|Dogs of War|
| Dogs of War:
Saluting canine courage
They are brave and loyal. They fight and die for their comrades. That they are dogs doesn't really matter. They have a place of honor in American history.
They have been assisting human armies for thousands of years. By the Middle Ages dogs wore coats of mail just as knights did. Later, Benjamin Franklin wanted dogs to become a part of the colonial militia.
Like so many great American stories, the history of our war dogs began when a homeless bull terrier wandered into a training camp of the army's 102nd Infantry at Yale University. In World War I, the British, Belgian, Italian and French armies trained thousands of dogs as messengers, sentries or to find and comfort the wounded on the battlefield. On the other side, the Germans deployed 7000 dogs, with thousands more in reserve. But the U.S.Army had no such program.
Nevertheless, the homeless bull terrier that had wandered into the Connecticut National Guard's training area had been named Stubby and adopted as a mascot. Stubby went on to go overseas with the 102nd Infantry Regiment during World War I and save his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks and locating wounded soldiers -- earning the "unofficial war dog" a decoration for valor awarded by General John Pershing.
It was not until 1942 the U.S. Armed Forces began it's first war dog training program. By 1945 they had trained almost 10,000 war dogs for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Fifteen War Dog platoons served overseas in World War II. Seven saw service in Europe and eight in the Pacific. In 1951 the responsibility for training military dogs was given to the Military Police Corps.
Most war dogs trained for World War II were German shepherds or Labrador retrievers (for their superior noses), but the 3rd War Dog Platoon consisted of all Dobermans. In the battle of Guam, a Doberman named Kurt saved the lives of 250 Marines when he warned them of Japanese troops ahead. Kurt is honored by a life-sized bronze and granite memorial on Guam. Carved into the stone are names of 25 other Dobermans who gave their lives there.
Michael Lemish, author of War Dogs: A History of Loyalty and Heroism (Batsford Brassey), says canines can work as scouts, trackers, messengers, and detectors of mines and booby traps. With their sense of smell, they can detect enemy soldiers at 1,000 yards, hear the whine of a gentle breeze blowing over the tripwire of a booby trap, and smell the breath of underwater saboteurs breathing through a reed. In Vietnam, they were invaluable for locating snipers and checking tunnels and huts.
Now, more than 30 years later, handlers still tell of their dogs' heroics. Quoted in VFW magazine, handler Bill Peeler, with tears in his eyes, talks about his dog, Rex. "I think of him most every day and have his picture hanging in my office. He saved my life many times."
On February 21, 2000, the War Dog Memorial was unveiled at March Field Air Museum in Riverside, CA and an identical memorial was dedicated October 8, 2000, (Columbus Day) at the National Infantry Museum, Ft. Benning, Columbus, Ga. The 19-foot high bronze memorials depict a combat-attired GI with a dog at his side. The inscription reads: They protected us on the field of battle. They watch over our eternal rest. We are grateful.
Through these ceremonies veterans hope to raise public awareness about the life-saving canines.
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