Notches in Dog Tags

OK, will SOMEBODY please 'splain the notches in dog tags? So far I’ve only gotten the runaround, with “Ewwww, it’s too gross!” which is good for getting the imaginitive juices flowing but not very satisfying in the long run. Thanks!

Chris - THGA

First Welcome to the boards!

I was told many years ago when I was in the Marines, that the notch was to help indentify the dead. If you saw someone that was dead, you took the “dog tag”, placed the notch between the top two teeth and the other end on the bottom teeth and gave a tap to the jaw. This would ensure that the corpse would be correctly identified.

I almost wish you hadn’t asked or that I hadn’t known. Maybe I’m wrong, since we Jarheads always have done things different.

I presume that this is in response to the article What’s the origin of army dog tags?? When you’re starting a new thread commenting on an article, it’s standard procedure here to post a link to the column in question, so everyone else knows what you’re talking about.

What is wrong with leaving the tag around the neck of the body? I can imagine injuries that would make either place difficult to display the tag but facial injuries with missing teeth must be more likely surely? Why go out of your way to make an open casket less possible or more work? Aren’t open caskets a common practice in the US forces?

I don’t believe open casket funerals are the norm for the Armed Forces. I’ve been to a dozen or so active duty funerals, I don’t remember one of them being open casket.

The possibility of an open casket depends on where you happen to die. If the soldier happens to die in a combat zone it may take some time for the body to get back to the states for burial. However, if you should happen to die in a training accident state side, well then the chances of an open casket is much more likely; injuries permitting.

IIRC, the notch, which BTW is no longer on the tags, was to fit between the front teeth and was placed there when the body went into the bag. Made it easier on the mortuary troops to find the ID so they didn’t have to dig through the bag to find it. Sorry, no cites, just information handed down from old crusty sergeants.

From the (admittedly brief) research that I’ve done on this, everything I’ve read has said that the notch being used as a wedge for the front teeth is just a legend.

The consensus seems to be that the notch in the dog tag is actually a result of how they were originally produced. It was used as a way to align the tag in the machine that stamps the info on the tag. Also, soldiers are issued two chains, one long and one short. The short one is given to the platoon leader if the soldier was KIA, and the long chain would be left on the body (not in the mouth).

Here’s a quote that lists another reason for the notch:

I always assumed that the notch was like serating. When you came to a dead body you snap it there and take one half with you and leave the other half around the neck. The info is duplicated on both halves(right??) so it seems the most likely to me.

But hey thats purely speculation. I was an army brat but I never came across a better explanation.

I jumped right in with that misdirected answer beacause the all the dog tags I ever saw just had the two notches in middle (I guess I’m younger than I think). I only saw the bottom notch in stylized ones in the jewelry store.

Not that it’s definitive, but when I was a kid they sold dogtags at the flea market and I had to have them so my dad got them for me. Then I had to ask him what the notch was for and why there where 2 tags (one without a notch).

His story was that after a battle someone would collect the tags from the deceased. The notched tag was to be placed in the mouth between the teeth and the other tag kept for recordkeeping (so the generals would know who died). I got the impression he was talking about situations where they couldn’t collect the bodies to take with them, so it was done quickly.

This made more sense in later years when I realized he served in the Marines in the Korean conflict. It’s the only time he ever talked about his service.

Of course, being an ~8 year old kid, the mental imagery was great, so I never forgot it.

I’d always heard Kniz’s explaination however I got my
dog tags in 1991 sans notch. So that prolly is a legend.
A cousin of mine enlisted in the Marines and when he fiiled
out the form for his dog tags, under religon he put heathen.
The funny thing is his tags actually read heathen.