Last January, my language skills class researched soldiers from Killingly, Connecticut, who fought in World War I. My soldier was Thomas Cuff who was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on June 29, 1890. According to his June 5, 1917 draft registration card, Thomas was of medium height and build with black hair and grey eyes. He reveals that he had a broken wrist that was not set correctly and states that he had no prior military experience. Single at the time, he lived on Water Street and was employed as a teamster by a man named Leonard Morrison in Danielson, CT.
With the rank of private, Thomas Cuff was a motor machinist with the 36th Machine Gun Battalion. He enlisted on July 25, 1918 and was honorably discharged six months later on January 17, 1919. Thomas survived the war but sadly died on October 18, 1949 at 59 years old. He is buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Dayville, CT.
In the Killingly Historical Society’s museum, I found Thomas Cuff’s actual military identification tag, a discovery that led me to learn more about “dog tags.” I learned that early identification records were not very organized, but the soldiers wanted people to know who they were if they passed away. “During the American Civil War from 1861–1865, some soldiers pinned paper notes with their names and home addresses to the backs of their coats. Other soldiers stenciled identification on their knapsacks or scratched it in the soft lead backing of their army belt buckle.” Although modern tags contain vital information such as blood type, Thomas Cuff’s WWI tag was a small circular disc with two punched holes and only his name and USA stamped on it. In 2015, the U.S. Army changed the “dog tag” for the first time in 40 years by removing the soldier’s social security number and replacing it with a random identification number. The change was to help guard against identity threat.
“United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.” Database with images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : 20 September 2016. Citing NARA microfilm publication M1509. Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/results?count=20&query=%2Bgivenname%3AThomas~%20%2Bsurname%3ACuff~%20%2Bgender%3AM&collection_id=1968530
- Levesque, by permission of the Killingly Historical Society