By Steve Dale
who stand up for our nation in time of war, putting themselves in harms way,
are heroes - the men and women of the U.S. Military whom we honor on Memorial
Day. And then there's one more group that also deserves recognition, the dogs
of the U.S. military.
"No one knows how many
lives have been saved (by military working dogs), but many thousands, hundreds
of thousands since World War II," says John Burnam, author of "A Soldier's Best
Friend." (Sterling Publishing, Inc., New York, NY; 2008; $12.95).
military working dogs deployed across the seas search for explosives and land
mines, for bad guys, and are guard dogs. Dogs also protect U.S. military
equipment from theft. Of course, a dog - being kept under wraps - was a part of
the capture of Osama Bin Laden.
Aiello, president of the non-profit United States War Dog Association estimates
that U.S. military working dogs conservatively had saved over 10,000 lives in
Vietnam, and that number is likely at least twice or three times as high in
Iraq and Afghanistan.
was himself in Vietnam when his partner, a German Shepherd dog named Stormy,
alerted him to impending danger. Aiello heeded the warning. Moments later, a
sniper opened fire, just missing. "My dog saved my life more than once, and
most handlers say the same thing," Aiello says.
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also served in Vietnam. His dog was a German Shepherd named Clipper. "One time
we were leading a patrol in an area we had previous combat experience in," he
"This was an open space with rows of rubber trees. We spread out in a
wide formation. Then all the sudden a guy to my right gets hit and is badly
hurt. There were explosives with trip wires booby-trapped all around. We had
nowhere to go but forward. It was our only choice. Clipper guided us through
this area, and past at least five booby traps. He save my life and others on
actually can tell several stories, all accounting for how Cliipper saved his
live. After partnering with Clipper for about a year, in 1968 Burnam returned
home, and soon the war ended. The Department of Defense classifies military
working dogs as equipment. With budget cutbacks, lots of equipment was left
behind to be used by the South Vietnamese military instead of spending money to
bring it back, including the dogs. While some dogs did work for the South
Vietnamese military, most were euthanized. "I don't really know what happened
to Clipper, but I suspect he was euthanized also," Burnam says.
military working dogs are supposed to be retired to civilian life following
their service to our country. "It's the way it should be," Burnam adds. "Truly
ever since World War II, these dogs have served America, and our soldiers."
canine service to our country began during World War I. Although there was no
official program back then dogs were used by the military. The most famous
military dog was a Bull Terrier named Stubby, who repeatedly returned to the
war front, even after incurring several injuries, from exposure to gas to wounds
from shrapnel. In 1921, General John J. Pershing awarded a gold medal to Sgt.
Stubby as he was now called. That same year, Sgt. Stubby visited the White
House to meet President Warren Harding and again in 1924 to meet President
Calvin Coolidge. How many people or dogs get to meet two U.S.Presidents? Sgt.
Stubby died in 1926. His remains are preserved at the Smithsonian Institution.
officially began their working dog program with World War II, and dogs have
served our nation in every war (or military action) since. Today more dogs are
used for more jobs than ever before.
soldiers have with their dogs is a difficult one to describe," says Burnam. "We
really do depend on one another - the soldiers know it and the dogs know it."
While many agree
America's soldiers don't receive the recognition they deserve, the military
working dogs receive none. Burnam and Aiello are setting out to change that.
Burnam and others have
persuaded the United States Congress and President Barrack Obama to officially
allow for the construction of a Military Working Dog Teams National Monument. No
government money has been allotted for the project, but Burnam has been
authorized to conduct a fundraising campaign. Learn more here.
"We need to honor all our
military," says Aiello," it's overdo." To that end, Aiello is hoping to work
with the United States Department of Defense to find a way to offer military
dogs some recognition for their service. The DOD maintains only people receive
medals, but Aiello says the dogs (and their handlers) merit some type of
special acknowledgment of their own. At the Hero Dog Awards, the American
Humane Association will honor military dogs. ©Steve Dale,Tribune Media Services
Tags: A Soldier's Best Friend, American Humane Association, Clipper, Hero Dog Awards, John Burnam, Military dog teams, military working dogs, mine detecting dogs, Osama Bin Ladden, Rin Tin Tin, Ron Aiello, Steve Dale archives, Stormy, Stubby, United States War Dog Association