“They served to save, and they deserve to be remembered.”
Did you know that March 13th is K9 Veteran’s Day in many cities and states across the U.S.? It’s true. A movement was started by Joe White, a former military dog handler, to recognize the efforts and sacrifices of our canine heroes. The quote above is their motto.
During Joe’s time in Vietnam, he saw canine heroes perform many vital tasks that no human could. He witnessed firsthand just how valuable these dogs were to our troops and how much they contributed to keeping our soldiers safe.
Many of these courageous canines lost their lives to protect and serve, but their only place of remembrance, until now, was in the hearts of the soldiers. Joe’s home state of Florida was the first to proclaim March 13th as K9 Veteran’s Day.
Smoky was a stray Yorkshire Terrier who found herself lost in the jungles of New Guinea during WW II. This bright eyed, brave little Yorkie would go down in military history as a “champion mascot of the Southwest Pacific,” war hero and therapy dog. Smoky garnered so much positive attention that she is credited with giving new life to her breed, which was on the brink of obscurity, and making the Yorkshire Terrier one of the most popular breeds today.
An American soldier found the scruffy looking Terrier in 1944 in an abandoned foxhole deep in the jungle. How she got there was anyone’s guess. The soldier wasn’t a dog lover, but he rescued Smoky and gave her to a sergeant who worked in the motor pool. The sergeant needed cash to get back into a poker game, so he sold the cold, wet and half starved little dog to Corporal Bill Wynne for $6.44.
Wynne and Smoky bonded almost immediately, and for the next two years she rode in Wynne’s backpack around the South Pacific, and spent the rest of the war going on combat flights with him. Wynne was attached to the 5th Air Force, 26th Photo Recon Squadron. Smoky wasn’t an official war dog, and didn’t have access to a proper diet or medical care. She slept with Wynne in his tent, and shared his rations. She was a hardy little dog, however, and despite her living conditions she never got sick or injured.
Smoky was so small – no more than four pounds, and seven inches tall – she could fit inside Wynne’s helmet. He didn’t know it at the time, but her small size is how she would earn her war dog reputation. American troops landed at an airfield in February 1945. Afraid the Japanese were planning a counter attack, Wynne’s recon unit needed to set up communications with headquarters to call for reinforcements, if they were needed. The problem was that cables had to be strung underneath the runway without tearing it up. Digging up the runway would mean 40 war planes would have to be moved, exposing them to enemy fire. It would take 3 days to accomplish their task.
In the winter of 2009 – 2010, I was commissioned to paint a picture of Freddy, an FBI dog who had been killed in service. In preparation for working on the portrait, I was sent a photo of Freddy but required other pictures of Belgian Malinois, Freddy’s breed, since some details in his photo were unclear. Searching online, I began to learn about service animals and discovered that Belgian Malinois are often chosen to become Military Working Dogs and police dogs. As I painted, I received emails about Freddy’s life, death and memorial service, and thought more and more about the life of this heroic animal.
Freddy was born in 2007, and served with the FBI from September 8, 2008 to October 28, 2009. The FBI had raided a warehouse being used as a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan, looking for several of its members who were wanted for a number of crimes. The Imam, who had a criminal record and refused to surrender, shot the FBI dog, Freddy, before the Imam himself was fatally shot by agents. Freddy was helicoptered to a veterinary hospital in Detroit, and although the doctors did everything they could to save his life, the wounds were fatal.
At his memorial service in Virginia, local police motorcycle officers escorted Freddy’s flag-draped casket to the FBI Academy, where the FBI Chaplain gave a moving invocation and where K-9 Police Officers and their dogs stood at attention behind a large crowd which included the veterinarians who tried to save his life. Other speakers followed and it was said that Freddy not only fit in with his team but also saw the humans as his pack!
The brass plaque added to the portrait I painted of Freddy reads:
February 17, 2007 – October 28, 2009 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8
Stories and photographs of soldiers bravely serving our country move me. Many of the stories depict another type of soldier, the four-legged type. The U.S. Military has been using working dogs to help defend our country since World War I. In fact, brave canine soldiers were used in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. War Dogs website estimates that these amazing military heroes saved more than 10,000 lives during the Vietnam conflict alone.
A quote on the U. S. War Dogs website says it all: “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. 9 February 2008
While that’s impactful and inspirational, there comes a time when these military dogs are released from serving our country and must find a forever home. These dogs are at various stages in their lives; some are young dogs who didn’t meet the training standards of the military K-9 boot camp, some are older dogs that have completed their tours and it’s time for them to retire from service, and some are dogs that have been medically discharged from service due to sickness or injury that interfered with their ability to perform their mission. In all of these cases, the dogs need to find a safe and loving place to live out their years.
That’s where The Military Working Dog Foundation gets involved. This 501c3 non-profit organization’s mission is to help the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Center find suitable homes for our four-legged soldiers after their period of service to our nation.
The U.S. Military has been using Working Dogs since World War I. At that time, selfless American families donated their pets to the wartime efforts. These days, military dogs and their volunteer handlers are trained as sentry, trackers, scouts, mine/booby-trap/tunnel and water detection of enemy forces. These amazing animals were used in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. War Dogs website estimates that these courageous canine heroes saved more than 10,000 lives during the Vietnam conflict.
The website goes on to say that today, all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces are using Military Patrol Dogs who specialize in drug and bomb/explosive detection. At this time, there are roughly 600-700 military dogs in the Middle East in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. These valiant canines are patrolling air bases, ammunition depots, military compounds and military check points.
And it all started with a stray, mixed breed mutt named Stubby. Where he came from is a mystery; one day in 1917 Stubby just showed up at Yale Field in New Haven, Connecticut. At the time, soldiers were running drills and the pup playfully joined the ranks. All the soldiers were happy for the company but one soldier in particular, Corporal Robert Conroy, formed a swift and strong bond with the dog.
Conroy quickly noted Stubby’s intelligence. Without much effort, he taught Stubby to shake hands. Once Stubby mastered that trick, Conroy decided to teach him to raise his paw a little higher when he was given the order to ‘salute’.
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