Dog Tags: The History, Personal Stories, Cultural Impact, and Future of Military Identification
Author: Ginger Cucolo
Publisher: Allen House Publishing (2011)
Binding: Paperback, 346 pages
The 100 year anniversary of the official use of American personal identity tags, affectionately known as Dog Tags, recently passed without fanfare. We are currently in a war where the Dog Tag is once again a highly personal item to warriors of every service and to their families as well. Every Dog Tag carries its own human interest story. Receiving it, hanging it around the neck, and feeling it is a silent statement of commitment. The tag itself individualizes the human being who wears it within a huge and faceless organization. While the armed forces demand obedience and duty to a higher cause, the Dog Tag, hanging under each service member's shirt and close to their chest, becomes a part of them. It brings comfort to that fear of every soldier facing death: I do not want to be forgotten; I will not become an "unknown."
Understanding and sharing the history of Dog Tags and their deeply personal meaning in today's world is at the core of this book.
Ginger Cucolo's book, Dog Tags: The History, Personal Stories, Cultural Impact, and Future of Military Identification, is a creative and ambitious approach to an interesting and provocative subject. Blending fictional representations of famous military engagements with historical narrative, the author explores one of the most painful and difficult aspects of dying for one's country -- identifying and repatriating bodies. From the Spartans who carried personalized shields into battle hoping to be brought home on them should death come -- to POWs lost in Korea and Vietnam, there is a personal and societal horror of being lost far from home. Families deprived of fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons feel their loss even more keenly when they have nothing to bury.
In addition to the development of personal identification techniques starring the "Dog Tag," Ms. Cucolo focuses on how people feel about this most senstive of issues. There's a moving passage from "Francesca" detailing the search for Uncle Angelo whose dogtags had been found on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. There's Seymour Lichtenfield's who hid his dog tags marked with an "H" for Hebrew before being captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. Homer Sisk died in Korea and was lost for decades -- until DNA identified his remains which were comingled with those of ten other soldiers and returned him to his loved ones -- along with his dog tags. And then there's John Huebner who lost his dog tags in California back in 1969 and had them returned to him in 2003 from someone who found them on the beach in 1995.
The book ends with an interesting discussion of what information can be included with dog tags. In the early years, the information was simple -- name, rank, branch of service and blood type. Today's technoogy allows military personnel to carry more detailed medical records.
Dog Tags: The History, Personal Stories, Cultural Impact, and Future of Military Identification is neither beast nor fowl. Ms. Cucolo has content for at least three separate volumes which would allow her to go into more detail into the various issues that she raises here. The book will be useful for researchers and other authors.
Reviewed by: Joyce Faulkner (2012)