Dog tag notches

Your parting comment about dog tags referred to the notches in the tags. I’ve seen those notches, but my tags (sitting in my lap right now) lack them.

Were my tags, made when I was drafted in August, 1969, defective? What was the purpose of the notches? Were notches discontinued when serial numbers were abandoned in favor of Social Security numbers in July, 1969?

And here’s the link to the original Mailbag item, so that people responding will (one hopes) have read the article first:

From A Short History of Identification Tags
Captain Richard W. Wooley
Quartermaster Professional Bulletin-December 1988


Tsk, tsk. You should know the U.S. Army doesn’t issue anything that’s defective…

No, your dog tags were just the way they were meant to be. Regulations state that the tags be made of “Monel or other adopted metal; be approximately 1 1/8 inches wide and about 0.024 inches thick with rounded corners and smooth edges. One tag is worn suspended from the neck under the clothing by a 25-inch non-corrosive, nontoxic and heat resistant material looped to form a necklace. The second tag is fastened to the necklace below the first tag by a 2 1/2 inch extension of the same material as the necklace.” (from the U.S. Army Center of Military History, Personal Identification System - United States Army).

Nowhere in any official order does the Army require a “notch” in the tags. I think we can take Captain Wooley’s (see reference above) word for it that “the only purpose of “the notch” was to hold the blank tag in place on the embossing machine.”

But since we’re talking about teeth, let’s add this little tidbit which might show the origins of this nasty little notch rumor:

The careless loss or intentional destruction of dentures was an annoying problem during World War II. Various methods had been tried, but in May of 1944, a directive came from above stating that all dentures would carry the names and serial numbers of their owners. The directive resulted in the return of many lost appliances and the identification of their owners in cases of accident and death.

Notch up another one for the U.S. Army!


“The careless loss or intentional destruction of dentures was an annoying problem during World War II.”

Intentional destruction of dentures? Why would someone purposesly destroy their dentures? Or are we talking about malicious pranks played on dentally-challenged soldiers by their not-so-comradely comrades?

It was wartime. Anything goes.

One version of the “Why would you lose your dentures” story went:

Being wartime, the need for dentures was not a bar to serving in combat. However, the Army conceded that a soldier needed to eat. A soldier who “lost” his dentures could hope for some time rotated out of the front line while a new set was made. (Dentistry had not hit its current state of sophistication. Many people who either lived away from population centers or who lived in them in poverty had had tooth problems resolved by simply having the tooth pulled. The Army made dentures for its soldiers who were missing teeth.)

I have no idea whether the story (which I have seen repeated in several WWII anecdotes) has any validity.


The story I got in the army in the '50’s was that the notch was placed between the top front teeth and the other end of the tag on the bottom teeth of battlefield dead. The jaw was then kicked shut driving the dogtag into the skull of the corpse. The second tag was to be collected for graves registration. The corpses could then be recovered and identified at anytime in the future. A practical solution to battlefield confusion and a desire for proper burial.

Which story, while following closely (though not exactly) the version provided by Captain Wooley, and while certainly the sort of story that would have made the rounds of any Army barracks, fails on several counts:

  • It is contradicted by Captain Wooley’s mention that no such instruction has been found in any Army manual;

  • It is contradicted by the rules laid out in the actual regulation quoted in the link preceding Captain Wooley’s quote;


  • It ignores a number of laws of physics and anatomy, specifically, wedging a tag between the teeth and then kicking closed the lower jaw would cause a lot of damage to the teeth, while the tag would then be deflected by the upper jaw (possibly falling out of the mouth) and would only under the rarest circumstances actually make it into the mouth and probably never into the brain case (look at the angle of attack);


  • If it succeeded in making it into the brain, it would then require additional (corpse damaging) effort to remove it.

The problem with soldiers is that they have too much free time and they think up wierd stories to impress their messmates.