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History of US Dog Tags

U.S. Marine Corp Dog Tags

Identification tags, more commonly known as dog tags, have been used by the Marine Corps since 1916. They serve to identify Marines who fall in battle and secure a suitable burial for them. IDentification tags were probably first authorized in Marine Corps Order Number 32 of 6 October 1916. This order stated:
Hereafter identification tags will be issued to all officers and enlisted men of the Marine Corps. They will always be worn when engaged in field service, and at all other times they will either be worn, or kept in the possession of the owner.

The order further provided that the tags would be stamped as follows: "Officers - full name and rank at date of issue; enlisted men - full name and date of first enlistment in the Marine Corps." These tags were regarded as part of the field kit and were to be suspended from the neck under clothing.

General Order Number 21, Section VI, Headquarters, American Expeditionary Force in France (33 August 1917) authorized square tags. This order was amended on 15 February 1918 by General Order Number 30, paragraph IV, 7n, which provided that:

1. Two aluminum identification tags, to be furnished by the Q. M. C. (Quartermaster, Marine Corps), will be habitually worn by all officers and enlisted men, and also by all civilians attached to the American Expeditionary Force.

2. Both tags will be stamped with the name, rank, company and regiment or corps to which the wearer belongs; and the second tag will be worn suspended by a cord one inch long from the bottom of the first tag. This was the same time when Army serial numbers were assigned to the Marines in France. General Order Number 10 of the 6th Regiment of Marines dated 15 February 1918 specifically stated, "The numbers assigned to all men present will be stamped in identification tags."

There was some clarification in General Order Number 91, paragraph II, of 10 June 1918, which read as follows: The aluminum identification tags, each the size of a silver half dollar and of suitable thickness, will be worn by each officer and soldier of the American Expeditionary Force and by all civilians attached thereto. These tags will be worn suspended from the neck underneath the clothing by a cord or thong passed through a small hole in the tag, the second tag to be suspended from the first by a short piece of string or tape. ...The square tags authorized by Section IV, General Number 21, A.A.E.F., 1917, will be issued until the present supply is exhausted."

The Marine Corps Manual of 1921 stated in Article 25 that "The Secretary of the Navy has authorized the use of the Marine Corps identification tag until the exhaustion of the present supply, after which the tag prescribed in the Navy regulations will be used."

The 1940 Marine Corps Manual stated in Section 1, Article 58 that identification tags will be used "in time of war or national emergency and at other times when directed by competent authority." During this period, the below information was stamped onto oval shaped monel identification tags:

(a) Name (b) Officer's rank or man's service number. Approximately three spaces to the right of rank or service number, indicate religion by "P", "C", or "H", for Protestant, Catholic, or Hebrew. If no religion is indicated this space will be left blank. (c) Type of blood; and if the man has received tetanus toxiod, the letter "T" with the date (T-8/40) to so indicate. (d) At one end of the tag the letters "USMC" or "USMCR", as may be appropriate.

During the early 1960s two revisions were made to the standardized 1940 identification tags: the tetanus shot date was eliminated and serial numbers were replaced by Social Security Numbers.

Identification tags are issued today as they were in 1916. They secure the proper interment of those who fall in battle and establish beyond a doubt their identity. Should it become desirable subsequently to disinter the remains for removal to a national or post cemetery or for shipment home, the identification tag suspended from the neck of the Marine is in all cases interred with the body. The duplicate tag attached is removed at the time of burial and turned over to the surgeon or person in charge of the burial. A record of the same, together with the cause and date of death are made and reported to the commanding officer.

The tags are prescribed as part of the uniform and when not worn as directed, they are habitually kept in the owner's possession. When they are not worn, the identification tags are considered part of the individual's equipment and they are inspected regularly. Tags for officers are issued upon first reporting to active duty and tags for individuals enlisting are stamped and issued at the recruit depots.
Source of Information :

History and Museums Divisions, HSMC
26 April 1982
Headquarters USMC
History and Museums Division
Marine Corps Historical Center
Washington, DC 20374-5040


U.S. Navy Personal ID Dog Tags  

The purchasing of unofficial identification tags goes back to the Civil War. In the Navy, official identification tags, nicknamed "dog tags" go back to World War I. They were first prescribed by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels in General Order No. 294 of 12 May 1917. These first tags were oval, of Monel metal (a patented corrosion-resistant alloy of nickel and copper, with small amounts of iron and manganese), 1.25 inches wide and 1.5 inches long. Perforated at one end, a small single tag was to be worn around the neck on Monel wire "encased in a cotton sleeve." One side of the tag bore an etched print of the right index finger. The other side was stamped "U.S.N." and etched with individual's personal information. Officer's tags bore initials and surname; rank; and date of appointment, in numerals denoting month, day and year (e.g. 1.5.16). Enlisted tags bore initials and surname, with date of enlistment and date of birth, in numerals as on officer's tags. The tags were, apparently not used in the years after World War I.

The Bureau of Naval Personnel Manual, 1942, provided that, "in time of war or other emergency, or when directed by competent authority, individual identification tags shall be prepared and worn by all persons in the naval service." Suspended from the neck or from the wrist on cotton-sleeved Monel wire. Monel-metal chain could be used at the individual's expense. These still appear to have been individual tags. Tags continued to be made of Monel metal, 1.25 by 1.5 inches, but perforated at each end. The face of each tag was to bear the individual's name; officer rank or enlisted number; blood type; if vaccinated for tetanus, the letter "T" with date in numerals (e.g. 8/40); and service (USN, USMC, USNR, USMCR). A right index fingerprint was etched on the reverse.

As World War II went on, a change to the Bureau of Naval Personnel Manual prescribed the use of a second tag, individually suspended by a short length of chain so that one tag could be removed "on death or capture, leaving the other in place." Dimensions remained the same, but the tag was to be of "corrosion-resisting material" (Monel metal was no longer specified), perforated at each end, and the etched fingerprint was omitted. Markings consisted of name; officer file number, or enlisted service number; blood type; date of tetanus inoculation; service; and religion, if desired by the service member: Catholic (C), Protestant (P), or "Hebrew" (H). When a service member was buried ashore or at sea, one tag was left with the body and the other sent to BuPers "as soon as practicable under the circumstances."

Post-World War II tags were worn on a bead chain, with attached short loop for the second tag. They bore name (surname, followed by initials); service number; service; blood type; and religion, if desired by the individual.
Sources of Information:

Braddock, Paul F. "Armed Forces IDentification Tags." Military Collector & Historian 24, No. 4 (Winter 1972): 112-114
Bureau of Naval Personnel Manual, 1942 & 1945
Department of the Navy
Naval Historical Center
Washington, DC 20374-5060


The "Infamous" Dog Tags

The publisher William Randolph Hearst was a fervent enemy of President Roosevelt and the New Deal. All the newspapers in the Hearst chain were expected to regularly publish unfavorable stories about New Deal programs. On the eve of the 1936 presidential election Hearst sought to undermine support for Social Security with allegations that workers would be required to wear "dog tags" with their Social Security number and would be forced to fill-out questionnaires probing for personal information. In fact, neither allegation was true. However, the "dog tag" story did have a basis in fact.

When considering ways to assign Social Security numbers, one proposal was to issue metal nameplates, not unlike military "dog-tags." Commissioner Altmeyer vetoed this idea as soon as he heard about it. This did not, however, stop the Hearst syndicate from reporting it as fact. During the early discussion of the metal nameplate idea, one company eager for this potential government business (the Addressograph Corp.) went so far as to prepare a sample I.D. tag in Commissioner Altmeyer's name. Altmeyer kept this sample "dog tag" in his desk drawer throughout his career with SSA, and he donated it to SSA after his retirement. So the one and only Social Security "dog tag" ever issued is now on display in the History Room at SSA headquarters in Baltimore.

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