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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
In Cyprus, identification tags include the following information
Danish dog tags are a little metallic plate to be broken in two. The information on the tag is:
On the right hand side of the tag it says Danmark - the Danish word for Denmark
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:
The information is mirrored upside-down on the lower half of the ID tag.
In Greece, identification tags include the following information
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).
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.
Norwegian dog tags are designed to be broken in two like the Canadian version:
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.
Swedish dog tags are designed to be able to break apart. The information on them is:
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.