I frequently receive emails from readers who wish to replace their lost identification tags (also known as dog tags), or from family members who wish to get replacement dog tags for their loved ones, either as a gift, or to remember their service. These are all great reasons to get a new set of dog tags.
If you are still serving in the military, you can get a set of dog tags issued to you. Otherwise, you will need to purchase dog tags from a third party vendor. This guide will show you what you need to know about purchasing replacement dog tags.
The Purpose of Dog Tags
In life, and in death, people want to be identified and remembered. Soldiers have used variations of dog tags and similar means of identification for hundreds of years. They were first used by US service members in the Civil War when soldiers would scratch their names and hometowns on the backs of their belt buckles or other gear. Informal identification badges soon became popular, and soldiers used a variety of pins, tags, medallions, or other objects in which they engraved their names, hometown, battles they fought in, and other information.
Dog tags weren’t standardized by the US Army until the early 1900’s when the War Department authorized identification tags in War Department General Order No. 204. It was in WWI that soldiers were first issued two identification tags. The tags included various information, often including the member’s name, rank, serial number, company, regiment, or corps.
It was in WWII that dog tags earned their nickname, due to resembling dog registration tags required by many municipalities (the official name for dog tags is actually identification tags; the term dog tag is not officially recognized, though it is more widely used).
Through the years, the purpose has remained the same, while other features have changed, including their shape, size, the information on them, and the material they are made from. Information that has been included in dog tags through the years could include serial numbers, next of kin contact information, immunizations, and more. Today’s dog tags are made from a material that is durable, but that won’t rust or corrode from normal wear and tear.
Information Found on Today’s Dog Tag
Today, dog tags issued by the US military include the service member’s Name, Branch of Service (all except Army), Serial Number (often Social Security Number, or DoD ID Number), Blood Type, and Religious Preference (if any). This information is the most essential information needed on the battlefield.
Note: as of early 2016, the Army is the only branch that has gone away from the Social Security Number on dog tags. They started using the DoD ID Number in Nov. 2015.
The information on dog tags should be protected because having the name and Social Security number is enough for many people to steal the servicemember’s identity. Identity theft is a big problem, not just for servicemembers, but for everyone.
Why The History Lesson?
It’s important to understand the purpose of dog tags and the information they contain before ordering a replacement set of dog tags. If you are currently serving in the military and need a replacement set, you can get them issued at no cost. Contact your personnel unit and they can issue them to you or tell you where you can get a set issued. These should only be used in the line of duty. Don’t hang them from the mirror on your car or display them at home. There is no need, and displaying your personal information is not only unnecessary but potentially harmful.
Ordering Replacement Dog Tags
The military only issues dog tags to current servicemembers. They do not issue them to veterans. The National Archives also doesn’t issue replacement dog tags if you make a military records request. They will only send copies of your military records.
So where do you buy them? There are many places that will make custom dog tags. You can find them on many military installations, military surplus stores, or at dozens of online stores, including USAMilitaryMedals.com.
What Information Should You Order on Replacement Dog Tags?
Before ordering a set of replacement dog tags, consider your needs and who they are for. Many people want them to commemorate their own service, or to remember a loved one who served in the military. In the case of commemorative dog tags, the personal information just isn’t needed. There is no need to display one’s Social Security Number, blood type, or religious affiliation.
I recommend replacing that information with the veteran’s name, branch of service, years served, and their rank (if known). You could also add information such as wars or battles the veteran participated in.
For example, my grandfather served in the US Navy during WWII. I don’t have his dog tags, nor have I ever seen a copy of them. I could order a replacement set to commemorate his service, but there would be no need for me to have his military serial number, his blood type, or similar information.
Having a set of replacement dog tags with the following information would be more meaningful to me than having his Social Security Number and blood type:
US Navy 1943-1945
The above shows his service affiliation, the dates he served, and his participation in WWII. This is all the information that is needed on a set of commemorative dog tags. You could, of course, also add information such as the veteran’s rank, or theater of operations, battles, or engagements they participated in. What you include is up to you.
If you are looking for a replacement set of dog tags, then consider doing something similar. I’m sure this will be appreciated just as much, if not more, than the dog tags with the personal information, since dog tags without the personal info can be displayed publicly without fear of someone stealing their personal information. You also don’t have to worry about giving that personal information to the company making the dog tags. I’m not saying companies will steal from you – but you simply don’t know what will happen to the information once it leaves your hands.
Dog Tag Styles
The last is of consideration is the style of the dog tags. Styles and methods have changed over the years. Many stores are able to make dog tags in a variety of styles, including those used through the major military eras. In many cases, websites make it easy to order a dog tag based on the era served, including WWII, Korea War, Vietnam era, and the current style. Be sure to specify the style you want when you place your order.
Dog Tags for Other Purposes
Military dog tags are very useful and can be used for much more than battlefield identification. Many people also buy military dog tags for purposes other than for their current or previous military service. Military-style dog tags can be used for pet identification (they are dog tags, after all!), to identify your luggage, as medical identification disks (to list allergies, medications, or medical conditions), as promotional items for businesses, and much more.
Where to Order Dog Tags
If you are no longer serving, then you should try a local military surplus store, or look online. I don’t have direct experience ordering them online since I have always been able to get mine from the military.
But you could try USA Military Medals, which offers a variety of military awards, decorations, uniform items, replacement dog tags, and other military regalia. Prices are reasonable, they ship within 24 hours, and quality is guaranteed. You can learn more at USAMilitaryMedals.com.