The History of Military Dog Tags
Wearing or displaying a soldier's identity dates back to the Civil War in the United States - long before the appearance of the stamped metal tags, called dog tags, issued to today's military troops. During the Civil War, soldiers on both sides pinned notes inside their clothing or on pieces of metal on which they scratched their names.
The Marine Corps has issued dog tags since 1916, per Marine Corps Order No. 32 of 6, October 1916, according to the U.S. Marine Corps History Division, a branch of Headquarters Marine Corps. First, one metal identification tag was issued. In 1918, amended orders called for two dog tags per officer and enlisted man.
As of 1940, the Marines required that each dog tag include name, rank, religion, blood type, and whether the wearer had received a tetanus shot.
At the end of the tag, which was given a serial number, were the letters USMC or USMCR. By the 1960s, a Marine's tetanus shot was no longer required, and serial numbers were replaced with Social Security numbers.
Here is a history of dog tags - a nickname credited to a soldier once complaining about being treated like a dog - by a retired Marine who still carries his dog tags issued during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Military Dog Tags from the Civil War to the Korean War
By Gunnery Sgt. F. L. Rousseau, USMC Retired
During the Civil War, long before the introduction of what today are called dog tags, sergeants or officers went back over the battle field to identify the dead, or the dead were just buried without concern for the identity.
During the "Cold Harbor Battle" of the Civil War, men on both sides sewed their name and addresses on their coats so they could be identified and the family informed of their death.
The first government-issue dog tags during WWI were round. You were issued two round discs about 1 in. in diameter during boot camp. There was a metal stamp kit that had metal letters of the alphabet, a metal block and a small hammer. Each man had to stamp his name on the dog tag, and then hand it around his neck with a length of leather thong or shoestring.
During World War II, the Army had oval dog tags. Each was about 1 1/4 in. in length. The Navy/Marine Corps dog tags were a bit more than round, as you can see by my dog tag from the Korean War (I lost my WWII dog gags when I got out after that war.).
There was Tetanus Shot date, your religious preference, and of course name and serial number. During World War II, it was marked USMC or USMCR.
An interesting note on dog tags. At a gun show after I retired, a guy came to my table and handed me a USMC dog tag with the name on it and it had the fingerprint on the back. He told me he bought something from Japan, and the dog tag was inside the item.
He gave it to me to see if I could find the owner, so I sent the data to Leatherneck magazine. They found the owner, who had been a prisoner of war in Japan. Somehow, his dog tag was lost while there.
I carry my Korean War tag on my key chain, along with my Vietnam War dog tag.