Thursday, October 15, 2009

A-Bomb Dog Tags for All Ypsilantians

Today's story in the Courier, for those that don't receive it, explores a forgotten chapter of Cold War Ypsilanti history, when the plan was to issue every Ypsilantian a dog tag to wear 24/7.

“If an atomic bomb drops (you can tell it by a sudden and great increase in light), drop wherever you are with your back to the light,” said the December 8, 1950 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “Curl up to cover your bare arms, hands, neck, and face. Stay curled up 10 seconds. Then go to the nearest shelter to avoid flying glass and other objects blown about by the blast.”

Fearing such an attack, in 1950 the Michigan Civil Defense commission picked four Michigan cities to test a pilot program that would issue every resident dog tags listing their blood type. The idea was to create a “mobile city-wide blood bank” in case of disaster. The state chose Ypsilanti as a representative residential-industrial town. It also chose Alma as a typical rural town, Birmingham as a residential center, and Jackson for a county-wide program. If all went well, the state planned to roll out a statewide blood-typing program.

“The idea of mass blood typing in Michigan originated with the state commission as a civilian defense measure,” noted the November 11, 1950 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “In the event of an atomic disaster or other highly destructive catastrophe, pre-knowledge of necessary blood types and the availability of supply would expedite the treatment of the injured. It was pointed out that such knowledge and supply would have greatly reduced the death rate resulting from atomic bomb blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

The program began in mid-November. “Michigan today started plans for dog-tagging its citizens as part of preparations for the possibility of an atom-bomb attack,” said the November 13 Press. “What the [state] wants to know is whether people will wear the tags around their necks, carry them in pocketbooks, or toss them aside.”

Ypsilanti formed a blood-typing team of local health officials and the city’s two Civil Defense coordinators, Harold Haun and Carl Arvin. The group met to choose personnel and the location of blood-typing stations. “The meeting will be the first in which Dan Muntean, recently appointed full time director of the program, has participated,” said the November 17 Press. “Mr. Muntean, assistant principal of Ypsilanti High School, was granted a 60-day release by the board of education at their meeting Monday night, to take charge of the campaign.”

State consultants traveled to Ypsilanti to make recommendations “Conclusions drawn from their visit were that Ypsilanti should have five 5-person teams to successfully type the entire population in a reasonable length of time. Each team is composed of a receptionist, nurse, nurse’s aid, and two clerks. Due to the amount of clerical work necessary for each typing, it is deemed necessary to have two clerks to handle the necessary information from each person so as not to slow up the nurse. It was estimated by Chief Haun that. . . smooth working teams could type a total of 700 to 900 persons a day in Ypsilanti.”

A week later, two five-woman blood-typing teams “attended an orientation meeting Friday afternoon, receiving instructions and suggestions for Monday, the opening day of the program,” said the November 25 Press. “Mrs. Jean Smiddy and Mrs. Patricia McGinnis, nurses of the State Office of Civil Defense, spoke to the women, as did Dan Muntean, director of the program in Ypsilanti and Dr. Stacey Howard, chief pathologist of Beyer Hospital and head man for the laboratory phase of the program.”

“The two teams will start Monday by taking blood samples from the personnel of Beyer Hospital and will then move on to Cleary College Tuesday where they expect to type well over 200 students,” continued the paper. “The blood samples are taken to the laboratory at the rear of Beyer Hospital after each day’s run and put into a refrigerator in preparation for typing the following day. . . [o]f the four duplicate forms which are made out at the time of the taking of the samples, one is given to the person to check against his ‘dog tag’ when it arrives.”

On the 27th, the paper ran a photo of the first person to be blood-typed: Mayor Dan Quirk, who also led the city’s Civil Defense team. The caption notes, “The tiny ribbon on the mayor’s shirt front denotes that he has been sampled for typing.”

By mid-December, the program was in full swing. “In stops at Beyer Hospital, Cleary College, and Peninsular Paper Mill the week of November 27 to Dec. 1, 1,500 samples were taken; at Michigan State Normal College and Ypsilanti High School, the total was 2,500; at Estabrook and Prospect Schools and at the Shoppers Stop, 500.”

The dog tags were to be distributed early in 1951. “Instead of metal discs,” said the paper, “consideration is being given plastics of varied colors, each corresponding to a type so that work may be speeded in case of disaster. RH factors will be marked on the discs.”

One local resident, D., remembers her tags. “I believe I still have mine somewhere,” she said on a local history blog, “and I certainly have my parents tags. At least back then, everyone knew their blood type! As a kid, I thought the tags were kind of neat.”

“My husband said they really didn't work,” added D. “He was a teenager at the time and he said the girls exchanged tags with their boy friends. The girls also liked to decorate them with fingernail polish.”

Luckily Ypsilantians never needed their tags in a disaster. Today the only vestige of the program are dog tags in dresser drawers, some with creative decoration, from half a century ago.


Diane said...

I finally located my parents dog tags! In talking to other people about these tags, the question came up regarding what the letters on the bottom mean. I know our blood type was on the tag, but I am not sure what the other things mean.

Does anyone know what the various letters refer to?

By the way, thank you for the interesting information concerning my long forgotten dog tag!

Dusty D said...

Dear Diane,

That is just fascinating. May I ask, might you have a close-up picture of the tags, or are you able to scan them on a scanner? If you email the pic or scan to me, I will post it and we'll see if we can figure out the information together with readers--I bet we can. I'd love to see them.

(my email is