U.S. Marine Corps Dog Tag History

Identification tags, more commonly known as dog tags, have been used by the Marine Corps since 1916. They serve to identify Marines who fall in battle and secure suitable burial for them.

US Marine Corps (USMC) First Sergeant (1SGT) Lenny Maldonado, assigned to Landing Support Company (LSC), 3rd Transportation Support Battalion (TSB), 3rd Force Service Support Group (FSSG), looks at one of the many pairs of dog tags Marines have let at the Memorial located atop of Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan. (Released to Public) Location: MOUNT SURIBACHI, IWO JIMA JAPAN (JPN)
DoD photo by: CPL MARTIN R. HARRIS, USMC Date Shot: 27 Sep 2005

Identification tags were probably first authorized in Marine Corps order Number 32 of 6 October 1916. This order stated:

Hereafter identification tags will be issued to all officers and enlisted men of the Marine Corps. They will always be worn when engaged in field service, and at all other times they will either be worn, or kept in possession of the owner.

The order further provided that the tags would be stamped as follows: "Officers - full name and rank at date of issue; enlisted men - full name and date of first enlistment in the Marine Corps."

These tags were regarded as part of the field kit and were to be suspended from the neck under the clothing.

General Order Number 21, Section VI, Headquarters, American Expeditionary Force in France (33 August 1917) authorized square tags. This order was amended on 1 February 1918 by General Order Number 30, paragraph IV, 7n, which provided that:

  1. Two aluminum identification tags, to be furnished by the Q.M.C. (Quartermaster, Marine Corps), will be habitually worn by all officers and enlisted men, and also by all civilians attached to the American Expeditionary Force.
  2. Both tags will be stamped with the name, rank, company and regiment or corps to which the wearer belongs; and the second tag will be worn suspended by a cord one inch long from the bottom of the first tag.

This was the same time when Army serial numbers were assigned to the Marines in France. General Order Number 10 of the 6th Regiment of Marines dated 15 February 1918 specifically stated, "The numbers assigned to all men present will be stamped in identification tags."

There was some clarification in General Order Number 91, paragraph II, of 10 June 1918, which read as follows:

The aluminum identification tags, each the size of a silver half dollar and of suitable thickness, will be worn by each officer and soldier of the American Expeditionary Force and by all civilians attached thereto. These tags will be worn suspended from the neck underneath, the clothing by a cord or thong passed through a small hole in the tag, the second tag to be suspended from the first by a short piece of string or tape. ...The square tags authorized by Section VI, General Order Number 21, A.A.E.F., in 1917, will be issued until the present supply is exhausted.

The Marine Corps Manual of 1921 stated in Article 25 that "The Secretary of the Navy has authorized the use of the Marine Corps identification tag until the exhaustion of the present supply, after which the tag prescribed in the Navy Regulations will be used."

The 1940 Marine Corps Manual stated in Section 1, Article 58 that identification tags will be used "in time of war or other national emergency and at other times when directed by competent authority." During this period, the below information was stamped onto oval shaped Monel identification tags:

  1. Name
  2. Officer's rank or man's service number. Approximately three spaces to the right of rank or service number, indicate religion by "P", "C", or "H", for Protestant, Catholic, or Hebrew. If no religion is indicated this space will be left blank.
  3. Type of blood; and if the man has received tetanus toxoid, the letter "T" with the date (T-8/40) to so indicate.
  4. At one end of the tag the letters "USMC" or "USMCR", as may be appropriate.

During the early 1960's two revisions were made to the standardized 1940 identification tags: the tetanus shot date was eliminated and serial numbers were replaced by Social Security Numbers.

Identification tags are issued today as they were in 1916. They secure the proper interment of those who fall in battle and establish beyond a doubt their identity. Should it become desirable subsequently to disinter the remains for removal to a national or post cemetery or for shipment home, the identification tag suspended from the neck of the Marine is in all cases interred with the body. The duplicate tag attached is removed at the time of burial and turned over to the surgeon or person in charge of the burial. A record of the same, together with the cause and date of death are made and reported to the commanding officer.

The tags are prescribed as part of the uniform and when not worn as directed, they are habitually kept in the owner's possession. When they are not worn, the identification tags are considered part of the individual's equipment and they are are inspected regularly. Tags for officers are issued upon first reporting to active duty and tags for individuals are stamped and issued at the recruit depots.
Reference Section, History and Museums Division, HQMC, 26 April 1982

Material Supplied By:
Headquarters United States Marine Corps, History and Museums Division, Marine Corps Historical Center, Building 58, Washington Navy Yard, 901 M Street Southeast, Washington, DC 20374-5040