The Story of Military Dog Tags

the story of military dog tags

The story of Military Dog Tags spans millennia, and is fascinating to see how keeping our silent heroes accounted for during war times was first a priority, to later fade away only to return out of a basic human desire of being known, even in death, and not to become one of (too many) unknown soldiers.

What makes an army? The number of its soldiers? The thirst of its leaders or their pathos and charisma . As far back as 2000 BC the Xia Dynasty of China kept a 12 000 men army, the ancient Egypt saw a 100 000 men army during the reign of Ramesses II, the next massive army was that of the Persians under Cyrus the Great, with half a million men, equaled in number only by Mauryan Empire of India around 300 BCE.

Yet, did they mattered, the warriors? Were they seen an human beings, as individuals with dreams and aspirations, or as mere soldiers, the parts of a whole? Who missed them when they were gone, left to fertilize a foreign land? Who cried and uttered their names one last time? Who knew each one of them by their name?

A mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife
Wrote his name, carved it in wood
To remind him their love,
To keep him safe from death
A spell of love
The first ever dog tag.

(Patricia Furstenberg)

The first dog tags we know of in history belonged to the Spartans who wrote their names on sticks tied to their left wrists – because the left arm was holding the shield when in battle and the shield was a precious family heirloom. Spartans were bot only literate, but admired for their intellectual culture and poetry.

Could they have looked like these?

Story Military Dog Tags - split wood tally sticks
Split Wood Tally Sticks, Courtesy of the National Archives UK

They might have looked fearless, the Spartans, in their crimson tunics and battered shields with the letter lambda painted on, and long hair – which they considered the symbol of a free man.

It is of no surprise that Roman legionaries also carried dog tags. But so did the poor Roman slaves… Less personalized than those of the Spartans, the Roman dog tags were received by each soldier on the moment of joining he Roman legion, the Roman Army Recruits, and were called signaculum, the seal. A signaculum, made of lead, carried the soldier’s name, “Unit” of assignment and, in some cases, home record etched on the front as well as a stamp to authenticate it, on the reverse. In the beginning the signaculum was kept in a small leather or cloth pouch and worn around the neck.

Until the permanent Soldier’s Mark was instated for Roman legionaries, a brand imprinted on the hands of the soldiers with a hot iron, possibly to discourage desertion, but only after he was proved fit for service. A tattoo, if you please.

Luckily, this custom was later abolished by the relaxation introduced by a long peace.

I couldn’t find any records or mentions of any form of identification for soldiers that fought in Europe or elsewhere for the next fifteen hundred years or so…

I thought of the Janissaries, this incredible heroes of the Ottoman Empire that tormented southeastern Europe, Northern Africa and Western Asia for over six centuries, between the 14th and early 20th centuries… But Janissaries, despite their military status and recognizable hat (that tall bork fitted a stunning jeweled ornament in the middle of the forehead), were an army of slaves to the Ottoman Sultan. Their identity didn’t matter, only their force through training and numbers…

Story Military Dog Tags - Janissaries
No dog tags for Ottoman Sultan’s Janissaries, just a jeweled tall hat, a bork.

It was only in 1712 France that soldiers were recorded again, and issued a cartouche (cartouche de congé or feuilles de rutes) to prove their legal leave… but nothing about an identification tags.

This lack of identification tags for soldiers comes at no surprise if we consider that in 16th and 17th century France personal identity (of a civilian) was based on interpersonal relations, shared experiences and social bonds between the members of a community, from family to the parish and so on. Thus, a stranger leaving this cocoon, this sphere of interpersonal relations became unknown, no longer recognized – and identified.

It was in 1792 when births and deaths in France had to be legally registered and passports were issued for every traveler during the French revolution. Although some primitive forms of passport did exist, being inherited from the Middle Ages and being more of a privilege than a form of identification…

We do know that Napoleon mustered an army of 2.5 million people at the beginning of the 19th century…. nearly 400 000 were killed in action not counting the invasion of Russia where around one million French and allied soldiers perished.

Across the Pond, someone was killing President Thomas Jefferson’s sheep. His neighbor’s dogs. So the President wrote the first dog licensing law for his home state of Virginia wishing to identify the owners of the naughty dogs owners and make them pay for his loss. By the 1850’s most cities had such laws requiring dog owners to attach a collar with their name and license number around their doggo’s neck.

Because no one expected the American Civil War to last so long, 1861 – 1865, most soldiers marched off to fight in a wide variety of uniforms, most of them homemade. Their own clothes. Later the uniforms became blue for Unions, Bluebellies, and light brownish for the Confederates, Butternuts.

Do you remember the ‘sash’ Scarlett made for Ashley? No dog tags, still… made to tell him apart.

Yet no soldier’s uniform of the American Civil War included a set of dog tags, although in May 1962 John Kennedy from New York proposed that each Union soldier is issued with an ID tag. And the soldiers cared that, when they die, their families back home know to mourn them. There is a sea of graves with headstones marked ‘Unknown Soldier’. So soon, as soon as the men saw that this war will never end, the soldiers (perhaps their wives too, their mothers, sisters, sweethearts, from South and from the North) began to sew their names on the uniform, before leaving for battle, before kissing them good bye, hugging them one last time, before praying together for a happy reunion. One more…

Those in a hurry just wrote their name on a piece of paper or a handkerchief, pinned it to their blouses and hoped they won’t bleed on it, when wounded. Some even carved their names on small wooden discs , pierced a hole through it and hung it from their neck with a piece of string. Others stenciled identification on their knapsacks or scratched it in the soft lead backing of their army belt buckle. Most of them were 16 – 23 years old.

Still, about 50% of soldiers killed in action were positively identified.

Eventually, merchants saw a booming business and began producing metal disks shaped to suggest a branch of service. These were soon called name discs or soldier pins. Some sold soldier pins made of silver or gold and etched with the soldier’s name and unit. But not everyone could afford one so most soldiers made their own ID tags by grinding off one side of a coin and then etching their names on it.

Cheaper, machine-stamped tags appeared, made of brass or lead with a hole. They had an eagle or shield and a motivational phrase such as “War for the Union” or “Liberty, Union, and Equality” on one side. The other side showed the soldier’s name and unit, and sometimes a list of battles in which he had participated. By the 1890s, the U.S. Army and Navy began experimenting with issuing metal identification tags to recruits.

It didn’t took long until the wooden and metal discs used for dogs were referred to as dog tags and that name carried over to their human counterparts.

But such dog tags were also provided to the Chinese soldiers during the Taiping revolt, 1851 – 1866, when both the Chinese Imperial Army soldiers and the Taiping rebels wearing a uniform wore a wooden dog tag at the belt with their name, age, birthplace, unit, and date of enlistment inscribed.

1866 Europe, the Prussian soldiers began wearing dog tags during the Austro – Prussian War but on a volunteer basis only as many considered them a bad omen. Sad, as in the aftermath of the decisive Battle of Königgrätz (Sadowa), when the Kingdom of Prussia defeated the Austrian Empire which led to the German unification, the Little Germany (Germany without Austria), out of 8900 Prussian casualties only 429 of them could be identified. It was three years later the Recognitionsmarke, recognition mark, became obligatory, but the soldier called them Hundermarken, since they looked like ID tags used for the canines of Berlin… Story goes that King Wilhelm flew into a rage about the common naming of the tag saying that his soldiers are not dogs – so the nickname was forbidden in the following years…which only encouraged it’s use by the soldiers.

You can see below an Austro – Hungarian Empire‘s Officer Legitimization Case, a pre-design of a dog tag. On the obverse the case is engraved with the Imperial Cypher of King Frans Joseph I of Austria, while on the reverse is the Austro – Hungarian Coat of arms (double headed crowned eagle). The case opened and inside were included personal ID, service records, list of decorations awarded.

Meanwhile, in 1907 the British Army replaced the identity cards with aluminum discs, each soldier receiving two. An octagonal green tag was attached to a cord around the neck, intended to remain on the body for future identification. The second tag, a red circular disc, was suspended from the first and could be removed to record the soldier’s death. The British forces serving in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand received similar dog tags during the Great War, exception making the sailors who preferred an ID bracelet.

It was in 1906 when the U.S. government decided by a general order that a circular aluminum disc be worn as an identification tag by all soldiers, and by 1913 all military service members were required to wear such an identification disc. The aluminum disc was the size of a silver half dollar and imprinted with the name, rank, company, regiment or corps, and worn suspended around the neck.

Story Military Dog Tags - WW1 German dog tag
A World War I German army dog tag indicating Name, place of birth, battalion, unit and serial number

When U.S. entered World War I (1914-1918) in 1917 all its service members, killed or wounded, were therefor identified and accounted for. It was now when military service members began wearing two such identification tags hand-stamped with their name, rank, serial number, unit and religion. One tag was meant to remain attached to the body of the deceased while the other would mark the coffin or the grave site, be it home or away.

Story Military Dog Tags - WW1
Source: Ian Houghton’s amazing blog

Canadian, USA, British WW1 dog tags and a custom stamping set:

At the same time back in Europe the French soldiers were fitted with a bracelet displaying a metal disk engraved with the their name, rank and other pertinent formation. And here’s a Scottish one:

In Russia, after the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 and the necessity to increase the newly mobilized force exponentially, up to 75% of the Russian troops entered WW1 with no form of personal identification…
Below, a Russian tag from 1902, a 1909 wooden cylinder used to protect a piece of paper with the soldier’s details (although it was also used to store matches), and a 1917 dog tag:

Of course, I should show you some Romanian dog tags from WW1 and WW2:

During WWII, 1939-1945, most dog tags used looked like the ones we’ve seen often – at least in the movies: rectangular shaped with rounded ends and machine stamped. First made of brass, then from a corrosion-resistant alloy, nickel – copper, and eventually from stainless steel.

Story Military Dog Tags - South African
One of the two identity discs issued by the South African Navy during World War II with rank, surname, initials, force number and religious affiliation

Below: a British RAF dog tag of a soldier named Astman and Australian dog tags (notice the rubber rim meant to silence them)

Still, the human’s wars were not over…

Two Finish dog tags, first one from the Winter War (the war between the Soviet Union and Finland, 30 Nov 1939 – 13 Mar 1940), the second one is modern, it has the letters SF, Suomi Finland, stamped within a tower.

During the 1950s some rules regarding dog tags changed, one identification tag was placed on a long chain, while the second was hung on a shorter chain. In case of death the identification tag on the shorter chain was meant to be placed around the toe of the deceased, toe tag. The other dog tag was meant to remain with the deceased or used to report back the name of the deceased soldier.

For those who experienced the Communist Block, Eastern Block, and the Cold War this army pass book for a Corporal in die NVA – Die Nationale Volksarmee der DDR (The National People’s Army) will bring back a wave of memories. Next DDR and Germany dog tags (notice the differences between the two):

During the long Vietnam War, 1955-1975, the soldiers, exasperated by the noise the dog tags made while banging each other, something that endangered their safety during the long, humid moths of unending battles and hiding in the Asian jungles… began taping the dog tags together. Thus rubber covers came in use so the tags remain silent. But the Vietnam War was a different war and bodies often became dismembered to an extent they were often unidentifiable… so the soldiers would often wear one dog tag in one boot, tied with the bootlace in case in might, just might help with the recovery of their remains.

I discovered two P.O.W. (Prisoner Of War) dog tags, fashioned by prisoners while locked away, awaiting. What? … While hoping, thinking of what they left behind, of what they have back home (their only wealth), dreaming, not as in hoping, but as night visions, the only way they could escape an uncertain present built out of nightmares. I believe these dog tags are the most valuable ones, both a letter and a will, a cry for life and a farewell.

Below is a dog tag fashioned by a prisoner of war, P.O.W., held captive perhaps somewhere in Asia (by the deign of the tower) during WW2. Notice the machine gun in the tower and the barbed wire fence.
And a dog tag made by a P.O.W. during the Boer War with a medallion made from a horn. You cab read ‘Boer Camp’ inscribed at the bottom.

This is the story of Military Dog Tags, coming such a long way from a name engraved on a stick of wood to stainless steel plates holding military and medical records and even microchips and, most importantly, the soldier’s name.

Below: dog tags from the Iraq/Afghanistan Dog Tag Memorial at the Museum of the Forgotten Warrior outside of Beale Air Force Base, California. The memorial honors all the men and women killed during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars as of October 30, 2011, containing 6296 individual dog tags. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Fowler)-source.

A dog tag,
A soldier’s surviving touch,
His last handshake,
His last word,
His last breath
Spared for those back home.
(Patricia Furstenberg)

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon

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Bamiyan Buddhas, Silent Heroes

Bamiyan Buddhas Silent Heroes

The Bamiyan Buddhas stood for nearly two millennia as silent heroes, symbols of the Buddhist faith, witnesses to the hustle and the bustle of the Silk Route with its whirlwind of wealth, ideological exchange, and art, and to countless illogical wars.

In silence they stood since the middle of the first century, and witnessed. Did they know they were the largest in the world? Perhaps they heard rumors. Did they even care? I think not. Like the Buddhism they stood for, they enjoyed the freedom to observe and meditate, learning about human nature and that nothing lasts forever.

Bamiyan Buddhas Silent Heroes
Bamiyan Buddhas, these Silent Heroes

But how did the Bamiyan Buddhas really look like?

Yes, like standing Buddhas carved into performing specific gestures, but also carved into niches, allowing worshipers to circulate all around their feet, at the base of the statue, while meditating. They were not just shaped into the face of the mountain. By hairstyle they were Buddhist, but their capes showed clear Hellenistic Greek influences (think Louvre’s Winged Victory of Samothrace) as well as Indian elements. Two cosmopolitan masterpieces.

The tallest Buddha was almost as tall as the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, or half the height of the Victoria Tower, London, or almost a third of the height at which World Trade Center once stood.

If we would have a telescope to look back in time we would see:

‘a rock statue of the Buddha standing, one hundred forty or fifty feet in height, a dazzling golden color and adorned with brilliant gems.’

as well as

‘a copper statue of the Buddha standing, more than one hundred feet tall.’

The Great Tang Records of the Western Regions (Da Tang Xiyu Ji) by Xuanzang (Hsuan-Tsang), chinese monk, description written in 643
Bamiyan Buddhas Silent Heroes
If we would have a telescope and look back in time (left) at the Bamiyan Buddhas

What happened to the Bamiyan Buddhas, these Silent Heroes?

‘Taliban forces operating in Afghanistan had destroyed these colossal statues in March 2001. They started by damaging the Buddha with anti-aircraft firearms and cannons. Yet the damage inflicted was not enough for the Taliban. They returned with anti-tank mines that they placed at the statues’ bases. When sections of rock broke off, the statues suffered further damage. And still, they did not stop here. The Taliban dropped men down the face of the cliff. They had placed explosives into the various grooves found in the Buddhas. The plan was clear, to completely destroy the facial features of the two statues. Maybe a bad understanding of the Quran: Islam condemns idolatry. When one of the blasts could not destroy the facial features of one statue, a rocket was used in its place. It left a hideous gap in whatever was left of the Buddha’s head.

The Taliban did not succeed in wiping out the two Buddhas, but they became unrecognizable as the figures they once were. A cultural, religious, historical and entomological symbol and landmark.

It was a bleak day in human history when something that watched over the valley for 1 500 years was destroyed in a matter of weeks.

Thanks to 21st-century technology the larger of the two Buddhas has been reconstructed using 3D light projections. A holographic image which, unfortunately, is only unveiled rarely, during special occasions.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

Why destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas?

Maybe a bad understanding of the Quran, as Islam condemns idolatry and Taliban was known for their extreme iconoclastic campaigns. Maybe a need for gaining global media attention. Or just pure evil.

Bamiyan is now listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in Danger.

Bamiyan Buddhas Silent Heroes
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon or Loot (South Africa)

7 Dogs That Left their Paws on History

7 dogs that left their paws on history

Today I take a break from writing fiction about dogs to take a closer look at a few canine mementos, more exactly at 7 dogs that put their paws on history – and on the reader’s hearts.

One of my all time favorite poetesses, Emily Dickinson, wrote once that ‘dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell,’ while Eisenhower, America’s 34th President, believed that ‘what counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.’

Take a moment to think of your favorite childhood story. Mine was about a sausage dog called Fridolin and chances are that, your too, was about the friendship between a man and an animal. Any parent or educator learns at some stage that the best way to convey a lesson to a child is through a story involving animals. It is based on the animal kingdom that the most valuable lessons about loyalty, trust, sacrifice and unconditional love come.

When it comes to their relationship with humans, dogs have followed a millennial, a fascinating journey that won them the nickname of man’s best friend, a path one that fed many bedtime stories for young and old alike. Furthermore, be it a puppy, a doggo or a bud, they became famous characters in literature and cinema and there are canines who have taught us powerful life lessons about what loyalty and love means. And let’s not forget the bravest hounds who helped the people in rescue operations or proved their courage on the front or behind enemy lines and even across no man’s land.

Sergeant Stubby, or when the size doesn’t matter (1916 – 1926)

Sergent Stubby, hero dog, 7 Dogs That left their Paws on History
Original caption: Washington, DC: Meet up with Stubby, a 9-year-old veteran of the canine species. He has been through the World War as mascot for the 102nd Infantry, 26th Division. Stubby visited the White House to call on President Coolidge. November 1924

Stubby certainly holds the record for receiving the most medals World War I. Stubby the puppy looked like a Pit Bull Terrier mix and was found wandering the grounds of the Yale University campus in July 1917 while members of the 102nd Infantry were training so he soon became their mascot. But Stubby also took part in numerous battles during which he helped discovering, capturing, and alerting the Allies to the presence of German spies.

Hachiko, a story of canine devotion from 1925 (1923 – 1935)

Hachiko, 7 Dogs That left their Paws on History

One day, when I will visit Japan, I will make sure to go to Shibuya train station where the statue of Hachiko is found. In Japanese culture Hachiko is a symbol of loyalty and love. This dog loved his master so much that his devotion entered people’s hearts and their memory and thus it remained in history. Books were written about him and movies were also made.

Adopted when he was just a puppy by Professor Hidesaburo Ueno, Hachiko was raised with a lot of love and attention. Since the Professor had to commute for work, Hachiko learned to wait daily for its owner’s return at Shibuya train station. The reunion of the two was the most awaited moment of the day. He did this for years until one day when Professor Ueno never returned from work. Hachiko’s owner passed away suddenly, while he was at the office, due to a cerebral hemorrhage. It was May 21, 1925. Hachiko waited until late that day, but his daddy never returned.

Yet Hachko never lost hope and for ten long years he went daily to Shibuya station to wait for his friend. Hachiko died of old age in 1935, on March 8.

What for a human being translates into basic human needs, food, comfort and love, for a dog is the definition of life itself. When men search companionship, understanding and friendship, dogs require only love.

Balto the Snowdog of 1925 (1919 – 1933)

Celebrated sled dog Balto with Gunnar Kaasen 7 Dogs That Put their Paws on History
Celebrated sled dog Balto with Gunnar Kaasen

How much do you love snow?

Balto was a Siberian husky dog trained to pull sleighs, named after the polar explorer Samuel Balto who participated in the first recorded crossing of the interior of Greenland, together with Nansen and four other expedition members.

But Balto the puppy grew into a strong and brave doggo soon known as the leader of the team that carried the diphtheria toxin in Nome, Alaska. During the winter of 1925 a small city with a big epidemic crisis was isolated due to weather conditions. The only solution to bring the antidote were dog dledding. Balto showed extraordinary courage and led the sledge to -23 ° C, at night, through the blizzard.

There is a statue in Balto’s memory in Central Park, New York. Have you seen it?

Just Nuisance, a WWII Royal Navy Able Seaman (1937 – 1944)

Just Nuisance, the hero in bestseller Joyful Trouble
Just Nuisance, the hero in my bestseller Joyful Trouble

The life and story of the legendary Great Dane, Able Seaman Just Nuisance, still captures the hearts and imagination of tourists, WWII historians and readers around the world.

Just Nuisance was born on1st April 1937 and he had a different name at the beginning, a more prosaic name. It is an extraordinary story how received the name everyone got to know him by, a story you can read in my Amazon bestseller book Joyful Trouble.

Well, I’ll share a bit. This giant Great Dane was very gentle and liked the sailors such a lot that he followed them everywhere….

‘“But mostly he liked to tail seamen, to follow them, while they were moving in and out of the naval base. Out we went, the Great Dane was after us. In the train we climbed, the dog would jump in. Even in the dockyards when we were doing our job, he was there.

He just liked to be among us, to sit among us, even lie among us and nap. Especially the ones working on the HMS Neptune,” smiled the old man.

“Was that your ship, Grandpa?”

“Yes, it was the ship I was first appointed to. She was a beautiful light cruiser! When seamen work on a ship it is always busy work, heavy work. And to get on and off the ship they lay a plank of wood a little bit wider than…. this,” and the old man kept his hands wide apart. But our Great Dane enjoyed being among the seamen so much that he thought the best place for him to sit and wait for his busy friends was the plank itself, the piece of wood connecting the ship with the shore. And you can’t blame him; that was the only area on which everyone walked; because there was no other way.

Now, that was a narrow plank and our dog was a big dog. Therefor not much space was left for the sailors to walk up and down on their duties. Every time a sailor would have to board or disembark the ship, sometimes even carrying heavy loads, he was forced to step over our four legged friend. And after a few jumps like this the seamen, no matter how fond they were of our dog, they would mumble and complain about how much trouble the dog was giving them.

And the name stuck!

Except that lots of joy was also associated with our Trouble causing friend.”

“Joyful Trouble,” said Ana to herself while watching Tommy throwing stones in the stream.’

from Joyful Trouble: Based on the True Story of a Dog Enlisted in the Royal Navy,by Patricia Furstenberg
Joyful Trouble, Based on the True Story of a Dog Enlisted in the Royal Navy

Not many know, but Just Nuisance (Joyful Trouble) also flew in planes – in secret missions.

Just Nuisance is still a big part of Simon’s Town where a statue was raised in his honor. Simon’s Town Museum in Cape Town, South Africa, also has in it’s collection Just Nuisance’s collar as well as many photographs.

Fido, a Faithful, Trusting Dog of WWII, 1943 (1941 – 1958)

7 Dogs That Left their Paws on History

A story similar to Hachiko’s became famous in Italy during World War II. The story begins when an Italian worker, Soriani, finds an injured puppy, later named Fido. Good-hearted, the man took the pup home and took good care of him. Of course, the Italian worker and and his wife quickly became attached to the cute doggo and decided to adopt him. They called him Fido (trust, faithful), cared for him and gave him all their love. They all lived in the beautiful region of Tuscani.

And Fido returned their love tenfold. Each day Fido would follow his owner to the bus station and wait for him to return. Soriani worked in a factory but at some stage during World War II, when the city was bombed, the factory was completely destroyed. Many workers died, including Soriani. For 14 years after his master’s death, Fido returned to the bus station, waiting for his return every day. Much has been written in the press of the time about this proof of devotion.

Laika, the Spacedog (1954 – 1957)

Laika, 7 Dogs That Left their Paws on History

It was 1957 and the Golden Age of Capitalism, when freedom equaled consumption in the west. But the Sovie Union had other great plans. At the control desk the engineers started the countdown, and the Sputnik 2 space shuttle was ready for launch. A brave soul, with a wet nuzzle, will soon be propelled into outer space and the history of space flight.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the Russian scientists of the ’50s the way I never liked the Russian soldiers of WWII. Laika was a stray wandering the streets of Moscow. She was picked up and looked after – following a devious plan. Soviet scientists chose to use Moscow strays since they assumed that such animals had already learned to endure conditions of extreme cold and hunger.

During the training time, one of the scientists involved in the project took Laika home where the dog bonded with his children. In one of the books dedicated to the puppy, the scientist said that “Laika was silent and charming.” The puppy showed a lot of courage and extraordinary intelligence throughout the entire training period.

Laika died within hours from the launch due to overheating caused by a failure when the central missile separated from the payload. The true cause and time of her death were not made public until 2002; instead, it was widely reported that she died when her oxygen ran out on day six or, as the Soviet government initially claimed, she was euthanized prior to oxygen depletion. It was only in 2008 that Russia unveiled a statue dedicated to Laika.

Apollo, the brave Silent Hero K-9 Dog of 9/11 New York (1992 – 2006)

Apollo, the brave Silent Hero K-9 Dog of 9/11 New York (1992 - 2006)

The most recent story today is that of the German shepherd Appollo, a search and rescue dog who served with the K-9 unit of the New York Police Department.

Apollo and his handler, Peter Davis, were the first K-9 search and rescue team to answer the call on September 11, arriving at the South Tower 15 minutes after its collapse. Apollo Apollo looked for survivors 18 hours a day for weeks on end. It is estimated that more than 300 dogs took part in the search, rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attack and Apollo was one of them. Thanks to his acute senses he helped save the victims from the rubble, sneaking in hard-to-reach places on hearing the very faint cries for help or smelling humans.

Apollo was awarded the Dickin Medal, the animals’ equivalent of the Victoria Cross, in recognition of a work well done.

Dogs are our most capable and strong friends. Cared for and loved they become our most important allies. Until then, they offer us, unconditionally, their intelligence, affection and devotion. Precious gifts!

I don’t know about you, but I wholeheartedly agree with French writer Anatole France believed (and he was correct) that ‘Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.’

Update 🙂 because lovely Sheree commented on the old header photo: it depicts a Staff Sergeant of the Army Service Corps with the Corps pet dogs, Hissy and Jack. And we have Libby Hall, 73, press photographer and dog lover, to thank for it.

Medieval Horns, a Dark Staircase, and Amazing Photos from Sighisoara

medieval horns, dark staircase, photos of Sighisoara

Welcome to our journey through medieval Sighisoara as we discovered it not so long ago. So far we climbed the Clock Tower and visited the house where Vlad the Impaler was born. Let’s explore some more and see what are these medieval horns adorning one of Sighisoara’s oldest houses, as well as climb a medieval staircase to Sighisoara’s hill for more amazing winter scenes and photos.

The City Square, once the center of medieval life

The City Square, within easy reach, is a must-see. All around there are the houses that once belonged to the noblest families of Sighisoara.

Glimpse from the City Square towards the Clock Tower, Sighisoara

During medieval times, City Square was the place in Sighisoara. Food markets as well as public trials took place here.

A look from Sighisora'a city square past the house where Vlad the Impaler was born, towards the Clock Tower

Also, the pillar of infamy rose here as well, where public hangings took place. And if you were part of the city’s nobility you could witness the executions seated at your dining table, not mingling with the peasants in the square.

medieval staircase Sighisoara photos

The Stag House

The Stag House showcases an authentic late renaissance – early baroque architecture as well as authentic stag antlers.

The Stag House showcases an authentic late renaissance - early baroque architecture as well as authentic stag antlers.

The Staircase Way, Strada Scarii, is the way towards the medieval staircase of Sighisoara, for great views and amazing photos

Strada Scarii, Umweg, sign

Turn left at the Stag House and you will see a stone-paved street winding towards what looks like a covered entrance. Dare you go in?

The Scholar’s Stairs

The Scholar’s Stairs are 175 covered steps leading to the School on the Hill and the Church Hill. Built during the 17th century, the stairs protected the school-going children during long winters.

“Scara acoperita construita in anul 1642” = the covered stairs, built in 1642:

Strada Scarii, Scholar's Satir, Sighisoara, with inscription:  "Scara acoperita construita in anul 1642" = the covered stairs, built in 1642:
Looking down past the covered Strada Scarii, Sighisoara
Bottom entrance in Strada Scarii, Scholar's Sairs, Sighisoara
Strada Scarii - dare look down?
dare look down?

Finalized in 1619, the first and smallest building of the School on the Hill went by the name of New School, Naye Schull. It was only in 1793 when the main school building finally rose.

This medieval staircase of Sighisoara was one of my favorite places to visit and take photos of. I imagine it holds a multitude of stories, spanning centuries.

The Church on the Hill

The Church on the Hill, devoted to Saint Nicholas, is a symbol for Sighisoara’s history, being the most iconic landmark of the town and one of its most valuable architectural building. It ranks third in size between all the Gothic churches in Transylvania, the biggest Gothic church in Transylvania and the whole of Romania being the Black Church in Brasov.

medieval city Sighisoara. The Church on the Hill
The Church on the Hill

Historians have discovered that the church, built in 1345, was raised on top of a Roman chapel dating back to 1200. Here, on this hill, was the safe place where the people who lived in this area before the Saxons’ arrival would have gathered in case of invasions.

The Church on the Hill, Sighisoara, looking up

The church’s bell tower would have been the tallest building, most probably used as a sighting spot.

The Church on the Hill

The Church on the Hill as we know it today was first mentioned in 1345 in a letter stating that the people of Sighisoara were loyal to King Ludovic 1st and have built a church dedicated to Saint Nicholas.

The Church on the Hill and statues guarding the church's roof

Somehow, these statues guarding the church reminded me of Notre Dame of Paris.

Yet the church that first used to stand here was later turned into a crypt.

Behind the Church on the Hill is the Evangelic Cemetery on the Hill.

Here, trees as old as the fortress itself guard the tombstones of some of the first Saxons settlers. Their headstones carry the inscription of their name as well as that of their occupation.

In a secluded area, lined up as for parade, are the graves of a handful of local soldiers.

medieval city Sighisoara. Evangelic cemetery
The Evangelic cemetery

In their youth, they probably attempted climbing the fortress’ walls or its towers and chased up the School’s stairs in the last minutes before the bell rang. Until the Great War started and they went to fight, to defend their country, not knowing that the last time they will see their native Sighisoara will be from the top of the hill, during their endless sleep.

Den toten Gelded. Jedes Heldengrab ist heilige Erde. Alle storben dass uns Friededn werden. To the dead soldier. Each hero's grave is holy ground. They died so that we have peace. Sighisoara cemetery

“Den toten Gelded. Jedes Heldengrab ist heilige Erde. Alle storben dass uns Friededn werden” ~ “To the dead soldier. Each hero’s grave is holy ground. They died so that we have peace.”

The Monastery Church

Across the Clock Tower is the 15th-century monastery church with its tombstones, a Gothic-style holly place renowned for its sculpted altar. During the 14th century here was a monastery for Dominican monks and near it a convent for Franciscan nuns.

Sighisoara, Roman-Catholic church near the Clock Tower. house Vlad Tepes born
The Roman-Catholic church near the Clock Tower

Inside the Monastery Church 35 old oriental carpets were discovered – proof that Sighisoara had economic ties with Persia.

Gothic window detail emphasizing vertical space
Gothic window detail emphasizing vertical space

The monastery was first mentioned in 1298 in a document signed by Pope Boniface the 8th. In the place where once the convents stood, now rises a Roman-Catholic church.

Medieval Sighisoara. The place where once a monastery for Dominican monks and near it a convent for Franciscan nuns once stood.

Lower City: Romano-Catholic Church Saint Iosif

This beautiful church was raised at the end of the 19th century in the place of a medieval convent for the Franciscan nuns.

For a true journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara try to attend the Medieval Festival of arts and theater – during August.

More spectacular views of our journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara

Sighisoara view from the top of the Clock Tower
Sighisoara is a colorful, charming medieval city
A typical  pointed roof viewed from the top of the Clock Tower, Sighisoara

Today, over 200 people still live in the medieval citadel of Sighisoara.

Medieval Sighisoara with its colorful houses
Medieval Sighisoara with its colorful houses

And plenty of birds too.

And we also saw a cat with gamboge eyes, in winter:

And an immortal doggy:

I am sure that, in the midst of winter, this street makes a perfect sleigh slide:

journey medieval city sighisoara

The significance of Sighisoara City

Searching beyond its gray rampant walls shadowed by a tumultuous history, and remembering its Saxon merchants and shepherds, as well as its prominent, Draculesti leaders (Vlad the Impaler and his father before him), a journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara is sure to unravel the fortress’ high status. To this contributed its perfect location, at important crossroads between the roads connecting Moldavia with Wallachia, and Transylvania with Western Europe.

Although they did not leave their mark on the fortress’ walls, during the Late Middle Ages 95 students from Sighisoara went to study abroad, in Viena and Cracovia, spreading the fame of this fortress.
The two evangelic churches, the Monastery Church and the Church on the Hill, also showcase proof of the rich cultural center that Sighisoara became during and after the 16th century. Painters, sculptors, woodworkers, masons, and organ builders arrived here from Salzburg or Tirol to work alongside the local baroque sculptor Elias Nicolai, as local architecture and even gravestones still stand proof.
General Melas of the Austrian army, who defended Napoleon Bonaparte at Marengo was born near Sighisoara.

The Orthodox Cathedral

Located across Tarnava Mare River, in the ew, Lower City, is the Orthodox Cathedral I must include. Look at its perfection, unlike a snowy castle reflected by icy waters, it is a place of emotional warmth and rich traditions.

the Orthodox Cathedral reflected in a frozen Tarnava Mare river

I hope you enjoyed our journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara, looking at strange horns on buildings, at a dark staircase and snapping some great photos in between. Its history spills into the present in an enchanting way, and this is a place to visit more than once, a town that reveals more secrets with each trip.

I, for one, can’t wait to go there again.

If you like castles, a medieval staircase or two and photos, although not of Sighisoara, you might like to visit Corvin Castle.

If you like all castles, then visit Peles Castle too.

For more stories and adventures, do check out my books on my Amazon author page.

4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred

4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred

The Romanian Myths draw from a popular culture that is tightly blended with the history and the sacred and it spills into a rich national culture.

Myths have a powerful significance to the cultures who tell them, for they explain sacred origins, bring forward human archetypes, and are a model for future aspirations. A myth unifies cosmic and social events, explaining them in a way that is in touch with the most fundamental values of a community.

Carried forward through a nation’s folklore, myths enrich its culture in many ways, acting as a catalyst in literature, music, and the arts . Enchanting to children and still shrouded in mystery, myth reveal their meanings, like stepping stones, only as one advances through life. I remember learning about these myths in school. They felt abstract and their charm escaped my younger self. I am happy I revised them recently. I found them fascinating, dripping with insight and wisdom that over-passed the millennia.

The Cosmogonic Myth of Miorita

At the very origin of this myth is the ballad of Miorita that originates in Soveja, a small town in the Romanian Vrancea Mountains (right at the curve of the Carpathians). The eerie, mournful ballad was often sung by local troubadours. Worth mentioning here is that the Romanian populace, developed around strong Christian values and governed by a social structure, was fundamentally rural until the middle of the 18th century, so the myth of Miorita influenced a local and vibrant culture.

The word miorita has its root in mioara, a nick-name for a small, young sheep, an ewe.

Shepherding has been a millennial occupation of Romanians. Humans domesticated sheep since the early Stone Age, about the same time they met the trusted dog. Tradition and rituals are deeply embedded in the mindset of these people.

The sheep in Miorita may symbolize purity and simplicity, but also the complexity of unpretentious things. In Christianity, sheep symbolize purity and goodness.
In Miorita, the (young) sheep represent the oracle.

The ballad tells of three shepherds, one from each historical province of Romania (Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania), who meet in the Vrancea mountainous area during the transhumance. One of them is approached by a sheep who predicts that the other two will plot against him to steal his sheep. The shepherd accepts his destiny. His only desire is that the sheep tell his mom that he fell in love with a princess and ran with her to a far away kingdom.

The Legend of Traian and Dochia is the myth of the Romanian people’s ethnogenesis

Ceahlau, Dochia and Traian, Romanian myths culture history
Source

The Legend of Traian and Dochis is part of the Romanian myths that try to explain the origin of the local culture and the history of the Romanian people.

In antiquity, the geographical area we know today as Romania was known as Dacia. The geto-dac people lived here. Dacia was at the height of its power during the ruling of Decebal, 87-106.

Dochia was Degebal’s daughter. When the Romans under the ruling of Emperor Trajan attacked Dacia for its valuable gold mines, Trajan fell in love with Dochia and wished to take her with him. He chased her over the hills, eager to catch her. Dochia did not wish to leave her people and asked the gods to remain in her homeland, no matter what. She was instantly turned to stone together with her maidens.

The myth is placed in the eastern Carpathian Mountains, in the Ceahlau Mountain, where there is a group of stones with a strange appearance. Ceahlau Mountain is unique in Romanian culture, being the only mountain with patron saint.

The myth of Dochia represents the pain that Decebal felt at the thought of the Romans conquering his people, as well as his helplessness in front of irreversible life and its events. Just keep in mind that Decebal did not go down without a fight. The Dacs fought the Romans in two wars before they were finally conquered.

As it is often with myths and legends, this specific story might draw from a different one, about a grumpy master mason and his daughter.

The Myth of Master Builder Manole

The Legend of Master Builder Manole. Curtea de Arges Cathedral

This myth speaks of the sacrifice that sits at the foundation of each accomplishment or construction. The bigger the sacrifice, the more sacred the result is considered.

The theme of this myth is the sacrifice as a source of new life.

Tradition asks for cats, puppets, coins, or crosses to be built in the foundation of a new home or on its doorstep to protect it from evil spirits. And diggings prove that this tradition is true and widespread.

Prince Neagoe Basarab, ruler of Wallachia at the beginning of the 16th century and his wide Millica Despina were the founders of the Curtea de Arges Monastery.
Nine builders under the leadership of Manole worked all day long only to see their work falling to pieces during the night. Needless to say, the Prince was not happy. Manole prayed and prayed until one night he had a dream. Human sacrifice was needed, more exactly a laborer’s female relative, the first one to bring them food at dawn. And so it happens that the first woman to arrive with food was Maole’s wife Ana.

As soon as the sacrifice took place, Manole building his wife into the foundation while she was still alive, making it look like a game, the construction stood and it was soon finished.
The most beautiful monastery ever to see the light of the sun.
The Prince was ecstatic, but not desiring his master builder to raise another construction as beautiful as that one again, perhaps even more stunning, ordered for the scaffolding to be removed abandoning Manole, who were still standing on the roof. Manole fashioned himself wings out of its of wood he had nearby and tried to fly to safety, only to fall to his death.

The construction of Curtea de Arges Monastery was finished during the ruling of Prince Radu the Black. It is unclear if the myth of Manole speaks of him or his image was distorted. One version of the ballad mentions that Manole and the builders boasted together that they will be able to build an even better monastery, and so they were all left on the roof.
The Monastery Curtea de Arges is real, a pearl of byzantine architecture with Moorish arabesques and its two twisting cupolas are famous worldwide.

The Erotic Myth of the Fly-boy

The Erotic Myth of the Fly-boy -  mitul Zburatorului
Amore e Psiche by Canova

This Romanian myth blends culture with social and religious believes as well as the history and beginnings of psychiatry.

Fly-boy is said to be a magnificent young man that visits young maidens in their dreams, similar to the myth of Incubus.
In Romanian mythology he is depicted as a handsome youngster with golden hair or as a dragon that shines, his skin covered in precious stones, with a tail made of flames.

The myth of Fly-boy signifies the impossible love, the unanswered love, the burning passion and even remembers of the vampire’s myth – giving the symptoms of the girls he “visits”: weight loss, pale skin.

The Fly-boy is presumed to have been a man whose love was rejected during his lifetime by a woman. He returned to hunt all women, but especially the one who rejected his feelings.

The Romanian folklore and literature are abundant with fabulous characters and archetypes: giants, ogres, sirens, three headed dragons, magic horses, talking wolves, spirits of the forest and of the lake, ghosts, eerie maidens, magic birds, witches and saints, fairy godmothers, handsome princes or clumsy page-boys, good or evil emperors, and many more. Their stories have animated the childhood of many generations and form an unseen golden thread that unites a strong national spirit that prevailed over millennia.
The Romanian myths connect its people with an abundant culture, a stormy history and the ever-permanent sacred.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Romanian myths between culture, history and the sacred. You might also be interested in:

Symbolism in Silent Heroes, the Story behind it
Orthodox Easter Eggs, folktales, symbolism, traditions
Snow’s Thousand Faces and Meanings

Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. An Afghan Village

Welcome to Rafik’s journey. The youngest character in Silent Heroes, Rafik travels from his Afghan village of Nauzad all around Afghanistan. It isn’t a journey made by choice, but out of necessity and bravery.

A critical political hot-spot for the past two millennia, Afghanistan is a country often mentioned in news headlines, yet one that few people choose to think of, and even fewer are aware of its natural beauty.

Life for Afghan children, the true Silent Heroes of any Afghan village

How was your life when you were a child of eight years old? When I was Rafik’s age, I wouldn’t even dream of going around the town on my own. My grandmother or my parents would still walk me to school. Yet Rafik and his friends venture daily outside their village.

boy and girl. Silent Heroes Afghan village
An Afghan boy a little younger than Rafik

They start their walk early, right after sunrise. It is a 10 kilometers march to the nearby stream to collect water for drinking, washing and cooking. Then they tread back, bent under the unforgiving Afghan sun and the liquid weight of their buckets and yellow plastic containers, for another 10 kilometers, home.

The water sings while their small feet dance on the hot sand. Sometimes a few drops would spill and the youngest children would laugh to see them roll away over land so dry that not even water can penetrate it. The older ones would scold them. Water is precious and they don’t want to take this journey again, later in the day. The sun is unforgiving and so are the landmines that litter the ground between their village and the stream, like weeds sprouting after rain, but planted by Taliban. So the youngest ones would burst into tears. That one word, Taliban, has this effect on them, as it has on their older sisters and their mothers.

Here, in Afghanistan, one does not need folk tales with monsters to tell their young. To scare them. Here, in Afghanistan, the monsters are real and they walk between the people.

Once a well-known bazaar, today Nauzad village, where Rafik lives with his mother and older sister, is no more than a ghost town, a dusty landmark lost in the shrub-lined valley of the Nauzad river. The only majestic landmark that still stands is that of the Hindu Kush Mountains, profiling in the horizon. With all their men gone to war, life has become a way of simply surviving from one day to the next, the hot climate being just as unforgiving as the Taliban insurgent group operating in the mountainous area rising in the north.

In the beginning of Silent Heroes Rafik is entrusted with a life-and-death mission…

‘Between their skirts, a skinny boy of eight moved along.’

‘Rafik wiped the salty drops invading his eyes with the dusty sleeve of his shirt, yellow-tinged by time and wear. His head was ablaze and sweat trickled down his neck, soaking the back of his pants. His feet bounced on the already hot sand. The boy was sure they looked like the naan his mom used to cook in the tandoor. Back when flour was still available. He would crawl behind her and grab fresh bread out of the basket to share with his friend. She would laugh and playfully snap at him. But not anymore. For the last year there had been no one for him to share his naan with.
One morning, his friend had left to fetch water and never returned. They found him on the field, halved by an IED.
Rafik felt his chest ready to explode with the pain of memories and wiped his eyes again, although no tears came. The rough sleeve against his face helped relieve the agony in his chest.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Afghan sunset over Hindu Kush mountains
an Afghan sunset

Placing an entire country on Google maps

I invite you to open Google maps and search for Afghanistan. Now zoom in. How many places can you actually visit? Why do you think it is still impossible to zoom into Afghan locations?

Did you know that the Afghan maps you do see today on Google Maps were not visible before October 2011? Most of Afghanistan was pretty much off the map.
A man named Hasen Poreya and his friends, the Afghan Map Makers, all volunteers, walked around Herat with pen and pencil in hand and filled in all the missing details from Google maps.

Herat is Afghanistan’s third largest city and it was a major historical landmark along the silk road. The Afghan Map Makers have put streets, parks and even the Herat University on the map – so that people from all over the world can discover their town all over again. They, too, are the Silent Heroes of any Afghan village.

Afghanistan before and after the Map Makers have added details on Google Maps
Afghanistan, before and after the Map Makers have added details on Google Maps (source, Google Maps blog)

Where will Rafik travel next?
Come back in a few days to find out – or subscribe to my blog posts.

Until then, you might like to read:
5 Remarkable Places You Will Want to Visit After Reading Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting

You can BUY Silent Heroes from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or Amazon Worldwide: link here to your preferred Amazon website.

5 Secrets Revealed in Silent Heroes. A Mysterious Underground Fortress

5 secrets hidden silent heroes - Qala-e-Bost fortress

I love books with secrets. Especially enigmatic locations kept hidden from the general public. While researching for my latest contemporary novel Silent Heroes, I uncovered five secrets and revealed them: one mysterious fortress buried underground, one hush-hushed by politicians, one too dangerous to be researched and shared with the world, one inconceivable in the 21st century, and one heartbreaking in its humanity.

Qala-e-Bost, Afghanistan’s secret fortress now featured in Silent Heroes

Unbeknown to many, near Lashkar Gah, in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, rises the great fortress of Qala-e-Bost, an 11th-century castle that overlooks the life-giving Afghan River of Helmand. This is the mysterious fortress whose secrets are ready to bury the Silent Heroes. But will they give in?

Qala-e-Bost fortress, Afghanistan, a mysterious location in Silent Heroes

“The stones of Qala-e-Boost have seen wars as well as the joys of celebrations. They have known wealth and ruin. Early hymns of the Zoroastrian religion, one of the oldest religions in the world, were once performed here. One of them was the Nowruz, the famous ceremony dedicated to the Sun and marking the Iranian New Year and the Spring Equinox. Along the years Bost fortress has been used as a guard post for the traditional caravan trade from Iran to India. The Mongols, then the Persians have been here too; the Arabs, even the Russians. Leaders and warriors came here as attested by the terracotta figurines, the inscribed seals, and the many coins discovered here, and then they left.
Still, Bost remained.”

Silent Heroes
Qala-e-Bost fortress secrets andquote from Silent Heroes

Qala-e-Bost, a mysterious fortress hidden underground

The fascinating and less known detail about Qala-e-Bost fortress is that its five levels are underground and few visual images are available, let alone descriptions of its deep buried secret chambers: “the heart of the fortress, its well, going five levels underground. The well is a maze of corridors, stairs, secret rooms, and side entrances” (Silent Heroes).

So I threw my soldiers in a fight in the dark belly of Qala-e-Bost fortress. The idea that there are concealed, less-known meanings behind things in plain sight always fires my imagination.

Who dares enter the belly of the beast?

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for Patricia FurstenbergSilent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for is a work of contemporary fiction inspired by the War in Afghanistan.

Amazon 5 Stars Review:
It is clear that the author did an amazing amount of research for this book. Over the last few years I have read many, many book written by our soldiers. All of these books were based on each soldier’s experiences. The author of “Silent Heroes” has captured the experiences of our military men and women. I highly recommend this book and I plan to read more book by this author.

Silent Heroes

You can BUY Silent Heroes now from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or Amazon Worldwide: link here to your preferred Amazon website.

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