A dog tag and a name

A more complex than usual post for this evening… Let’s start with this picture of two American NCOs, portryaed in France between 1917 and 1918. You’ve probably noticed the watch on the wrist of the man on the right, but the most interesting element is the bracelet on the other arm.


Indeed this is not a simple bracelet: this is an ID tag (more commonly known under the “dog tag” name). Thanks to the high resolution of the original negative plate and my powerful scanner, here is a detail of this ID Tag:


We can rather clearly read the name “W.R. Gilbertson, Sioux Falls S.D.”, whereas his serial number (at the center of the tag) is not clear.

A quick reasearch on the Web allowed me to find some information about this man.  If he’s the right W.R. Gilbertson, he was born in 1891 and still alive in 1920, when the census was done.

The point is that the shape of this ID tag looks more like a French one. As far as I know, the US Army WW1 ID tag was rather different, as it was a circular one. Here’s the description according to the War Department General Order No. 204, dated December 20, 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”.

That’s the reason why any input on these ID tags (which were probably unofficial ones) would be appreciated!


4 thoughts on “A dog tag and a name

  1. I found this man in the 1918 Sioux Falls city directory as:
    Gilbertson, W Robert, soldier, USA b (boards) 2 Brown apts.

    He is also in the 1919 Sioux Falls city directory as:
    Gilbertson, Robert, clk (clerk) b (boards) 2 Brown apts.

    In the 1920 census for Sioux Falls he was listed as:
    Gilbertson, Robert, age 22, single, salesman for a Retail Clothing Company.

    In 1929 there was an application to the Veterans Dept. for a headstone marker for:
    Gilbertson, Robert W. / 2nd Lieut (penciled in with Sergeant crossed out) / 147th Field Artillery / date of death: November 23, 1928
    it was sent to a Lutheran cemetery in Brookings, South Dakota which is 60 miles north of Sioux Falls.

    With so many photos that have no identification or are too blurred, this is a fantastic clue. Bravo! It is also very good to learn that at least one soldier made it home safely.

    • I subscribe to Ancestry.com; Fold3.com – a US military archive; and several other newspaper archives. Fold3.com gives too many false results so I use it less, but Ancestry.com is often very accurate, including military service records. I have the global subscription which gives access to British records too, but German, French, and Italian records are poor and incomplete. When I have a chance this weekend I will send you the image files for Gilbertson.
      Unlike your photographer’s other photos, this one is plain and simple. I wondered if the photo print might be cut in two and used for the soldier’s identification in military records.

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