What to do if you find a military dog tag?

Finding a military dog tag can be an interesting and meaningful experience. The dog tag likely belonged to a service member, and contains important identifying information. If you find a dog tag, you may want to make an effort to locate its owner or their family. This article provides guidance on what to do if you find a military dog tag, and how to go about returning it.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to common questions about finding military dog tags:

  • Military dog tags contain the service member’s name, Social Security number, blood type, and religious preference.
  • It’s illegal to sell or keep someone else’s military ID tags if you find them.
  • The best thing to do is turn the dog tag in to the nearest military installation or contact the appropriate service branch.
  • You can also try to locate the veteran or their family yourself to return the dog tag.
  • Take care not to post personal details from the dog tag publicly in your efforts to find the owner.

What information is on military dog tags?

U.S. military identification tags, commonly called dog tags, contain the following information about the service member:

  • Full name
  • Social Security number
  • Blood type
  • Religious preference (optional)
  • Branch of service

The dog tags are designed this way so that if a service member is injured or killed in action, their identity can be quickly established through the tag. Having the religious preference allows the proper religious rites to be carried out if needed. The Social Security number enables the military to access the service member’s records as well.

Other possible information

Some dog tags may also contain additional information such as:

  • Date/place of birth
  • Unit/division
  • Date of inoculations
  • Geneva Conventions category (for POWs)

Older dog tags from WWII or Korea may have less information than modern ones. The styles and formats of dog tags have changed over time as technologies and record-keeping capabilities have evolved.

Is it illegal to keep or sell found military dog tags?

Yes, in most cases it is illegal to keep, sell, or improperly distribute someone else’s found military identification tags. The dog tags are considered the property of the military, even if they are lost or the service member is no longer living.

Federal law 18 USC 701 makes it illegal for unauthorized persons to manufacture, sell, wear, or possess military service member ID cards or tags. So you cannot legally keep or sell found dog tags, even if your intent is just to recoup the costs of finding the original owner.

The reason for these laws is to protect service members from potential identity theft or false impersonation. The integrity of the military’s service record system also needs to be maintained. So found dog tags should always be returned to the proper authorities, never kept, sold, or redistributed improperly.

What is the best thing to do if you find a dog tag?

If you find a military identification tag, the recommended procedures are:

  1. Turn the dog tag in to the nearest military installation. You can locate installations at Military OneSource.
  2. Contact the appropriate military service branch – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard. Call their public affairs office or veteran affairs department.
  3. If the service member is deceased, you may contact the deceased’s veteran service organization on their behalf, or a group like the American Legion.

Turning in the dog tag is the safest option since the military has resources to locate service members and their families. They also have procedures in place for handling returned dog tags.

Avoid posting personal details publicly

When trying to find the military dog tag owner, avoid posting their full name, Social Security number, or other personal details publicly online or elsewhere. This protects their security and identity.

You can describe the situation and see if anyone recognizes the name, but do not share compromising details.

Can you try to locate the service member or family yourself?

It is certainly permissible for you to try finding the military dog tag owner or their family on your own, in addition to turning it into the military. However, avoid posting personal details publicly. Here are some tips for independently trying to locate them:

  • Search online and in databases for their name, branch, and service dates.
  • Contact the local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) chapter near where you found the dog tag.
  • Search their name on social media sites like Facebook.
  • Post carefully worded inquiries on community boards or forums asking if anyone knows the individual.
  • If deceased, search genealogy records and obituaries for family members.
  • Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration.

With internet research skills and a little legwork, you may be able to find information about the veteran or their living family. Make sure not to pay any individuals who offer to find the dog tag owner for you – this could be a scam.

What should you do if you locate the service member or family?

If your search efforts successfully locate the military member who lost their dog tag or a family member, here are some recommendations on connecting with them and arranging its return:

  • Send them a polite, carefully worded explanation of finding the dog tag and your desire to return it.
  • Offer to mail it back to them securely if they will provide a mailing address.
  • If agreeable, offer to meet with them in person in a public place to return the dog tag.
  • If they have concerns, provide references or information to demonstrate your good intentions.
  • Be flexible to accommodate their wishes for having it returned.

Most veterans or families will be grateful and appreciative of your efforts to return a found dog tag. Be respectful, polite, and sensitive to their response and wishes. Some may prefer the dog tag remain turned over to the military, while others will want it back as a meaningful memento.

Can family members keep a deceased service member’s returned dog tag?

If the identified service member is now deceased, their family is typically legally allowed to keep their returned dog tags. The dog tags rightfully belong to the family as a keepsake.

However, some military policies still officially recommend turning in all found dog tags to the appropriate branch. So even in cases of deceased members, consider turning the dog tag in to the military first. If the family desires to have it back afterwards, they can then make that request through official channels.

This helps maintain full transparency, ensures the tag information is properly logged, and gives the family the best assurance they are legally reclaiming the dog tag memento.

Can military dog tags be traced?

Yes, the military has procedures in place to trace modern dog tags back to the assigned service member or their living family members. The Social Security number enables them to access the right military personnel records.

For older WWII, Korea, and Vietnam era dog tags, tracing can be more difficult if records are incomplete. The National Archives may have some records that allow limited tracing for historic dog tags.

To initiate a dog tag trace, turn the found tag in to the nearest military base. Their personnel office should be able to take it from there by following official tracing protocols.

What should you avoid doing if you find a dog tag?

When you find a military dog tag, there are some actions you will want to avoid:

  • Don’t throw it away – make an effort to return it.
  • Don’t try to sell the dog tag – that’s illegal.
  • Don’t wear it yourself as a novelty item.
  • Don’t post the Social Security number or other details publicly.
  • Don’t hold on to the dog tag yourself long-term if you can return it.
  • Don’t give the dog tag to random acquaintances or third parties.

Follow the proper procedures for turning in the dog tag, or your efforts to locate the veteran or family. Avoid mishandling the dog tag or compromising the identity of the service member it belonged to.

Are there any rewards for returning a lost military dog tag?

There are no guaranteed rewards for returning lost military dog tags to service members or their families. However, the veteran, family members, or military branch may choose to provide a reward or compensation at their own discretion.

If you go through significant effort to trace and return a dog tag, it is reasonable to politely ask the recipient if they wish to provide a token thank-you. But do not expect or demand compensation.

Returning a touching memento is often its own reward. You may also receive heartfelt thanks from the service member, family, or veteran organization for your efforts.

Can you keep a military dog tag you found if no owner is located?

No, you should not keep a found military ID tag even if you make substantial but unsuccessful efforts to locate the owner. The lawful thing to do is turn the dog tag in to the appropriate military branch.

They will then follow official procedures for unclaimed dog tags, which typically involves archiving them. But the tag rightfully remains government property, and does not become yours to keep regardless of the circumstances.


Finding a lost military dog tag can be a unique opportunity to return a meaningful belonging to a veteran, their family, or the military itself. Avoid the temptation to keep or sell the dog tag – instead take measures to carefully return it.

Turning the dog tag in to the nearest military installation is the safest choice. You can also make reasonable independent efforts to locate the service member or their family yourself. Use caution not to disclose personal details publicly.

With some diligence and sensitivity, you may be able to successfully return the dog tag to its rightful owner or next of kin. This provides them a chance to reclaim this cherished item. Handle the dog tag properly, and avoid any actions that could compromise it or the veteran’s identity.

Branch of Service Contact Information
Army Public Affairs Office
Navy Navy Office of Information
Air Force Office of Public Affairs
Marines Marine Corps Public Affairs
Coast Guard Office of External Affairs

Use this table for reference to contact the appropriate military service branch if you need to turn in or trace a found dog tag.

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