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Remembering America's Canine Heroes

Most Americans are aware of the important role man's best friend plays in search and rescue operations today. For months following September 11th, 2001, we watched TV news reports about amazing dogs performing amazing tasks at Ground Zero. Many of those wonderful dogs and their handlers have been honored for their heroic work after the WTC tragedy. There are documentaries and news reports about skilled canines helping to combat crime daily by finding hidden drugs and helping to capture street criminals and drug dealers. In the evening news we see bomb sniffing dogs helping law enforcement with the monumental task of securing public places.

But.... There are also many forgotten canine heroes....
Throughout our country's military history, dogs have faithfully stood by their soldier companions and protected the troops during America's wars. Tens of thousands of "War Dogs" served in World War I, World War II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, and in the wars in Iraq. They continue to serve our troops in missions around the world today. Dogs have saved young American lives by heroic measures like dragging wounded soldiers to safety. As scouts and sentrys, dogs have been used to detect ambush sites and snipers and warn of impending attacks. They explore caves, underground tunnels, bunkers and other enemy hideouts in search of bombs, land mines and other enemy weapons and ammunition.

American families donated dogs to serve in the military during World War II and the defense Department treated the volunteer dog soldiers as military personnel. Some of the four-legged heroes were killed in action while saving American lives, and after the war, the dogs who survived were returned to their proud families with "Honorable Discharges". Some even received medals for heroism.

In the 1960's, however, policies changed regarding America's War Dogs. Four-legged soldiers would no longer be eligible for any special recognition or medals, but because they were so valuable in previous wars, the U.S. military officially purchased and trained dogs for duty. Generous American families still donated dogs to be trained and serve too, but none of those were ever returned to their families after the Asian war. Three to four thousand scout and sentry dogs served in Vietnam, protecting our troops and saving many thousands of American lives. But... under orders from the U.S. government, and despite desperate pleas by their handlers, most of the faithful dogs were not allowed to return to the states. They were considered "military "equipment." At war's end less than 250 dogs were transferred to other military installations. A majority of the dogs were euthanized. Others were either left in Vietnam to starve, or handed over to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, who slaughtered the dogs for meat.

“War Dogs…America’s Forgotten Heroes,” which originally aired on the Discovery Channel in 1994, documented the seldom publicized, heart-wrenching accounts of those dogs who bravely served in US Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. It has subsequently been aired around the world on the National Geographic Channel and other cable TV channels. The documentary created public awareness and sparked long overdue public support for a tribute to the forgotten heroes.

It helped to raise enough money to build two "War Dog" memorials. The first memorial was placed at March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California, and unveiled on President's Day, February 21, 2000. The second is at Sacrifice Field in Fort Benning, Georgia. It was unveiled on October 8, 2000. These memorials honor all United States military dogs and canine handler teams that have ever served in battle.

The Vietnam Dog Handler Association (VDHA) is an organization dedicated to the dogs and handlers who served as combat teams from Vietnam and from all eras. One of their objectives is "to promote greater respect and understanding of our War Dogs past and present through public and media education." To honor the services and sacrifices and preserve the history of all of our Nation's War Dogs, the VDHA wants to establish a national memorial.

The VDHA believes that a nationally mandated memorial for the War Dogs is long overdue. They want America to officially recognize and honor the services and sacrifices of the Nation's War Dogs from all wars with a "National War Dog Memorial" in Washington D.C. To help, you can send a Donations to The War Dog Memorial Fund.

A policy of euthanizing military dogs when they become ill or too old to serve continued until November 6, 2000, when a law was passed stipulating an adoption alternative to the military's euthanasia tradition. To learn more about adoption of retired military working dogs Click Here.


- More Information about Military Dogs -

Veterans: Dogs of War Deserve a Memorial

War Dogs, America's Forgotten Heroes

Combat Tracker Teams of the Vietnam War

Military Working Dogs of the World Today

The United States MWD Program, Since Vietnam

Dogs and National Defense

Vietnam Dog Handlers Association

Dept. of Defense Military Working Dog School

Smoky: Yorkshire Terrier War Dog

United States War Dogs Association

Alabama War Dog Memorial


War Dogs: A History of Loyalty and Heroism
This book features military dogs from World War I to Desert Storm. It provides an eye-opening look at unsung canine heroes. Terriers, shepherds, beagles, collies, huskies, and Dobermans are just a few of the breeds that have pulled sleds, searched caves and bunkers, and even parachuted into combat. The author has collected true stories and photos that reflect the strong bonds that have formed between the dogs and their masters as they worked together in dangerous situations. It's a pays tribute to contribution these dogs have made to U. S. security. Anyone who has ever loved a dog will love this salute to these four-legged heroes.




A Soldier's Best Friend: Scout Dogs and Their Handlers in the Vietnam WarK-9 Soldiers : Vietnam and After
This is John C. Burnam’s account of his tenure as a scout dog handler patrolling the jungles of Vietnam with his German shepherd, Clipper, at his side. There were 10,000 soldiers in Vietnam like Burnam, accompanied by these intelligent, adaptable scout dogs. Between hazardous missions, the dogs were loving, playful friends who shared the lives of their human squadmates, while in the combat zone they were all business. Routinely braving danger, the canines searched for injured GIs, probed for potentially lethal booby traps, located underground weapons caches, and warned of approaching enemy attacks and ambushes. So valuable was the dogs’ service that the Viet Cong offered a hefty bounty for their lives. Despite their heroism, many of these dogs were abandoned at the conflict’s end, left to fend for themselves.


Click HERE for More Books about Canine Heroes


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