As the years go by, I continue to meet veterans who have served our country with dignity, honor and pride. They have earned my most heartfelt respect and gratitude. Through their personal grace, kindness and thoughtfulness, I have learned to broaden my scope of appreciation to include all those who serve in uniform – be it law enforcement, fire fighting, etc. – and those who protect and honor those who are, whether they were in uniform or not, as the Patriot Guard.
This year is no different for me. Except for one thing. I’ve broadened my scope even further.
Let me introduce to a new breed of veteran: the war dog.
My family always had a dog while I was growing up. Not one of them was a true breed, all of them were mixed…which in my small town meant, “free – puppies looking for a good home.”
I can’t say as a child I always did right by my canine companions; but my history with these four-footed friends instilled a life-long bond of respect and love for them that is unlike any other. Dogs I run into these days know it, too…most of them perk up and start walking towards me, their owners having to tug on their leash to remind them of their manners. Sometimes, I am allowed to greet and pet them, and I swear they smile at me while I do so. I know how special dogs can be.
War dogs had been used in combat from the beginnings of time. Germany used dogs extensively in the years leading up to the second world war, when the United States chose to use dogs in combat.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the American Kennel Club placed a call to dog owners across the nation to donate quality animals to the Quartermaster Corps to be trained as “Dogs for Defense.” Over thirty breeds were accepted. The following spring the Quartermaster Corps had turned these four-legged recruits into good fighting soldiers. The canine group in the War Dog Program quickly became unofficially known as the “K-9 Corps.” As the program developed the breeds were narrowed down to German Shepherds, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Farm Collies and Giant Schnauzers. In late summer of 1942, Front Royal, Virginia, became the first War Dog Reception and Training Center.
Since most of my emphasis is on Vietnam veterans, I researched that history a bit.
Vietnam offered a new kind of challenge to the dogs: the heat and dampness. Could the dogs perform in such a climate? A trial program known as Top Dog 45 sent 40 dogs and their handlers to Vietnam in July of 1965. By the time the trial ended, the dogs and their handlers were protecting military installations from infiltrators. Mostly used at night, the dogs could sense trouble and give heed to our troops.
Sarge detected something amiss, and let out one bark and sat down. His handler had been one step away from a trip wire. Eric used body language – ears would shoot up; hair on the back of the dog’s neck would stand up near danger; Eric looked at his handler to tell him to STOP. Duke alerted a battalion to the presence of the Viet Cong and prevented our troops from an ambush.
The handlers of these remarkable animals are special, too. They honor the memories of their dogs and respect all people who love dogs. They realize how important it is for their war dogs to be honored and revered for the heroes they were. On the Vietnam Dog Handler Association website, there is one sentence that describes the handlers’ attitudes the best: “The military duty of having served with a dog in War is a bonding relationship and memorable experience like no other, and lasts a lifetime.”
War dogs often did not get the recognition or the respect they deserved. Prior to 2000, these dogs were often left behind, a casualty of the war in which they fought. The older ones would be euthanized. But legislation decreed that these wonderful four-footed heroes could be adopted.
Memorials have been built in their honor in the states of California, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Alabama.
To find out more about these wonderful, frequently forgotten heroes, visit the US War Dog Association website at http://www.uswardogs.org; the Vietnam Dog Handler Association at http://vdha.us/ or the numerous websites outlining how you can adopt your own retired war dog.
If this information has been of interest do you, widen your scope of appreciation for these veterans by looking up Nemo….POW Judy the pointer….Rags…Smokey …and the list goes on.
On this Veterans Day 2013, I say to all combat veterans: welcome home. I am glad you made it back. To all veterans of all wars..two-footed and four-footed…I say in great sincerity and appreciation…thank you for your service.
( c ) November 2013 St. John Veterans