A Veterans Day Gift: My Father’s Dog Tag

By | November 9, 2015 | 0 Comments

Dog tag

Some time ago, as I sat at my desk paying bills, I tried to open a drawer and found it blocked. The problem was a box I had almost forgotten. It held old coins, but among the coins was another object. This one had no monetary value, but great significance.

It was my father’s World War I dog tag.

Unlike current tags, it’s round. It carries only his name and serial number, 4898229, and the letters “U.S.A.” It’s aluminum to resist corrosion. If the wearer were killed and had to be buried temporarily, the body could be identified for later reburial.

As a young man, my father worked nights as a cashier in a cafeteria while attending classes during the day. He hoped to attend medical school someday, a goal he later achieved. But his education was interrupted – some might say continued in another form – by war.

He served as a private in the infantry in France. He had some interesting experiences riding with his buddies in the famous “40/8” boxcars, which were meant to hold 40 men or 8 horses. Let’s just say that the fields of France were a little greener the next spring.


He finally got near enough the front lines to hear artillery, but fortunately the war ended before he went into combat. As Dad put it, “When the Kaiser heard I was over there, he gave up.” My only mementos of his service are the dog tag and a photo of him in his high-collared uniform.

No, that’s wrong. Those are my only personal mementos. But I have many other reminders of what I owe him – and the millions of others, living and dead, who served our country, and those who are serving today.

First of all, there is freedom. I can express myself as I wish, either for or against the current administration. Unless I advocate violence, nobody will knock on my door. I can buy property or sell it. I can move or stay put. I can take a job or quit.

I can worship frequently, or not at all, or change my religion. And so long as I’m a hard worker and a good neighbor, no one will bother me, or even notice. I take for granted what my father left Europe as a teenager to achieve – freedom of conscience.

And my wife can also do these things. No one forces her to cover her face, or prevents her from driving a car, getting an education, or practicing a profession.

Do we appreciate how unusual these gifts are, both now in the world, and in history? Do we know how lucky we are?

My father’s oldest brother remained in Europe. Like my father, he too got a serial number. But his number wasn’t stamped on a metal disc with the letters “U.S.A.” His number was tattooed on his arm.

My father died a respected physician. There were many mourners at his funeral. His brother died in the Holocaust. He had no funeral, but almost all of his family and friends were dead, too, so no one would have attended.

There is a lesson here. The divergent paths taken by my father and his brother exemplify the divergent paths taken by America and Europe.

My father struck out on his own, rejecting the past and with faith in the future. His brother stayed behind, looking back toward the past and doubtful of the future.

My father risked his life to preserve freedom, and he was proud to pass on his legacy to his son. His number remains as testimony to his resolve, stamped in metal.

His brother lost both his freedom and his life, and even his number vanished in a crematorium. Only his memory remains as evidence of what happens when an all-powerful state loses its moral compass. Those “progressives” who want a strong central government to make decisions for us, and who at the same time disarm us and try to smash our moral compass, should consider these facts. Of course, they won’t.

Is this an exaggeration? Perhaps. But the time to buy a fire extinguisher is before you smell smoke, not after.

Freedom has a price. Some are lucky enough to pay it in money. Others of us must pay it in blood. But one way or another, we all must pay, or we will lose our freedom. In the unlikely event that I ever forget this, I can look at the dog tag and be reminded.

I can take out my father’s dog tag and feel the cool strength of its metal. I can look at his serial number and be reminded that it is the price of not being branded with another type of number. And I can say “Thanks.”

Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Number 4898229 from Number O5703196. I’m not in your league, but at least I know how precious freedom is, and who paid the price for it. And thanks for teaching me to honor and support the troops who are now paying that price. I pray that they all come home safe, and have children who will treasure their dog tags, the way I treasure my father’s.

It is the soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Father Denis E. O’Brien, USMC

America is not at war. The Marine Corps is at war. America is at the mall.
− Note on blackboard, USMC, Quantico, VA

We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.
− Attributed to Winston Churchill, also attributed to George Orwell

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ’is country” when the guns begin to shoot.
– Rudyard Kipling, “Tommy

If a man hasn’t discovered something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.
− Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have seen much war in my life, and I detest it profoundly. But there are worse things than war, and they all come with defeat.
− Ernest Hemingway

See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
− Isaiah 48:10

Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.


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