I confess. I disobeyed orders when I marched into combat as a young man and I want to finally get it off my chest after all these years.
I removed my dog tags from around my neck because they were making too much noise in what soldiers in the Vietnam War called “the bush.” I didn’t want to let “Charlie” know we were searching for him and his Viet Cong brothers. I hid the tags in a rugged duffel bag left in the base camp from where we were shuttled off from by helicopters every two weeks to hump the jungle. I kept them secreted along my personal belongings and a bunch of military paraphernalia.
If you don’t know, the dog tags are used to identify a fallen soldier. They are needed to be placed on or near the body of a person killed in combat. They have pertinent information about you, including your social security number, your religion, and your blood type.
I never liked the feel of the chain around my neck. I didn’t like the scapular the Catholic Church wanted me to wear either. Nor could I abide with the masking tape soldiers were advised to use to tape the tags together. The tape prevented the metal from making noise and also blocking sunlight or moonlight from reflecting on ‘em.
If you’ve ever gone through basic training, you’d have some idea why they’re called “dog tags The ID tags actually resembled the same type used for dogs. In addition, nasty old drill sergeants treated you worse than a dog until you’ve earned the right to be called a soldier, paratrooper, marine, sailor, or airman.
Why were there two tags? According to an unofficial report, one tag was immediately taken from the neck of the fallen person (usually by a responsible officer) to show proof that that specific serviceman had been killed in action. The other tag remained at all times on or with the body so his or her identity would not be misplaced or lost.
While I never got caught “out of uniform” by not having them on, I eventually lost the tags the last day I was in the combat zone.
A helicopter airlifted me out of a base camp and I was then assigned to ride in the cab of a truck to get back to headquarters.
Someone told me to throw the duffel bag onto the back of the truck where a bunch of other bags was already loaded.
The roads were really rutted and chewed up. The bag apparently fell from the truck and I lost it and everything in it, including the old dog tags of mine.
Years later, a replica of the dog tags magically reappeared in my life, however. Unbeknown to me, my son Nicholas had contacted the army, got the information from tags, and had a picture of them tattooed to the center of his chest! Social Security number and all!
Quite a remarkable story.
Thanks. I’ll never forget how I felt when realizing I lost just about everything I had packed into my duffle bag when leaving the combat zone that day. I had to borrow boots from a captain I became friends with. He was in charge of artillery.
I had no shoes except for the muddy canvas boots. Luckily, I was Airborne-trained and was permitted to wear boots along with my dress uniform. I felt bad because I had no hat but no one stopped me for being “out of uniform.”
My son really honored me with the tattoo. I get a kick out of sharing that story and get lots of laughs when I tell “em of the social security number scrawled across his chest!
I appreciate you, michael j…So supportive of my spirited soul…my first follower & constant. You are a faithful friend & human that I am proud to know. Obviously, so is your son. ❤️
P.S. duh…I forgot to state the obvious….Vietnam…what YOU endured & survived. Wow. I can’t even imagine…
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Just doing our duty ma’am!
We were drafted and didn’t have a political view and knew nothing about history. Yes, I am grateful to have survived and be able to write about the experience without having too much angst.
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Wow. What your son did. Wow.
My dad was an infantryman in WWII. He died in 1974. When my mom recently died, I found my dad’s dog tags hidden in a small box of his things she had saved if his. I felt odd in their discovery. Holding them…just knowing where they had hung, so close to his heart, the energy I felt emanating from them was intense.
Thank you for sharing your story, Michael j.
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I got all teary-eyed when reading your response. Amazing what a small trinket from a long, long time ago can do to uncover some cherished memories. You got a real “keep-sake” from a part of US history.
I forgot to mention, however, that I also lost my Social Security card whiling humping the boondocks in Vietnam. I knew the number for work purposes, but realized it only this past week when trying to sign up for something called a “Real ID” in Pennsylvania. I couldn’t apply without the card.
Who knows what other things we lose along the way of life only to find out their importance years later.
Thanks for your share!
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