I’m writing this because of a recent experience I had. A friend that is an avid antique collector handed me an old I.D. tag and said– “check this out.” I wasn’t ready for the emotion and humility that overcame me as I held the old tarnished tag in my hand. I realized it was much more than a piece of stamped metal– it was someone’s personal story of sacrifice, for whom I may very well absolutely owe my own freedom too. I stood there for a second, unable to speak.
It was humbling to say the least.
The image above was taken in 1945, and shows American infantrymen lining up to drop their personal belongings (pictures and letters from loved ones back home, wallets, etc.) into boxes for safe keeping, and in accordance with regulations. Any items (except dog tags) that could identify a soldier were strictly forbidden on special missions. The soldiers here were stationed in Italy and preparing to embark on a night raid of German positions.
During the American Civil War of 1861-1865, some soldiers pinned paper notes with their name and home address to the backs of their coats. Other soldiers stencilled identification on their knapsacks or scratched it in the soft lead backing of the Army belt buckle.
Manufacturers of identification badges recognized a market and began advertising in periodicals. Their pins were usually shaped to suggest a 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.
This was the Graphotype machine used to make I.D. tags for soldiers. This particular model was a class 6300 made from the mid 1930’s through the 1950’s.
The format on a military I.D. tag is usually as follows-
- soldiers name
- military serial number
- blood type
- next of kin
- street address
- city and state