The dog tags had its origins during the First
World War. The first dog tags were chained bracelets similar to those worn by
French troops in the trenches. The oval disc, surmounted on both ends by chain
links, were usually marked with the individuals’ name, rank, regiment, and
branch of service. There is a multitude of variants and styles, especially those
for officers. majority of the bracelets were engraved.
Square aluminum I.D. tags were authorized for each man on 13 August 1917.
These would contain the same format of the bracelets, however, with an addition
of a soldier’s identification number. On 15 February 1918 two I.D. tags were
authorized (usually one square and one round stamped with the name, rank, serial
number, and unit). On 10 June 1918, two circular aluminum tags (approximately
the size of an U.S. half dollar) were authorized. Officers tags to have name,
rank, regiment, corps, or department, and “U.S.A.”, and serial number, older
tags were to be altered by removing unit designation, etc. After 26 July 1918,
all tags could be stamped with letter indicating religion, i.e. “C”, “H”, or
“P”. The information on the tags were hand stamped with tool dies. Both the
square and round identification tags were suspended from olive drab cord or
In 1940, the Army introduced a “notched” rounded-end rectangular tag and is
hereby referred as the M1940 identification Tag. The new stainless steel tags
were embossed with letters and numbers from a manual or electric machine that
resembled an oversized typewriter.
The notch on one end, according to Robert Fisch (Curator, West Point Military
Museum), was used for wedging into the top front teeth to hold the mouth open
when dead. This allowed any gasses to escape from the mouth and stopped the body
from bloating after death. This practice was controversial in that some people
said that the notch was used for aligning the tag to the machine for typing in
the information. The purpose of the small length of chain was to separate the tags and stop
them from rattling together. It would also be detached from the main chain and
used for body identification, e.g., attached to the feet and left exposed when
body was covered, or nailed to a temporary grave sign or board.
During World War Two both the United States Navy and Marine Corps used a
circular dog tag with similar stampings to the Army tags, giving name and
number, religion and tetanus injection, but stamped either “USN” or “USMC”.
Reservists had their tags marked “USNR” or “USMCR”.
By 1959, all branches of the armed forces adopted the rectangular tags that
are still in use to this day. This tag is virtually the same as the M1940
Identification Tag, however, without the famous “notch”.
During the Vietnam War a subdued version was issued to
Special Operation Groups operating behind enemy lines. The subdued versions
could have been a reflection from the 15 January 1967 United States Army,
Vietnam (USARV) regulations to blacken all insignia when in the field. Black rubber silencers were also introduced and
therefore replaced the old Word War Two white hard rubber or plastic silencers.
During Desert Storm (1990-91), there were numerous photographs of servicemen
from all branches wearing their dog tags with the black rubber silencers.
In Afganistan (2001) and in the Irak War (2003) it could be seen
perfectly in the TV images to the US soldiers carrying their dog tags with the
black rubber silencers.