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!