Memorial Day and Dog Tags
On Monday, America will mark Memorial Day. The holiday has evolved into a general celebration of patriotism, veterans and all things military. But the holiday was originally established to serve as a memorial to America's dead soldiers from the Civil War.
One of the most solemn events on Memorial Day is the customary presidential wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This year's ceremony, like those of the past several years, is likely to be particularly somber given the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is unlikely, however, that America will ever have to bury another unknown soldier. Our military now goes to extraordinary lengths to ensure no soldier is left behind -- and that no remains go unidentified.
This short piece from the Army's public affairs branch chronicles the evolution of "dog tags" and the nation's commitment to ensuring the identification of its war dead:
At the American Civil War battle of Cold Harbor in 1864, before Union troops made a frontal assault on Confederate trenches, they wrote their names on pieces of paper and pinned them to their uniforms. They did not want to be forgotten.
During the Spanish American War, Chaplain Charles E. Pierce believed the identity of war dead should be practiced on a more scientific basis. He suggested a central collection agency where mortuary records would be gathered, and the addition of an "Identity Disk" in every Soldier's combat field kit. This "Identity Disk," in 1899, is considered the first institutionalized identification tag.
U.S. troops were issued identification tags en masse in 1908 and the tags have been a required part of the uniform ever since.
The nickname for the ID tag was first coined by William Randolph Hearst who printed unfavorable stories about the New Deal and President Roosevelt in 1936. Having heard the Social Security Administration was considering the use of a nameplate for personal identification, Hearst called it a "Dog Tag."
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