Owner of Lost Vietnam War Dog Tag Found

Losing a Leg and His Dog Tags, a Marine Enjoys a Reunion Decades Later

Man in combat fatigues holding dog tags
Joe Fox/Getty Images

Thanks in part to the Internet, a long-lost dog tag belonging to a U.S. Marine who served in the Vietnam War reunited with its owner.

A photo of the tag (via Facebook), which was found by chance two years ago by an Australian teacher visiting the site of the former U.S. military base in Khe Sanh, was posted online in the hopes that others could provide information leading to the whereabouts of the Marine, identified only as Martinson, L.P., service number 1984025, religion Lutheran.

Diligent sleuthing by an active-duty Marine named Joshua Laudermilk and others led to the discovery that the tag's original owner, former USMC Platoon Sgt. Lanny Paul Martinson, was alive and well in Sugar Land, Texas, and thrilled at the prospect of recovering his lost tag.

How Lanny Martinson Lost His Dog Tags

On June 4, 1968, Marine Sgt. Lanny Martinson stepped on a landmine at Khe Sanh. At the time, he followed a common Marine tactic of wearing one dog tag in his boot laces and another around his neck. The enemy land mine amputated his right leg. He didn't see either of his dog tags after the injury, as he was operated on and returned to the United States. His dream of a career in the Marines ended that day. He has dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder. He was touched by the efforts to reunite him with his dog tag.

History of Dog Tags in the Military

Dog tags are the informal name for military identification tags, the nickname stemming from at least as early as Prussian Army troops in 1870 when they were called Hundemarken and resembled tags issued for dogs. They became part of the official gear for American and British armies during World War I.

In 1916, the US Army began issuing two tags to each soldier to assist with keeping records for burials, with one to stay with the body if the soldier was killed in action and the other to go to the person in charge of the burial. They added serial numbers to the dog tags in 1918. As the tags include name, identification number, religion, and often the blood type and medical alerts, they allowed for better identification, medical treatment, and burial honors for fallen soldiers.

The use of dog tags was likely one factor in reducing the number of "unknown soldiers," which were as high as 54 percent of the dead in the US Civil War. At that time, soldiers made do with slips of paper, stenciling on their knapsack, or scratching a name into their belt buckle for identification.

One problem was that the dog tags would make noise when worn together. Soldiers devised silencers such as taping around the edges until silencers were produced to slip around the edges for this purpose. Placing one on the boot while wearing the other around the neck also eliminated the noise.

Sources and Further Reading

Long Way Home for Marine's Dog Tag (San Diego Union-Tribune)
Military Tag Lost 40 Years Ago Returning to Viet Nam War Veteran (KTRK-TV News)