One of the first things that happened to me, that day in 1972, was being brought into compliance with General Order No. 204, 20 December 1906:
An aluminum identification tag, the size of a silver half dollar and of suitable thickness, stamped with the name, rank, company, regiment, or corps of the wearer, will be worn by each officer and enlisted man of the Army whenever the field kit is worn, the tag to be suspended from the neck, underneath the clothing, by a cord or thong passed through a small hole in the tab. It is prescribed as a part of the uniform and when not worn as directed herein will be habitually kept in the possession of the owner. The tag will be issued by the Quartermaster’s Department gratuitously to enlisted men and at cost price to officers.
The shape of the dog tag would change somewhat over the years, but its purpose has remained the same: to identify the fallen when they can no longer identify themselves. In other words, it’s a preparation for something you’d rather not think about.
There are times when I think the whole nation would rather not think about things like that; there is much talk of peace, comparatively little about the idea that maybe you have to fight once in a while to obtain it. They forget that during most of human history, peace was the exception, not the rule; and they believe that ultimately, mankind will happily lay down its arms. Anyone who’s ever had any of those arms pointed at him knows better. But there are fewer and fewer of them — of us — to serve as a reminder, and so we forget, lulled into a false sense of security by those who prefer butter to guns, or would if butter didn’t have so much darned saturated fat.
My own role in pacifying the angry hordes was exceedingly minor yet absolutely essential: if I wasn’t on the front line, I was backing up someone who was, and had the rotating blades been struck by waste material at the right (or the wrong) time, it could just as easily have been me out there. You should, of course, remember that someone before you remember me, especially if he didn’t come back; but you should remember all of us, from the time when you needed us — because such a time will come again. It always does.