Today is Veteran's Day. As I type this, my late father's WWII dog tag is hanging on my desk lamp. There's only one tag which is odd because the U.S. military issued each soldier two tags during WWII. One was to stay with the body if the G.I. was killed and the other was to be turned in to expedite the paperwork. Since Dad came home in one piece after piloting his B-26 "Jolly Roger" on 27 missions over France and Germany, I have no idea what happened to the other one.
The single tag isn't really "single" - there are also two medals attached to the link chain. One is a small, heavily tarnished silver St. Christopher medal and the other is an even smaller one of the Virgin Mary. Dad's father was Catholic so I assume the Mary medal was from him. Gramma J. was German Lutheran and believed in doing whatever it took to get the job done so I'm guessing that even though she wasn't Catholic, she appropriated the protective powers of St. Christopher to keep her only surviving son safe during his travels.
The history of the dog tag is a "tail" in itself (sorry, couldn't resist). During the Civil War, men would pin information about themselves onto their persons. This was to ensure that if they were killed in battle, the brass would know where to ship the bodies home. The first to have military-issued tags were the Prussians who named the item Hundemarken ("Hund" is the German word for "dog"). This was during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870.
The United States adopted this practical concept 36 years later in 1906 when a War Department order outlined how an aluminum I.D. tag would have basic information about a soldier and would be worn around the neck. Interestingly, enlisted men got them for free; officers had to pay. The original order was amended in 1916 when it was directed that each soldier was to be issued two tags for the reasons outlined above. The practice continues today - my son, Scott, has worn his to Korea (twice), Bosnia, and Iraq (twice).
The CAF Red Tail Squadron gives a decorative dog tag to each child who visits the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit when it is at a school or when youth and student groups visit the Exhibit at an air show venue. One side has logos on it, the other lists the six guiding principles of the Squadron's Rise Above educational initiative, based on an interpretation of the Tuskegee Airmen's success factors: Aim High, Believe in Yourself, Use Your Brain, Never Quit, Be Ready To Go, and Expect To Win.
Since the youngsters have just seen the "Rise Above" movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, the dog tags are a wonderful and unique reinforcement of what they've learned about the value of setting goals and overcoming obstacles to meet them, no matter what.
The kids love receiving their dog tags and seeing their reactions when they have them in their hands is a real joy for those working with the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit. Naturally, there is a cost for the tags - we get about 19 dog tags for each $15 spent. If you'd care to donate to help us pay for these inspirational gifts for young people, here's a link to our website's donation page. Your donation is tax deductible and very much appreciated.
Finally, if you know a veteran, how about thanking him or her today for their service and sacrifice? It just takes a minute and means so much. The United States truly is the home of the free because of the brave. Thanks, Dad and Scott.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.