Megan Hecker April, 30, 2012 Final Project Unique Identity My chosen item of dress does not belong to only me, but to millions of Americans who have demonstrated courage in the darkest of times. This item does not only represent me, but my entire family, our memories of angst, our forms of support, and our overwhelming pride. I have chosen to write about my brother’s dog tags, a very dear possession of mine that represents many memories. Captain Jeffrey James Hecker of the United States Marine Corps is my older brother who is now a 26 year-old graduate student at Michigan State University earning his MBA. Born in Wheaton, Illinois, he was the first child for my mother and father until he kindly took on the role of big brother when my twin and I were born five years later. My brother’s journey began as a young boy with his curiosity of history, particularly focused on American wartimes. I grew up begging him to change the channel from documentaries of the Vietnam War to much less important sitcoms. He engaged in action figure battles with my twin Pat, where they took over most of the play space while creating elaborate fight scenes. As Jeff matured, he grew aware of the fact that our armed services was mostly made up of lower class citizens presented with few options in terms of a career. He felt it was a duty to give back to a country that had provided him so much opportunity and wealth. I had always suspected it was the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that had inspired Jeff’s decision to join that Marines Corp. Though that did play a part, Jeff had already decided previous to the attacks that this was his path.
When he graduated high school in 2003 and enrolled at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, he formally joined the United States Marine Corps. During college, he completed two summers of Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia where he underwent tests of morale, intellect, and strength and graduated as an Officer in Marine Corps in 2006. Upon college graduation in 2008, Jeffrey completed Basic training school before commissioning into the Marine Corp on a four and half-year contract. It was after basic training he received his first set of dog tags. He was then based at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina where he moved to with his fiancé and current wife, Kelsey. Jeff took his first tour in 2008 to Anbar Province, Iraq where he was stationed on Al Asad Airbase. At the time he was a Second Lieutenant and specialized in supply chain and logistics, assisting convoys in delivering resources to other bases and platoons. About half way through, Jeff was promoted and received his own platoon for the remainder of the tour. This meant he was directing and overseeing his own platoon of about twenty soldiers, while safely delivering supplies to designated areas. Overall, he went to Iraq at a relatively “safe” point in the war and returned home six months later, was promoted to First Lieutenant, and got married in the summer of 2009. A little over a year later in 2010, Jeff was sent on his second tour to Helmand Province in Afghanistan, at a base called Camp Leatherneck. I remember this tour much more vividly because of this area’s reputation as the epicenter of the war in Afghanistan. Jeff again was in charge his own platoon and directed convoys across the desert. Improved explosive devices, or IED, seemed to be much more of a threat during this second tour then the first. These are also known as roadside bombs and are deployed in ways other then in conventional warfare.
They posed a large threat to convoys like my brothers, because they were undetectable and detonated upon touch or remote control. I recall seeing news reports that number of IED’s used in Afghanistan had increased remarkably, some hundreds of percent. Thankfully, my brother only experienced one IED attack and returned home safely earlier then planned. However, it was here my brother experienced extremely high levels of stress, which took a physical toll. After he returned home he received the title of Captain Jeffrey James Hecker. Afghanistan marked the end of my brother’s commitment to the Marine Corps, which was a bittersweet moment but he has since begun a family with his wife and is an active member in the Marine Corp Reserves. As mentioned, my brother received his dog tags upon completion of Basic Training in 2006. To him, these tags do not just represent military status, but are a highly personal item for soldiers that hold a powerful history. When visiting Arlington National Cemetery, one gets the opportunity of honoring the thousands of men and women who lost their lives defending American soil. This cemetery also is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a resting place for the countless American soldiers were never identified. In fact, 42% of Civil War dead still remain unidentified (Qmfound.com). According to the website Dog Tag History, the Civil War provided the first recorded incident of American soldiers making an effort to ensure their identities would be known should they die on the battlefield (Dog Tag History.com). In 1863 before the battle of Mine’s Run, soldiers pinned paper tags of their name and unit number to their uniforms in case they were killed in battle. Some used paper to make their tags while others took great care in crafting a personalized label made of wood and wore around the neck. The tags popularized quickly and Harper’s Weekly magazine noticed the demand for product
and began advertising the tags, which were available by mail order. Originally made of gold or silver, the tags still only showed names and unit numbers of soldiers. Some private vendors followed troops created a more personal tag for soldiers. In 1899 Chaplain Charles C. Pierce was tasked to establish the Quartermaster Office of Identification and recommended all soldiers wear an “identity disk” in the combat field to answer the need for standard identification (Qmfound.com). The identification tags were not made mandatory until 1913 when all combat soldiers were required to wear the aluminum discs around their necks. Not until World War II did the dog tags take on the oblong shape we recognize today. Today, standard military tags contain five lines of a soldier’s information:
1. Last Name 2. First Name/ Middle Initial 3. Social Security Number 4. Blood type 5. Religion (optional)
The tags purpose is clear by its destination on the body, they are morbid devices used to identify the dead. If a soldier is pronounced dead, it is a medic’s job to leave one tag on the body and take the other one off to represent proof of the deceased. Along with my brother, my grandfather served in the Marine Corps during World War II as a medic who held the burden of identifying bodies. During the battle of Iwo Jima, my grandfather was assigned the task of grave registry, which meant sorting through dead bodies to
collect their dog tags. Though I cannot fathom how hard that must have been, it goes to show the utter importance of these devices as they draw the line between the known and unknown. Modern day dog tags are made with metal, aluminum, or stainless-steel material to withstand weathering and high heat. The Army has recently developed and is testing a new dog tag in a microchip form that holds 80% of a soldier’s medical and dental data (Qmfound.com). To the average citizen a dog tag may just represent military status, however they hold more relevance then that. To a soldier, “receiving it, hanging it around the neck, and feeling it is at once a silent statement of commitment which individualizes the human being within a huge and faceless organization” is how important the dog tag is (Dog Tag History.com). Besides for military purpose, dog tags have made their way into wider fashion circles since the 1960’s. In the sixties dog tags were worn as a symbol of rebellion against the Vietnam and Cold war. Since then, military dog tags represent a military look or fashion trend for many young people. Today, personalizing dog tags is easy via the internet where anyone can engrave a name, logo, or sign onto a necklace. Beyond dog tags, military inspired clothing has dominated widespread fashion for several seasons. We see it in militaristic cut jackets, camouflage prints, and higher attention to detail. Despite its many functions, dog tags still embody the original function of a unique identification (Custom Military Dog Tags.com). Regardless of its purpose, dog tags have, and always will, hold extreme value to soldiers as well as their family members. For the first time since Jeff has been a member of the Marines, I am taking a deeper look at my personal relationship with his military tags and understanding how they have impacted my life. Jeff gave each member of my family a set of his dog tags
before leaving for Iraq in 2008. During his tour, I ritually gave the necklace a kiss and said goodnight to Jeff who was thousands of miles away from me. It provided me a sense of comfort despite my daily anxieties. His time away was difficult for my family, but we reached out to our peers and friends for support. These dog tags not only represent how proud I am of Jeff, but encompass my deep admiration and respect for him as an older brother. It is difficult for me to verbalize my feelings for him because I love him so much. He has been my mentor ever since I can remember as well as my biggest supporter. As we grow in age, a mutual respect has followed and we have become good friends as a result. I look up to his abilities to balance being a student, a father, a husband, and a soldier all at once. I wish I could find a way to give back to our country like he has. He has become the one I look towards for guidance in a time of need and I hope I am the same for him. I am extremely grateful to be apart of a family who continually shares so much love, care, and support for one another. To me, my brotherâ€™s dog tags represent my family and the lengths we will go for one another. Better understanding my brotherâ€™s military dog tags have made me realize the very morbid and significant roles they have played in history of military and beyond. In fashion they provide a way to be unique and in war they offer the ability to be remembered. I am privileged to have military dog tags in my wardrobe and even more honored that they are my brothers.
WORK CITED "Dog Tags." Dog Tags. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.dogtaghistory.com/>. "Military Dog Tags." Custom, Personalized, Military Dog Tags for Military and All People. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.custommilitarydogtags.com/pages/Military-Dog-Tags.html>. "Military-Dogtags." Military-Dogtags. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.militarydogtags.com/>. "A Short History of Identification Tags." Army Quartermaster Foundation, Inc. US Army Quartermaster Foundation, Dec. 1988. Web. 26 Apr. 2012. <http://www.qmfound.com/short_history_of_identification_tags.htm>.
1889 dog tags.
Wooden dog tags.
The five lines of information found on a dog tag today.
My family at my brotherâ€™s commissioning.
My brother before his first tour to Iraq.