Why are they called dog tags in the military?
- 09 Jun, 2022
You may have heard of dog tags before but are unsure of how they got their name. There’s more to the story and the item than a name and a piece of metal. The truth is that there’s a deep-rooted symbolism behind dog tags and each dog tag that’s worn.
Generally speaking, it’s the American troops who’ve intertwined them with and made them a part of their culture. You may also be wondering why are they called dog tags in the military and how they got their name in the first place.
What are Dog Tags?
A dog tag is a casual but well-known term for a specific type of identification tag worn by military personnel and combat troops. The first-ever made identification tags were brass and later a corrosion-resistant alloy of nickel and copper or coin like metal discs.
Among the initial occasions of identification tags being called “dog tags” comes from the Prussian Army in the year 1870. It actually comes from the term “hundemarken,” which was comparable to what each dog in the then Prussian capital of Berlin required.
Brief History of the Military Dog Tag
You can date the first dog tags and the American adaptation of the name or term to just before WWII. It was during World War II the nickname “dog tags” was adopted, but it’s likely the nickname dates back as far as Thomas Jefferson. Officially speaking they are identification tags; however, almost everyone calls them dog tags nowadays.
You may have noticed a notch on one side of your rectangular dog tags if you have a dog tag from before the 1970s. The notched dog tags have no special significance. It exists and is there because of the machine used to create the tags. The notch was there to help line the tag up with the machine that embossed the information. Today there are more advanced embossing machines.
Why are They Called Dog Tags in the Military?
The primary purpose of the American dog tag or the military dog tags is to identify soldiers that are wounded or killed while they are in action.
According to the U.S. Defense Department, as the American Civil War came to an end, more than 40 percent of the Union Army’s dead had been unidentified. The soldiers’ had many concerns about this that were validated and the use of dog tags on the battlefield took root in the long military dog tags history.
The U.S. Department of Defense records shows that the first official request to issue service members with dog tags was in 1899. This was at the end of the Spanish-American war.
U.S. Army Chaplain Charles C. Pierce, who was in charge of the Army Morgue and Office of Identification in the Philippines, suggested that all soldiers be issued circular disks to identify those who were severely injured or killed in action.
How Dog Tags Came to be
Then by 1906, all dog tags started to be stamped with a soldier's name, rank, company, and regiment or corps. The tags were secured by a chain or cord and worn around the neck with the field uniform.
Roughly ten years later, the original dog tag request was altered and a second tag identical disc was required to be worn. The first dog tag was to remain with the body of the fallen soldier, while the second was for burial service record-keeping purposes.
Furthermore, the amount of links on each chain serves another practical purpose for the aluminum tags. The longer chain contains 365 beads while the shorter chain has 24. You may not realize it but this can be used as an improvised calendar if someone is held as a prisoner of war.
Dog Tag Vs. Personal Identification Tags
You might hear two terms floating around such as a dog tag or that it’s called military identification tags. A dog tag is simply the informal name that was given to the identification tags that were worn by military personnel.
The name is because of their resemblance to actual dog tags. When it comes to how they’re made, their manufacture isn't particularly complicated, but these small tags do hold a lot of significance.
The concept and the origin of dog tags are quite straightforward but they carry with them a lot of rich history and meaning.
Military Dog Tags Today
Currently, the issuance of modern military dog tags continues to be an important component of military culture. However, reliance on dog tags is more symbolic as technology continues to advance.
You’ll find that they’re still stamped with important information such as name, serial/social security number, blood type, and even religious preference. However, the military uses medical/dental records and DNA sampling to positively identify dead soldiers or deceased military service members.
With the advancements in dna technology, the materials, and processes that are used to properly identify America’s service members and return them home with honor have changed.
Almost all military dog tags today are made of stainless steel with a long chain.
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You now know why they are called dog tags in the military and their history of them as well as their significance. The dog tags remain and continue to act as a symbolic item that many people treasure and look at with respect and honor.
It’s a reminder that nobody should be left behind and forgotten in war. While there are more sophisticated means of identifying a deceased soldier, the dog tags are likely to remain a vital part of military gear and connects today’s troops.