FROM THE BIG CRASH OF 2014
by John Winter
In July 2012 my friend, doppelgänger, miserable old git and all-round Yankee good guy Dick Stout paid me a compliment in his new blog. I’d made a post on US dog tags, which he called ‘insightful’. In fulsome praise he advised his readers (five at that time, including me, Howland and his delightful wife, Fay) to take a look, saying that they would never find my scribblings ‘dull’, but rather informative and entertaining. Wasn’t that nice? Unfortunately, that blog post of mine was lost in my BIG CRASH of June 2014. If you check out that post in Dick’s archives, it doesn’t work, and you will probably break the Internet, but I have good news. For your delight and delectation (and to help my friend in his hour of need) I have managed to resurrect that long-lost post.
Detecting US Military Dog Tags
Dog Tag is the informal name for the identification tag worn by military personnel and is used primarily for identification of the dead and wounded. It also has basic medical information. US Tags are often found in the UK by detectorists who sometimes try to reunite them with the original owner …
Dog tag – courtesy of detectorist Darius
I understand that the US Dog Tag worn overseas while in combat usually contained limited information. On the other hand, when the soldier was stationed in the US, the information on the tag included name of next of kin and hometown, like the one shown – yet this was found in the UK. I wonder how Eugene came to lose his ID tag? They were considered to be part of the uniform and had to be worn at all times. According to a War Department pamphlet issued in 1941 they could only be removed temporarily ONLY as the necessities of personal hygiene required.
In fact, TWO tags were worn, one suspended from the neck underneath the clothing by a cord or tape 40 inches long and the second fastened about 2.5 inches above the first, both securely held in place by knots.
In the case of death, one tag was attached to the remains when interred and, in battlefield burials, the other securely attached to the grave marker. Eugene’s Military Personal Identity Tag – to use its proper name – was the second type of four versions issued during the Second World War, and can be interpreted as follows.
- FIRST LINE – shows first name, second initial and surname
- SECOND LINE – serial number, tetanus immunisation detail and blood type
- THIRD LINE – next of kin’s name
- FOURTH and FIFTH – next of kin’s address plus religion
If you ever unearth a tag, remember that it carries its own human interest story and is much more than a piece of metal with words and numbers embossed upon it.
WW2 Battlefield Relics
From the WW2 Virtual Museum, Simon Harrold has kindly supplied me with more information on Eugene’s dog tag:
The dog tag above worn by Eugene Greek, who as far as we’ve been able to ascertain, lied about his age in order to join up! From the archives the only person with that name and heralding from Michigan was born in 1931, making him only 12 when he enlisted? Sadly he passed away in 2007 and so his story appears lost forever. However it is known that he saw activity with 437th TCC and took Paratroopers and gliders to Europe. Despite the Screaming Eagles having flown from England many years ago, traces of their presence continue to come to light.
In a comment left on my blog Dick said:
John, you made me dig out my old tags … still have them. I served in the Army from 1964 to 1966, and was fortunate to be able to stay stateside. I was on a levy each month to go to Vietnam, but never did. I lost two very good friends there however. My tags gave only name, serial number, blood type and religion.
I have always hated the way Vietnam vets were received here in the states after that war was over. They were never greeted home like those today, and were almost treated like the enemy. Only recently are they starting to get the recognition they so deserve. Like Iraq, it was a stupid and a misguided war that cost us dearly in lives lost. Just my opinion – thanks for a thoughtful post.
Detectorists will go to extraordinary lengths to return items they have found to the original owners or their families. This isn’t always easy and often involves diligence, detective work worthy of a Sherlock, and a great deal of luck. The story I am about to unfold has all of those ingredients plus a ‘twist’ that makes it just a little different.
Dogtag courtesy of detectorist Darius
On a mid-week dig Steve Harvey found a dog tag and thought it would be good to return. Using his extremely limited knowledge of the Internet, he was fortunate to come across Olive Tree Genealogy, a free site created by Lorine Schulze specifically for those people searching for American and Canadian ancestors. Lorine had an impressive record when returning tags. Steve sent an email with the details and “literally within minutes” had a request for a picture. The tag, showing his army serial number (he was a draftee), the fact that he had a tetanus jab in 1943, his next of kin and place of residence. The M-1940 ‘notched’ dog tag was adopted in 1938.
Donald Manktelow, the dog tag and a picture of father Edwin
With information supplied by Lorine, Steve eventually made contact with Edwin’s son Donald, who said in an email: “The dog tag you sent arrived safely and I was excited to receive it. Thank you so much for making the effort involved in finding us. As you will notice I have already mounted it in a shadow box frame and will display it with a photo of my father. It is certainly an interesting find with an interesting story.”
Don also included a picture of his father in uniform and a photo of his last resting place at Bath National Cemetery in New York.
Edwin in 1942
Edwin’s last resting place
Don confirmed that his father enlisted in June of 1942 and was discharged, as a Staff Sergeant, in November 1945. He wasn’t able to say when he first came to England, probably sometime in the summer of 1943. It was likely that the first few months of his deployment were spent at a base set up at Aintree racecourse in Liverpool where he worked with bombs and other ordnance. Steve’s find had inspired Don to find out more of the family’s history and he thanked him for sharing “this wonderful find’.
In 25 years of detecting, this had been the first item Steve had been able to return to the rightful owners. He said to Don: “Although it’s very personal to you, the tag was also a very special find for me.”
You will notice that both tags have a notch at the top, left-hand side. This has long been a source of controversy as to its use and there are many myths, which I won’t repeat here.
Maybe this explanation is also a myth, but I believe that its function was to help facilitate the transfer of the information on the tag to official paperwork. The machine used had a slot for the proper placement of dog tags while the embossed side was inked and pressed onto the paper. The notch ensured that the dog tags would be correctly placed, since they wouldn’t fit into the machine in any other position.
Both tags show that the soldiers had a tetanus injection in 1943 (T43). From the long identifying numbers we can see when they drafted into the army. All draftee numbers started with a ‘3’, the number that indicated enlistment status. The number ‘2’ was used if the holder was a professional soldier … and so on.
Before the war ended in 1945 the next of kin information had been removed from the dog tag. This was done to prevent the enemy from using the information gleaned from a captured soldier’s tag.
Today, I understand that the US government no longer uses the notched tag as they don’t do hasty field burials anymore. Modern warfare has removed that need. Any soldier killed in action is evacuated as soon as possible and there are no issues with body identification due to DNA and dental record files.