U.S. war dogs helped win WW II
During the next two weeks, we will be commemorating the 70th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II.
More than 407,000 American military personnel were killed in that 3 1/2-year conflict, approximately 670,000 were wounded and 30,314 remain missing in action.
Many Americans may not be aware that U.S. military dogs also were important contributors to winning the war in the Pacific, Asia and Europe, and I want to tell of my visit 11 months ago to a very special memorial in the remote Western Pacific that serves as a striking reminder of our heroic dogs of war.
During a month-long journey to several U.S. territories and Japan, I visited the Guam War Dog Memorial and Cemetery at Naval Base Guam which is built on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The imposing black granite monument is topped with a life-size, regal bronze statue of a Doberman Pinscher named “Kurt” who, during the U.S. assault on Japanese-held Guam, was killed in action after saving the lives of 250 Marines when he silently alerted them to the presence of a large enemy column stealthily approaching in the dense jungle foliage.
Dedicated on July 21, 1994, the 50th anniversary of the U.S. liberation of Guam, the monument also features in gold letters the names of the other 25 military dogs killed in action on the island which, like Kurt, carried medical supplies and served as sentries, messengers, trackers and scouts who explored Guam’s caves and detected bombs, booby traps and mines.
The bodies of Kurt and the others are buried in a beautiful, well-cared-for cemetery that surrounds the monument, one of several military dog shrines that may be found at Lackland AFB, Texas; March Air Reserve Base, Riverside, Calif.; the National Marine Corps Museum at Quantico, Va; the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; the Army’s National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Ga; and the Alabama War Dogs Memorial at Mobile, Ala.
The use of war dogs by the U.S. armed services did not begin with WW II. They were first used during the 1835-1842 Seminole Indian War in Florida, when the Army acquired bloodhounds from Cuba to help capture Indians who had fled their reservations, and in the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, World War I, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf wars and the war in Afghanistan.
Military dogs, in fact, have been used for centuries, having been utilized in ancient times by the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Samaritans, Slavs and early Britons.
Often, these animals were used for fighting and were sent into battle wearing spiked collars and coats of mail armor.
The U.S. Army’s K-9 Corps, established in 1942, is considered to be this nation’s first formally established military canine unit. At the start of WW II, 50 Army sled dogs assigned to bases in Alaska were our military’s only canine corps.
Since 1958, war dogs and their handlers from all the U.S. armed services have been trained at Lackland AFB, which erected it own military dog memorial in 2013. The “dog school” as it is called, is formally named the 341st Training Squadron, and it also trains dogs for several U.S. government agencies including the Federal Aviation Administration, Border Patrol, Department of Transportation, U.S. Customs and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which protects the Secretary of State and visiting foreign dignitaries.
Dogs trained at Lackland are German and Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois breeds, and they and their handlers are given training in drug, bomb and IED (improvised explosive device) detection, tracking, scouting, the guarding and “takedown” of prisoners and general military police functions.
More than 1.400 military dogs and their handlers trained at the 341st Training Squadron are currently on duty at bases in the U.S. and overseas.
At NAS Fallon, military dogs and their handlers are components of the base Security Detachment, and the dog runs, training facility and kennels are located near the Security Office behind Hangar 7 on the south side of the air base. The dogs and their handlers are used for drug and explosive detection, guarding the base entrances, perimeter, buildings, runways, aircraft and for patrolling.
When the dogs become too ill or old for further service, they are put out for adoption, often to their handlers with whom they have trained for months or even years.
The next time you’re at NAS Fallon and spot a military dog with his or her handler, give them a smile, hello and thumb’s up.
The dogs and their handlers are part of a great U.S. military tradition and are critical elements to our national and international security.
David C. Henley is Publisher Emeritus of the LVN.