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Dog tags have a long history in the U.S.

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By Laura Szepesi
Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

The familiar oblong dog tags worn around the necks of today's military personnel can be traced to the war between the Blue and the Gray.

America lost more than 600,000 men during the Civil War, but more than 40 percent of those soldiers remain unidentified.

Some Civil War troops used rudimentary identification when preparing for battle. Sometimes paper ID tags were pinned on soldiers' uniforms. The first — and most primitive — dog tag was a small piece of wood with the soldier's name and address written on it in ink. A hole was bored into the wood, and the soldier wore it around his neck using a piece of string.

But such IDs were rare during the Civil War.

The war ended in April 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the South to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

When the final battlefield smoke had cleared, families were anxious for loved ones to return home. Thousands waited in vain and, to their dismay, eventually discovered they would never know when and where those loved ones had died.

Military officials would remedy that situation.

During the Spanish American War (fought from 1898 to 1901 in Cuba and the Philippines), “identity discs” were placed in combat field kits.

The Army Regulation of 1913 made ID tags mandatory. By 1917 — during World War I — all combat soldiers wore round aluminum discs around their necks with their names and other pertinent information.

The oblong aluminum dog tags that are standard issue today were first issued during World War II, which was fought from 1941 to 1945 in Europe and the Pacific.

And dog tags remain here today.

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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