War for the Union" or "Liberty, Union, and Equality." The other side had the soldier's name and unit and sometimes a list of battles in which he had participated.

A New Yorker named John Kennedy wrote to the U.S. Army in 1862, offering to furnish discs for all officers and men in the Federal Army, enclosing a design for the disc. The National Archives now has the letter along with the reply, a summary refusal without explanation.

In the Spanish-American War, soldiers purchased crude stamped identification tags, sometimes with misleading information.

Franco-Prussian War

The Prussian Army issued identification tags for its troops at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. They were nicknamed Hundemarken ("dog tags") and compared to a similar identification system instituted by the Kaiser for dogs in the Prussian capital city of Berlin at about the same time.

First World War

The British Army and their Imperial forces in Canada, Australia and New Zealand issued identification tags from the beginning of the First World War. The tags were made of fibre, one in red and one in green and suspended around the neck by butcher's twine. The same pattern was worn into the Second World War and the Korean War by Commonwealth forces.

The U.S. Army first authorized identification tags in War Department General Order No. 204, dated December 20, 1906, which essentially prescribes the Kennedy identification tag:

"An aluminum identification tag, the size of a silver half dollar and of suitable thickness, stamped with the name, rank, company, regiment, or corps of the wearer, will be worn by each officer and enlisted man of the Army whenever the field kit is worn, the tag to be suspended from the neck, underneath the clothing, by a cord or thong passed through a small hole in the tab. It is prescribed as a part of the uniform and when not worn as directed herein will be habitually kept in the possession of the owner. The tag will be issued by the Quartermaster's Department gratuitously to enlisted men and at cost price to officers..."

The Army changed regulations on July 6, 1916, so that all soldiers were issued two tags: one to stay with the body and the other to go to the person in charge of the burial for record-keeping purposes. In 1918, the Army adopted and allotted the serial number system, and name and serial numbers were ordered stamped on the identification tags of all enlisted troops. (Serial number 1 was assigned to enlisted man Arthur B. Crean of Chicago in the course of his fifth enlistment period.) In 1969 the Army converted to the Social Security number for personnel identification. Some nations have instead a single tag with a half that can be easily broken off for the purpose of record-keeping.

World War II

There is a recurring myth about the notch situated in one end of the dog tags issued to United States Army personnel during World War II. It was rumored that the notch's purpose was so that if a Soldier found one of his comrades on the battlefield, he could take one tag to the commanding officer and kick the other between the teeth of the Soldier to ensure that the tag would remain with the body and be identified. According to Snopes, the notch is there simply to hold the tag in place on the embossing machine.

Following WWII, the US Navy Department adopted the dog tags used by the US Army and Air Force, so a single shape and size became the American standard.

In the Vietnam War, American Soldiers were allowed to place rubber silencers on their dog tags so the enemy would not hear the metallic clanking. Others chose to tape the two tags together with black tape. Still others chose to wear one tag around the neck, and the other tag on the lace of one boot. All three variations were commonly seen among U.S. troops.

Prior to the use of Social Security Numbers on dog tags beginning in the 1960s, the military printed the individual's military service (or serial) number.

Dog tags are traditionally part of the makeshift battlefield memorials Soldiers and Marines create to their fallen comrades. The casualty's rifle with bayonet affixed is stood vertically atop the empty boots, with the helmet over the stock of the rifle. The dog tags hang from the rifle's handle or trigger guard. Marines also often give them to loved ones before deployments or when dating, similar to the student practice of giving a sweetheart one's letterman jacket or ring to wear.

Non-military wear

Also, dog tags have recently found their way into youth fashion by way of military chic. Originally worn as a part of a military uniform by youths wishing to present a tough or militaristic image, dog tags have since seeped out into wider fashion circles. They may be inscribed with a person's details, their beliefs or tastes, a favorite quote, or may bear the name or logo of a band or performer. Some people also prefer to have the information on their tags transferred to a smaller, sometimes golden or silver tag by a jeweller, as the original tag can be considered too large and bulky by some.

National variations

Australia

The Australian Defence Force issues soldiers with two tags of different shape: Number 1 Tag (the octagonal shaped disc) and Number 2 Tag (the circular disc). They are embossed with the title AS, the member's PMKeyS number, initials and name, religion and blood group.

Belgium

Belgian Forces identity tags are, like the Canadian and Norwegian, designed to be broken in two in case of fatality; the lower half is returned to Belgian Defence Headquarters, while the upper half remains on the body. The tags contain the following information:

  • Upper half:
    • Belgisch Leger (Belgian Army)
    • Service Number
    • Surname
    • Gender
    • Date of birth
    • Religion and blood group with RH factor
  • Lower half: identical.

Canada

Canadian Forces identity discs (abbreviated "I discs") are designed to be broken in two in the case of fatality; the lower half is returned to National Defence Headquarters with the member's personal documents, while the upper half remains on the body. The tags contain the following information:

  • Upper half:
    • Service Number (SN)
    • Initials and surname
    • Religion and blood group with RH factor
    • The legend "CDN FORCES CDN" (or for foreign nationals, the name of the country the individual represents)
    • The text "DO NOT REMOVE / NE PAS ENLEVER" on the reverse
  • Lower half: identical, except it does not contain the blood type, and the reverse is blank.

Before the Service Number was introduced in the 1990s, military personnel were identified on the I discs (as well as other documents) by their Social Insurance Number.

Cyprus

In Cyprus, identification tags include the following information

  • Surname
  • First Name
  • Service Number (eg. 11111/00/00B where the first numbers are the ID / the second two are the year you closed 18 years old / the last 2 numbers are the year you enlisted and the letter either A or B is the enlistment group)
  • Blood Group

Denmark

Danish dog tags are a little metallic plate to be broken in two. The information on the tag is:

  1. Personal identification number
  2. Last name
  3. First name

On the right hand side of the tag it says Danmark - the Danish word for Denmark

Germany

German Bundeswehr ID tags are an oval-shaped disc designed to be broken in half. They feature the following information on segmented and numbered fields:

  • Field 1: blank
  • Field 2: DEU (for Germany)
  • Field 3: Religious preference (usually "rk" for Roman Catholic, or "ev" for Lutheran)
  • Field 4: Personenkennziffer (service number: birth date in DDMMYY format, dash, capitalized first letter of last name, dash, and five-digit number based on soldier's home military administrative district), ex. 101281-S-45568
  • Field 5: Blood group

The information is mirrored upside-down on the lower half of the ID tag.

Greece

In Greece, identification tags include the following information

  • Surname
  • First Name
  • Service Number (where date of birth is included as "class")
  • Blood Group

Not all corps are given ID tags in the Greek forces (for example, soldiers in the engineer corps are not issued tags, while those in the Infantry and Artillery are).

Israel

Israeli dog tags are designed to be broken in two (the bottom half has a hole so the broken off half can be hung on a ring), the information appears in three lines (twice):

  1. Army identification number ("mispar ishi", literally: personal number. A seven digit number that is different from the nine digit identification number for citizens).
  2. Last name
  3. First Name

In case of capture, Israeli soldiers are instructed to provide the information that appears on the dog tag and their rank only. Another dog tag is kept inside the military boot in order to identify dead soldiers.

Finland

Finnish dog tags are also designed to be broken in two, however the only text on it is the personal identification number.

Norway

Norwegian dog tags are designed to be broken in two like the Canadian version:

  • The top half containing the nationality, date of birth, social security number and the bloodtype.
  • The bottom half contains the nationality, date of birth, social security number and has a hole so the broken off half can be hung on a ring.

Singapore

The Singapore Armed Forces-issued dog tags are inscribed (not embossed) with three items:

The dog tags consist of two metal pieces, one oval with two holes, and one round with one hole. A synthetic lanyard is threaded through both holes in the oval piece, and tied around the wearer's neck. The round piece is tied to the main loop on a shorter loop.

When a soldier is killed in action, the round piece is removed by cutting the short loop with a bayonet, while the oval piece remains with the body.

Sweden

Swedish dog tags are designed to be able to break apart. The information on them is:

Switzerland

Swiss Armed Forces ID tags are oval-shaped and are not designed to be broken in two. In case of fatality, the tag will be completely removed. They contain the following information:

  • Social Insurance Number
  • Surname
  • First Name
  • Date of birth in DD.MM.YY format

United Kingdom

UK Forces have the "Big 6" embossed on a circular tag, the Big 6 being:

  • Surname
  • Initials
  • Service Number
  • Date of birth
  • Blood Group
  • Religion Uses a two-letter code: CE (Church of England; the official religion of the United Kingdom) or OD (Other Denomination; all other religions).

United States

US Armed Forces typically carry two identical oval tags containing:

USAF Format 1:
*Surname, first name, middle initial
*Social Security Number, followed by "AF" indicating branch of service.
*Blood Group
*"blank"
*Religion

USAF Format 2:
*Surname
*First name and middle initial
*Social Security Number, followed by "AF" indicating branch of service.
*Blood Group
*Religion

USMC:
*Surname
*First and middle initials,blood group
*Social Security Number with no dashes, but spaced
*Branch ("USMC"):*Gas mask size
*Religious preference (or "NO PREFERENCE") or medical allergy if red medical tag.

US Navy:
*Surname, first name, middle initial
*"blank"
*Social Security Number with no dashes or spaces followed immediately by branch blood group
*"blank"
*Religion

US Army:
*Surname
*First name, middle initial
*Social Security Number
*Blood type
*Religion

USCG:
*Surname, first name, middle initial
*Social Security Number with no dashes or spaces followed immediately by branch
*blood group
*"blank"
*Religion

Recently, the U.S. Army stopped using the term "Dog tags", replacing it with "I.D tags".

US Forces are also permitted to wear a small religious medallion, usually provided for them, on the smaller chain (e.g. a cross or Star of David). This provides a quick, easily identifiable reference for a chaplain should his services be required.

Notes

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