In the American Civil War of 1861, the way some soldiers kept there identification was to pin paper notes of their name and home address to the backs of their coats. Other soldiers stenciled there identification on their knapsacks or scratched it in the soft lead backing of the Army belt buckle.
Manufacturers of ID badges recognized there were a market there and began advertising in periodicals. The created pins were usually in the shape of the 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.
During the Spanish-American War in 1898, soldiers purchased crude stamped identification tags, sometimes with misleading information.
The Prussian Army issued identification tags for its troops at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. They were nicknamed Hundemarken which means "marks on dogs or dog marks". Very similar identification tags instituted for dogs in the Prussian capital city of Berlin at about the same time.
First World War
The British, Canada, Australia and New Zealand forces issued ID tags from the beginning of the First World War. The tags were made of fibre, one in red and one in green and suspended around the neck by butcher's twine. The same pattern was worn into the Second World War and the Korean War by the allied forces.
The U.S. Army first authorized identification tags in War Department on December 20, 1906, which essentially prescribes the Kennedy identification tag:
The identification tag made of aluminum, in the size of a silver half dollar, stamped with the name, rank, company, regiment, or corps of the soldiers, were worn by each officer and enlisted man of the Army. The tag was suspended from the neck, underneath the clothing, by a cord or thong passed through a small hole in the tab. It was prescribed as a part of the uniform. The ID tags where issued by the Quartermaster's Department to all enlisted men.
The Army changed there regulations in 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. In 1969 the Army began transitioning Servicemen were issued both a SSN and SN to the Social Security number for personnel identification. Germany had instead a single tag with identical information stamped on both sides of it, which could easily be broken off for the purpose of record-keeping.
World War II
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 stick the other between the teeth of the soldier to ensure that the dog 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.
As a side note, it appears instructions that would confirm this myth were issued at least unofficially during the Vietnam War to Army troops headed overseas.
Following World War II, 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 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. Service members 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.
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