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History of the dog tags

The World War II dog tags (WWII) have a notched edge, What is that for?
R.-"There is plenty of theories about that notched edge. Some people think that its function was to fix the tag in the debossing machines of the epoch, another ones think that the reason was to fix the dog tag at the mouth of the deceased soldiers between the front teeth for a better identification. Until now there is not a complete satisfactory explanation.".


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 cloth tape.

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.