DEAR READERS: The following is “PART I” of a reader inquiry Sun Spots received. Due to its length and the limited available space in each Sun Spots column, the letter will appear in three parts on consecutive days in the column until each section has been answered.

DEAR SUN SPOTS (PART I): I have a challenge and request for all military buffs in the area. My husband’s paternal grandfather, Ralph S. Giffin, served during World War I. Grandfather Giffin left behind three medals. I believe the first, which are actually a set, are his dog tags. Could you or some of your readers help?

The first set of medals are two matching round metal discs, approximately 3.5 centimeters across and about as thick as a quarter. On one side of each disc along the outer edge is printed the name “Ralph S. Giffin” and across the center is printed “U.S.A.” On the other side, across the center is the six-digit number “135469.” The discs are attached together by a metallic ring with a circular loop at a 180 degree angle at the top of the ring and a lever which opens the ring at the side. I believe these are Grandfather Giffin’s dog tags. If someone could explain why the early dog tags were round instead of rectangular, or could provide any information on these dog tags, I would be very interested. — Sheila, Wilton. 

ANSWER: You are correct. Your first set of medals are identification discs, commonly known as “dog tags,” which bear the rather morbid purpose of serving as identification of bodies who die in battle. Little information is available about why some of the first tags were circular. These tags weren’t mandatory until 1913, though soldiers voluntarily used various forms of identification on their persons long before that, dating back to the Civil War. Before these ID tags were mandatory, soldiers would sometimes smooth the sides of coins and engrave them with their names.

It wasn’t until World War II that the shape changed to the more oblong tags we are used to seeing today. That’s also about the time that the tags received the “dog tag” nickname because of their resemblance to the identification tags people were putting around their pets’ necks. The tags identified the soldier who wore them by name, number, rank, unit, and often also contained important medical information and occasionally religious preference. (See PART II in tomorrow’s Sun Journal)

DEAR SUN SPOTS: The Trinity Jubilee Center is a community center in downtown Lewiston, open six days a week. We run five programs: Meals Program, Food Pantry, Day Shelter, Resource Center and Refugee Integration Program. We serve more than 1,000 people weekly. We are in need of two things. First is interior paint. We are hoping to repaint our dining room and need 4 to 5 gallons of a gray, beige or other light-colored paint. Second, our annual Empty Bowls Supper is coming up on May 15, and if folks have handmade pottery to donate, then we’d love to have more pottery for the sale. Anyone who is interested can contact us at [email protected] or 782-5700. Thank you. — Erin, Lewiston.

Use the QR code to go to Sun Spots online for additional information and links. This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can be emailed to [email protected], tweeted @SJ_SunSpots or posted on the Sun Spots Facebook page at facebook.com/SunJournalSunSpots. This column can also be read online at sunjournal.com/sunspots. We’ve joined Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/sj_sunspots.


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