As Memorial Day approaches, it is time to recognize the many canines that have risked their lives alongside human troops during wartime.
“The capability they (Military Working Dogs) bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine. By all measures of performance their yield outperforms any asset we have in our inventory. Our Army (and military) would be remiss if we failed to invest more in this incredibly valuable resource.”
– GENERAL DAVID H. PETRAEUS, USA
The use of dogs in warfare have been used by many civilizations including . Mid-7th century BC: the war waged by the Ephesians against Magnesia on the Maeander during the mid 7th cnetury BC; as well as during the 525 BC: Battle of Pelusium, when Cambyses II used a psychological tactic against the Egyptians, arraying dogs and other animals in the front line to effectively take advantage of the Egyptian religious reverence for animals. Dogs were also known to have fought alongside their masters at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, and vast packs of Indian hounds were known to have accompanied the army of Xeres I of Persia when he invaded Greece in 480 BC, and so on through history right up to the present day.
Dog’s have also played an important role during military campaigns on American soil not only by Native Americans, but against them by Spanish conquistadors during the 1500’s.
However, despite the fact that Benjamin Franklin first to proposed incorporating a canine corp. during the Revolutionary War, dogs were not officially called to service in the US army until the Seminole War in 1835.
The first dog to be given a rank, however was Sgt. Stubby, and American pit bull terrier mix who earned his stripes when he discovered, capturerd and alerted the Allies to the presence of a German spy during World War I. In fact, nearly 1 million dogs reportedly died in action between 1914-1918.
Dogs also played important roles during World War II (1943-1945) when the United States Marine Corps used donated dogs in the Pacific theater to help take islands back from Japanese occupying forces. During this period the Doberman Pinscher became the official dog of the USMC; however, all breeds of dogs were eligible to train to be “war dogs of the Pacific”. Of the 549 dogs that returned from the war, only 4 could not be returned to civilian life. Many of the dogs went home with their handlers from the war.
The most decorated canine during WWII was Chips, who earned a silver star and purple heart for service in North Africa, Sicily, France and Germany. Among his most famous exploits was attacking an enemy machine gun nest and forcing the crew to surrender. Chips also stood sentry when President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Churchill in Casablanca in 1945.
Another WWII hero dog was Smoky, a tiny Yorkie who not only kept troops in the Pacific Theatre entertained, but was able to pull vital communications cables through a small culvert as Japanese bullets flew around him, thus enabling his unit to reestablish communications with other American forces.
Approximately 5,000 US war dogs served in the Vietnam War from 1966-1973, and the K9 units are estimated to have saved over 10,000 human lives, including Nemo, who kept the Viet Cong at bay even after being shot in the head. Although he was blinded in one eye, he survived and continued to serve as a sentry. However, 232 military working dogs and 295 US servicemen working as dog handlers were killed in action during the war. It is estimated that about 200 Vietnam War dogs survived the war to be assigned at other US bases outside the US. The remaining canines were euthanized or left behind.
More recently, dogs have served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars in a number of capacities including sniffing out explosives. Among them was Benny, who served for two grueling years locating bombs in Iraq before retiring to become a therapy dog to comfort grieving soldiers.
In 2011, United States Navy SEALs used a Belgian Malinois military working dog named Cairo in Operation Neptune Spear, in which Osama bin Laden was killed.
Readers can learn more about American’s dog heroes by contacting the United States War Dogs Association, Inc., 1313 Mt. Holly Rd., Burlington, NJ 08016 609 747-9340.
Note: There are numerous memorials dedicated to war dogs, including March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California; the Infantry School at Fort Benning,Georgia; at the Naval Facility, Guam, with replicas at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville; the Alfred M. Gray Marine Corps Research Center in Quantico, Virginia, and the Alabama War Dogs Memorial at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama.