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The United States War Dogs Association


New Jersey to Get War Dog Memorial
American Forces Press Service | Steven Donald Smith | January 20, 2006
WASHINGTON - Man's best friend has contributed to U.S. war efforts for many years, so it is only fitting to have an official war dog memorial to honor the service of these canine companions.

"Military canines make contributions every day while they serve in our military. They are hard working and do a great job of saving the lives of their handlers and the troops who walk in their footsteps," Ron Aiello, president of the United States War Dogs Association and a former Marine scout dog handler who served in Vietnam said.

The nonprofit association is made up of current and former military dog handlers and is committed to educating the public about the invaluable service the dogs provide.

Recently, the association successfully lobbied the state of New Jersey to place an official war dog memorial alongside the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Holmdel, N.J. "It will be the first official memorial that honors these dogs," Aiello said.

The association raised most of the funds for the war dog memorial on its own and hired sculptor Bruce Lindsay to design a statue of dog and handler. ART Research, in Lancaster, Pa., will cast the bronze statue in the near future, and the memorial will probably be dedicated in May or June, Aiello said.

"The U.S. War Dog Memorial will honor the nation's war dogs and will show the bond between the canine and handler," he said.

Members of the association would also like to see a national war dog memorial built in Washington, D.C. "That's a long term project though," Aiello said.

The association works in various other ways to honor and aid war dogs. For instance, it has petitioned to have the U.S. Postal Service issue a commemorative stamp for military working dogs and helps find loving homes for retired military and police dogs.

"Today the military has a retirement program for their canines. When a canine is too old to work it is retired and put into the adoption program," Aiello said. "This program was authorized back in November of 2000 by Congress and signed by President Clinton. Since then there have been a number of these magnificent dogs adopted out to loving families throughout the United States."

In addition, President Bush signed a Defense Appropriations Bill in December that enables military working dogs to retire early to be adopted by their handlers following an injury.

Aiello also makes it a point to reach out to today's active-duty military dog handlers. He has sent numerous care packages to dog teams serving in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Iraq.

"I like to mix it up, if I put some beef jerky in the package for the handler, I'll put a chew toy in for the dog," Aiello said.

Aiello said he is sure today's military dog handlers will form the same type of bond that he shared with his dog Stormy while serving in Vietnam.

"Growing up, my family had several dogs that I became attached to. But it was not until I became a Marine scout dog handler that I really understood the bond that can form between a human and a canine," he said. "It is a bond of friendship that lasts a lifetime."



Giving military dogs their due

Thursday, November 10, 2005                                                



Staff Writer

BURLINGTON TOWNSHIP - Ron Aiello and and 18-month-old German shepherd named Stormy trained day and night for three months before their first patrol together in Vietnam and a defining moment that Aiello still remembers clearly some 40 years later.

Aiello and Stormy were responsible for leading a platoon as they searched two villages, he said, noting their job was to ensure there were no ambushes waiting to happen, no booby traps ready to explode.

"I would come out (of the village) and give the `All clear' to the squad behind me," he said.

Nothing was found in the first village, but as Aiello and Stormy headed down a trail and into a clearing near the second one, Stormy stopped, her head snapping up. Aiello knelt down beside her.

"Just as I knelt down, a sniper shot," said Aiello, who figures the dog may have heard the click of the rifle. "If I was standing up, he may have hit me."

Instead, Aiello dived behind a ridge, and about 30 Marines behind him were alerted to the danger.

"That was my first time out, and everything we were trained to do worked," Aiello said. "She alerted me to the danger. I read the alert and we got out."

When Aiello left Vietnam 13 months later, Stormy stayed behind to work with another handler, but the former Marine never forgot her.

Now he is working to ensure that Stormy and the thousands of other U.S. military working dogs that have been used since World War I receive the recognition they deserve.

The president of the U.S. War Dogs Association, Aiello said the nonprofit organization based in Burlington Township is raising funds to establish a life-size statue at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel to honor military canines and their handlers.

"We estimate there would have been another 10,000 names on the Vietnam wall if it weren't for the dogs," said Aiello, who was one of the first Marine scout dog handlers in Vietnam.

"All one dog had to do was stop one booby trap from going off to save one to five lives. That's the reason we decided to do this memorial, to honor their service to our country and to their handlers."

Kelly Watts, executive director of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation, said the military dogs and their handlers deserve recognition.

"I think it's appropriate," she said of the planned memorial. "I think it will be interesting for our younger visitors and something unique for them to see."

The New Jersey War Dog Memorial is being created by sculptor Bruce Lindsay, who has a studio in Hamilton, and will feature a German shepherd on all fours alerting his kneeling handler to danger, Aiello said.

"That position is the most important moment in the time of the dog and the handler because what you're deciphering means life and death," he said.

So far, Aiello said about $55,000 has been raised toward the estimated $80,000 cost of the bronze statue that will rest on a black granite base. The goal is to have it erected in time for a June dedication.

"To my knowledge it will be the first official state war dog memorial," Aiello said. "It's going to honor all war dogs and their handlers, past, present and future."

Formed in 1999 and incorporated as a nonprofit organization a year later, the U.S. War Dogs Association was created to educate the public about the positive contributions of military working dogs, Aiello said. Most of its members are from the Northeast and are former or current military dog handlers, he said.

According to Aiello, dogs were used by the military during World War I, and also during World War II when civilians were asked to loan their dogs to the war effort. The practice continued during the Korean and Vietnam wars, he said.

Working together, the dogs and their handlers saved lives, Aiello said.

During Vietnam, he said, scout dogs were used to lead patrols and provide "an early warning system" of trouble ahead. The dogs, mostly German shepherds, were trained to pick up the human scent and also the scent of explosive materials.

They also could pick up sounds the human ear couldn't, such as a slight breeze rolling over a booby trap trip wire, he said.

"If you were a good team, the dog would alert you," Aiello said.

Sentry dog teams were used by every branch of the U.S. armed forces in Vietnam to secure the perimeters of locations, the former Marine said. The Army also had tracker dogs, usually black Labrador retrievers, he said.

Aiello said he volunteered to be a handler because he left a 130-pound German shepherd at home in 1964 when he enlisted in the Marines at the age of 19, and he and Stormy trained together for three months before being sent to Vietnam.

"They matched our personality with the dog," Aiello said. "She was beautiful and she worked out really well. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and the experience of a lifetime."

Aiello credits Stormy with not only saving lives, but keeping him "sane" during his time in Vietnam.

"It was like a therapy dog," he said. "Every time I was with my dog it cheered me up. Even when I was in a bad situation it helped to have my dog by my side. She kept me sane, and not only me but other Marines, too. Maybe they had a dog back home and they missed their dog."

After Aiello left Vietnam in 1967, he heard Stormy was still working there as of July 1970, but he is unsure what happened to her after that.

"We had over 4,300 dogs in Vietnam," said Aiello, who noted slightly more than 200 came out. Close to 300 dogs were killed in action, and the balance were either euthanized or turned over to the South Vietnamese army, he said.

"It was very unfortunate," Aiello said.

That's the reason the U.S. War Dogs Association wants to honor all military working dogs and their handlers with a memorial, he said.

"These canines were our companions, and they saved many lives," he said. "We felt these dogs deserved some type of honor."

Donations to help fund the War Dog Memorial may be sent to Bucky Grimm, treasurer of the U.S. Ward Dogs Association, 183 Cummings Ave., Long Branch, N.J., 07740. For more information go to


Military Canines

Send Holiday Cheer to the Forgotten Heroes

by Jennifer LB Leese

"Canines with courage and loyalty are serving over seas."

The high-quality work of the Animal Health Clinic of Funkstown has recently
gone to the dogs as they begin a project of collecting and sending food and
toy care packages to soldier dogs and their handlers of the United States
Armed Forces. What an excellent time of year! I hope you find it in your
hearts to think of military soldiers and the dogs of war during this holiday

Because of their keen sense of smell and acute hearing, military dogs rush
into potentially dangerous situations well ahead of their human counterpart
searching for hazards so the troops can enter safely. These brave canines
help fight against terrorism everyday. Whether working as a "Scout Dog,"
serving as the infantry unit's eyes and ears, or tracking down the enemy as
a "Combat Tracker," military dogs give everything they can. Their jobs are
hard, long, and tiring. "Sentry Dogs" locate, distain, and destroy mines,
booby-traps, trip wires, tunnel compiles, and any other casualty producing

"These dogs are over there protecting our men and our country. They need to
be given the rewards that they deserve and to be made as comfortable as
possible while they are over there and for the rest of their lives, says
Debbie Brown at the Health Clinic.

According to United States War Dogs Association, military dogs have been
used by the United States since World War I. They estimated that more than
4,000 dogs served in Vietnam, and that these heroic pups saved more than
10,000 American human lives.

After Dr. Virginia Scrivener, 1993 founder of the Animal Health Clinic of
Funkstown, read an article in a magazine about helping out dogs of war, she
and her staff researched the topic further and decided to start this
wonderful project. "We know that being away from home and their families can
be a scary and sad time for both the soldiers and the canines. We want to
make that time a little more bearable for them," says Brown. "We plan on
continuing this as long as our soldiers and canines are away from home," and
"for as long as the community is willing to support it." The Clinic helps
raise money for the Kate Koogler Canine Cancer Fund, Community Free Clinic,
and the Humane Society of Washington County, as well as for Guiding Eyes for
the Blind by sponsoring Mudd Volleyball tournaments and participating in the
annual MS walk. Not only that, but did you know that your dog can donate
blood? The Health Clinic is now a blood donation site for the Eastern
Veterinary Blood Bank in Annapolis. If you would like to learn more about
this valuable service or would like information on the donor program, please
call 410-224-BANK.

In 1999, several Vietnam-era dog handlers got together to display a War Dog
Exhibit at AKC sponsored dog shows. By the end of 1999, they had decided to
start the United States War Dogs Association. This group is a nonprofit
organization of former US military dog handlers and supporting members. The
organization enlightens the public about the priceless service military dogs
have provided troops. Many organizations such as Cub Scouts and the Animal
Health Clinic of Funkstown as well as many individuals help raise money by
putting on events and by collecting donated items for military soldiers and
their furry lookouts.
Not only does the US War Dogs Association look to send care packages; they
also are working on establishing a US War Dog Memorial and having a
commemorative War Dog Stamp issued by the postal service.

When asked about the importance of helping military dogs and their handlers,
Ron Aiello, a Marines scout-dog handler in the Vietnam War and president of
the United States War Dogs Association had this to say, "This is very
important to me. I remember when I was in Vietnam with my K-9, Stormy, which
was for 13 months back in 1966-67. During that time period, I never received
a care package. I know that care package were being sent to Vietnam,
unfortunately I never saw one. Well, when our troops started to be deployed
to the Middle East, I just new what I had to do. Support our handlers and
their K-9’s." He went further to say, "I wish more people would get involved
in supporting our military K-9 teams serving in the Middle East. They can
use all the support that they can get," says Aiello.

Do you want to send holiday cheer to dogs of war? Here's a list of "new"
items you can send to these brave canines and their two-legged friends:
• Jerky treats
• American Flag bandannas
• Dog shampoo & conditioner
• Combs & brushes
• Squeaky toys
• Chew ropes
• Bones
• Tennis balls
• Dog Boots for large dogs

• Toothbrushes, toothpaste, & dental floss
• Deodorant & baby powder
• Lip Balm & sun Screen
• Baby wipes
• Moisturizing Eye Drops
• Nail files, clippers, hand cream
• Powdered drinks
• Candy
• Gum
• Cookies
• Stationary

If you have a few items you'd like to donate, then drop by the Animal Health
Clinic of Funkstown at 26 E Baltimore Street in Funkstown and they'll take
it from there. If you'd like to donate money, checks or cash can be mailed
to the Clinic or to Ronald Aiello, c/o The United States War Dogs
Association, 1313 Mt. Holly Road, Burlington, NJ, 08016. The Funkstown
clinic offers free educational seminars several times throughout the year
for the community. Learn more about this group of caring individuals by
visiting their website at

If you're interested in learning more about war dogs, their handlers, and
the US War Dogs Association, visit their website at

"These [military] K-9 teams who are serving in the Middle East and elsewhere
around the world are highly trained professionals serving their country with
honor and I salute each and everyone." As do I. Please help.

Jennifer LB Leese
Children's Book Review Columnist, Author, and Copyeditor


Auburn University to honor war dogs


Jack Stripling  / Staff Writer

April 29, 2005

During his first patrol in the jungles of
Vietnam, the only thing that stood between a sniper and Cpl. Ron Aiello was a German Shepherd called “Stormy.” On that March

night in 1966, Aiello was walking six feet behind Stormy who gave him a silent alert, signaling danger. What Stormy had detected was the presence of an enemy sniper hiding in a tree just ahead.

“If I hadn’t seen her alert, I would’ve walked out into the open,” said Aiello, who now works to restore
China and porcelain in his New Jersey home.

Aiello is one of many soldiers who credits a “war dog” with saving his life. The devotion of war dogs so moved the late William Putney, a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps., that he wrote a book about them called “Always Faithful: A Memoir of the Marine Dogs of WWII.” Putney, a graduate from AU’s
College of Veterinary Medicine, became an advocate for the dogs. In 1994, Putney established a memorial in Guam to honor 25 dogs who died helping to liberate the island.

“The dogs were about as human as an animal can get,” Putney told Auburn Magazine in 2001. “Visualize a man and his dog living 24 hours a day in combat after having been trained together for two years, and each depending on the other ... It’s a bond I think would be impossible to match between an owner and an animal in civilian life.”

Putney’s wish that war dogs and all service dogs be honored will come to fruition at a ceremony in
Auburn today. A memorial, donated by Putney’s widow Betsey Putney, will be unveiled on AU’s campus. Betsey Putney and retired U.S. Marine Commandant Carl Mundy will both be in attendance.

The 6 1/2-foot memorial, which depicts a doberman pincher staring attentively toward the distance, is the last of eight replicas of the sculpture in

“I would have preferred if Dr. Putney had been alive to see it,” said Susan Bahary, the
Sausalito, Calif. artist who designed the memorial called “Always Faithful.” “But I think somehow he’s looking down and watching.”

Putney, who died in 2003, worked with war dogs as the commanding officer of the 3rd Marine War Dog Platoon, which conducted more than 450 patrols during battles in the Pacific. The dogs were trained to help soldiers by detecting mines and booby traps as well as carrying messages and medical supplies.
Handlers’ devotion to the dogs made it more difficult to stomach what was once common practice in the military: the euthanization of dogs after they had fulfilled their duties. In 2000, however, President Bill Clinton signed a law that started an adoption program for the dogs.

Putney was a longtime critic of the euthanization practice, and he believed the dogs deserved better. Putney said the dogs embodied the Marine Corps. motto Semper Fidelis, which means “always faithful.”


Remembering our four-legged veterans

By Sheila Abrams
Contributing Writer

BURLINGTONWhen Shakespeare coined the phrase “the dogs of war,” he was using the words figuratively. But actual dogs, four legs, cold, wet noses, wagging tails and all, have served on battlefields for generations, doubtless in Shakespeare’s time as well.

Now, as our nation is once again embattled on foreign shores, canine heroes are serving with our troops. According to Ronald Aiello of Burlington, President of the United States War Dogs Association, Inc. there are about 400 dog-and-handler teams in the Middle East at present, about 250 of them in Iraq.

Mostly German shepherds and Belgian malinois, these dogs were bred by the military at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. They are used primarily for explosive detection and drug detection duty.

In Afghanistan, Aiello explained, the dogs are particularly effective in detecting land mines. Most enemy land mines there were Russian-made, and are cased in plastic, so that metal detectors can not sense them. A trained explosives dog can smell the explosive, however. When he (or she) picks up the scent, “he sits down, which is the signal to the handler,” said Aiello. The handler then calls the dog to him and rewards the animal with a special toy. Not inclined to patriotic sentiment, as human soldiers may be, the military dog performs in hope of some play time.

Dogs in the military are also motivated by the universal canine desire to please. Military handlers are volunteers who are almost always dog-lovers by nature, and they tend to develop an intense bond with their dogs. A visit to yields photos of soldier dogs dressed up in fatigues or helmets by their handlers, often sporting the insignia of their units. It is evident that, along with their official duties, the dogs are great morale boosters to young people far from home.

Other types of service provided by dogs include tracking, search and rescue, sentry and scouting duty. 

Dogs Of War

The U.S. War Dogs Association is an organization made up of former and current military dog handlers, whose goals include honoring the dogs that have served in past wars and helping protect and improve conditions for dogs serving now and in the future.

Aiello, a Marine dog handler in Vietnam, is most passionate about the subject as he talks about the history of dogs in the U.S. military.

Dogs were first used officially by American troops during World War I, when they were mainly trained by and borrowed from our Belgian and French allies. During World War II and the Korean war, the nation asked patriotic Americans to lend their dogs for military use, and these dogs were trained by the Quartermaster Corps. One dog was actually awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart, the award later revoked because it violated Defense Department regulations. However, numerous dogs did receive commendations for their service.

Dogs that survived World War II and Korea were returned to their original owners when it was possible. The dogs in Vietnam were not so fortunate. The first canines to be owned outright by the military, they were regarded as property and treated accordingly.

Property they may have been thought of, but according to Aiello, at least 300 of them died heroically in combat. At the end of hostilities, most of the remaining dogs were either euthanized or turned over to the South Vietnamese. Of 4,300 war dogs serving with the U.S. military, only about 200 were returned to the U.S.

Aiello still gets emotional when he talks about Stormy, the female German shepherd who was his devoted partner in combat. The pair went out on patrol at night, their job to detect and warn troops in his unit of enemy activity. On each patrol, Aiello and Stormy put their lives on the line, the man knowingly, the dog unwitting and trusting.

“You just did it,” he said. “It was a job. You didn’t think about it.”

When Aiello came home, Stormy was left behind. The handler tried to find out what had become of this unique piece of “military property,” and determined she had four handlers after him. But her ultimate fate is still unknown to him, and will probably remain so.

Conditions now are better for military dogs. Since Congress passed a law in 2000, dogs serving in the military are brought home and, when possible, placed for adoption after they are retired from duty. Handlers and their families get first option.

One of Aiello’s favorite stories, beautifully told on the association’s extensive and elaborate website, is that of Fluffy, a male German Shepherd and Iraqi war veteran. Originally named Tariq Aziz (after Saddam’s foreign minister), Terror for short, this dog was given to a Special Forces unit by Iraqi Kurds, to serve sentry duty. The frightened and abused dog was renamed Fluffy by his handler, Sgt. First Class Russell Joyce. In short order, Fluffy learned what was wanted of him and performed.

When Joyce returned home and wanted to bring Fluffy with him, red tape intervened. Fluffy was, after all, an Iraqi dog and not an official U.S. military dog. Fluffy now lives in North Carolina with the Joyce family. To learn how Fluffy came to America, visit the U.S. War Dogs website and click on the link to “Fluffy, Iraqi Freedom.”

Canine Memorial

The U.S. War Dogs Association is working to establish a memorial to the war dogs at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel.

A scale model of the statue, a dog and his handler (photo on cover), has been created by renowned sculptor Bruce Lindsay, former Architectural Division Manager of the Johnson Atelier in Mercerville. (His studio is near Grounds for Sculpture.)

The bronze statue itself will be about five-feet tall, on a round black granite base, four- feet wide by two-feet high. In total, the memorial will be about seven-feet tall, with the dog and handler to be about 125 percent life size.

The association is asking the public to contribute funds to build it. So far, about $36,000 has been raised, about one third of what is needed.

Aiello said the memorial will be signed over to the state of New Jersey as soon as it's erected, making it the first official state memorial to war dogs.

Another project the association has undertaken is persuading the U.S. Postal Service to issue a stamp honoring war dogs. A petition for this purpose is available for signature at the website. The U.S. War Dogs also support efforts now underway to erect a National War Dog Team Memorial in Washington, D.C. (To learn more about this effort, visit, or write to John Mayo, Information, National War Dog Memorial Fund, 1009 Jessamine Road, Lexington, S.C. 29073.

The U.S. War Dogs website, maintained by Aiello, is full of information, history, dog lore, and wonderful photos and stories. There are also lists of items needed by military personnel in the Middle East, including things for dog handlers and their dogs.  Anyone wishing to help can make up a package and send it to Aiello at 1313 Mt. Holly Road, Burlington, N.J. 08016.


Published Nov. 11, 2004

1 _______________________________________________________________

Training facility to host event for 'war dogs'

Canines serving overseas: 'Esquive' contest will generate funds for doggie care packages


LOCKPORT — You could say Riley's the giving type.

He spends time after school helping autistic children.

This weekend, Riley will sink his teeth into a fund-raiser for his peers serving in the Middle East.

And that's why he's considered one of man's best friends.

Riley is a Belgian Malinois owned by Ann Socha, a trainer at K-9 Guardians Boarding and Training Center.

On Saturday, the Lockport dog-training facility will host an "esquive" contest to raise funds for the U.S. War Dogs Association.

Esquive is a French wording meaning to dodge or evade. In the contest, a trained dog tries to stop someone wearing a protective outfit before that person can run back to the dog's handler, Socha said.

"It's really neat for the public to watch," Socha said.

Most of the canines that participate are family pets, albeit ones that meet strict training standards that take several years to achieve.

"There are hours upon hours of discipline training," said Robert Bonk, facility volunteer.

Owner Gary Tippett established K-9 Guardians more than two decades ago. While the business offers the usual obedience classes and other canine services, it specializes in hard-to-train dogs, like those who bite.

"That's the type of thing that the normal trainer won't touch," Bonk said.

Besides teaching dogs, K-9 Guardian employees also enjoy raising dollars for their furry friends.

This year, Bonk came across the war dog group on the Internet.

The U.S. War Dogs Association is a non-profit organization that supports past and present military dogs, and their human counterparts, and educates the public about their service.

President Ron Aiello estimates about 300 to 400 dog teams serve in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East. The military canines are patrol dogs whose jobs usually involve sniffing out explosives.

"The dogs are saving a lot of lives over there," Aiello said.

The association sends the dogs and their handlers care packages. Some of the items include treats, toys and special blankets for the dogs, and food and letters for their handlers.

"That's a morale booster," said Aiello, who served as a military dog handler in Vietnam.

Proceeds collected Saturday will go toward the care package program.

The fund-raiser starts at 1 p.m. at the K-9 Guardians center, 1159 Bruce Road (at the corner of Bruce and Farrell roads).

Aside from the esquive contest, the event will include a raffle for restaurant certificates and doggie goody bags, and a photographer will be on hand to take pictures of people with their pets.

The cost is $5 per person, children under 12 admitted free, and $25 for each dog handler team with half of the entry fees to the winner.

For more information on the fund-raiser call (815) 838-4406, or visit For more information on the war dogs association, visit

Reporter Andrea Hein can be reached at (815) 729-6018 or via e-mail at


  Site last updated: 09/02/04 at 10:03 AM

Wall Township resident solicits support for overseas K9 troops

By Louis C. Hochman

Wall Township resident Michelle Smith knows not all heroes walk on two legs.

“Last year, I was just searching on my computer and I typed in ‘war dogs,’” Ms. Smith recalled. “I knew there were dogs used in the military, and I wanted to see what I could do to help.”

And through that idle curiosity, Ms. Smith stumbled on the home page of the United States War Dogs Association, located at And through that organization, she found a way to help the military’s K9 soldiers.

“I just started to contact companies, to see what they could give,” Ms. Smith said, a dog owner herself.

Since the United States sent troops to Afghanistan, and then later Iraq, schools, churches and community groups throughout the Jersey Shore area have worked to assemble care baskets for soldiers serving overseas. Most often, they collect the everyday items difficult to come by while in service — toiletries, sunblock, candy, soap and other amenities.

With the help of several companies and a few individuals, Ms. Smith and the other members of U.S. War Dogs take on a similar effort. But their collections are geared at items useful to the dogs and their handlers.

For instance, Ms. Smith said, she might ask a company to donate ear and eye cleaners, sturdy dog toys, collars, nail clippers or other health and grooming items. She looks for sunblock without para-aminobenzoic acids-— since dogs can be prone to licking up the toxic components in their sun protection.

Companies throughout the country have been exceedingly helpful, Ms. Smith said.

“They’ve been phenomenal,” she said.

Local resident Gaye Wittenberg, of Manasquan, was one of the largest individual donors, providing what Ms. Smith described as a “ton of stuff” for both the dogs and their handlers. Companies donated items ranging from snack chips and almonds, to sunblock and toiletries, rope toys, to gum.

The group is also focused on installing a war dog memorial at the Veterans Veterans Memorial in Holmdel. It is continuing fund-raising efforts, but right now is about $50,000 short, Ms. Smith said.

According to U.S. War Dogs, military dogs have been used by the United States since World War I. They and their handlers have been trained to operate as scouts, trackers and sentry units, and often work in explosive detection.

According to the group, more than 4,000 dogs served in Vietnam, and it is estimated that they saved more than 10,000 American human lives. But the dogs were classified as surplus military equipment after the war, and were either euthanized or transferred to South Vietnam.

U.S. War Dogs also celebrates a 2000 law that requires dogs who survive service overseas be brought back home when a conflict ends.

Ms. Smith said she and other members of U.S. War Dogs have received e-mail from soldiers serving overseas, offering their thanks.

She said the U.S. War Dogs effort — and other similar ones — are particularly important in a time when domestic politics and other issues make headline news.

“The war’s not plastered all over the TV as much. People need to see what’s going on, and they need to see the dogs are soldiers too. They need help too,” she said.

Anyone interested in contributing can do so through


Dogs of war provide topic for Neptune pupils

Published in the Asbury Park Press 12/12/03

NEPTUNE -- The good work of Ridge Avenue Elementary School pupils went to the dogs Wednesday as they donated a check toward the construction of a memorial for military war dogs and their handlers.

A week of 25-cent raffles to win stuffed dogs -- supplied by the school librarian, Brenda Johnson -- yielded $25 that was presented to representatives from the United States War Dogs Association.

The representatives -- Ron Aiello of Burlington Township, the president, and treasurer Bucky Grimm of Long Branch -- spoke to students about war dogs and how they are used in the military.

"We think that the job of the war dog handlers and their dogs is very important," said Grimm, who patrolled the perimeter of his base with a German shepherd during the Vietnam War.

Students from third through fifth grades who attended the presentation agreed that war dogs play an important role.

"They are cool, and they save people from bad men to booby traps to bombs," said fourth-grader Federico Alderete, 9.

The association has raised $25,000 so far toward the memorial, to be built at the site of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Holmdel. The memorial -- which will be a statue of a handler and his dog in bronze and black granite, will cost about $75,000, Grimm said.

Aside from learning about dogs, Johnson wanted her students to take away a lesson about giving.

"I wanted them to know that even though we don't have much to give, we can give kindness and respect," said Johnson, who initiated the project to learn about war dogs and to raise money for the memorial after meeting association representatives at a dog show.

Students were excited to learn more about war dogs and had many questions for their two guests.

"I think it's really smart because they (dogs) use their senses to protect the soldiers," said Warren Worthy, 10, a fifth-grader.

Jasmine Moure, 10, also in fifth grade, agreed. She raised $3 for the donation.

"They risk their lives for soldiers," she said.

Technology teacher Elynn Shapiro said the students will continue to raise funds for other related causes, including the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Eatontown and the K-9 unit of the Tinton Falls Police Department.

Alison Waldman: (732) 643-4277 or

Dogs of war

Published in the Asbury Park Press 5/3/03

Program teaches students about canines in the military.


Like other elementary school students across the country, Sierra Kline, 9, a fourth-grader at Ridge Avenue Elementary School in Neptune, is sending a gift to an American soldier stationed in Iraq.

It's a token of appreciation for a soldier she's never met, she said, something she hopes the recipient will enjoy.

It's a bone-shaped chew toy.

Sierra gave her gift to Ron Aiello, president of the U.S. War Dogs Association, at the close of a presentation at the school April 17 detailing the history and service of military dogs during wartime.

"I think there's a lot in the gesture," said Aiello, of Burlington. "Some of these dogs might chew it up in an hour, though. But it's a very considerate and unexpected thing to do. There's a dog out there who will really appreciate it."

The War Dogs Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to informing the public about the little known but invaluable service that military dogs have provided troops in times of war, Aiello said.

"We've estimated that, conservatively, these dogs saved at least 10,000 lives during the Vietnam War," Aiello said.

Sent into potentially dangerous situations well ahead of their human units, military dogs seek out and identify potential ambushes, identify sniper locations, detect land mines or other hazards before troops are sent in. Because of their keen sense of smell and acute hearing, dogs proved to be more effective than human scouts, Aiello said.

"We trained our dogs to sniff out gun oil, for instance. The dog would know sometimes hundreds of yards in advance if there was someone with a gun hiding in a tree somewhere up ahead," Aiello said. "It's hard to put a number on how many lives just that one alert can save."

A former U.S. Marine dog handler, Aiello spent 13 months beginning in 1966 in Vietnam scouting danger with his German Shepard -- Stormy -- a dog he credits with saving his life more than once.

If not for one of Stormy's alerts, Aiello said he might've been killed by a sniper hidden in trees a hundred yards ahead, he said. Aiello also described several other situations where his canine partner alerted him to land mines and booby traps of all sorts.

One of about 4,500 dogs that served in Vietnam, Stormy continued to serve with five more handlers after Aiello's tour ended in 1968. "If any one of us knew she was still alive, we'd be fighting over who could have her," Aiello said.

Considered little more than equipment after the war, many of the dogs were euthanized or simply abandoned. Of the thousands who served, fewer than 300 came back, Aiello said.

The organization has state approval for a life-size bronze statue memorializing the dogs that served in Vietnam, a scale-model of which was revealed to the students near the end of the presentation. When finished, the memorial will be placed at the state Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel.

"This was a great program," said school librarian Brenda Johnson. "I think these children learned a lot of history they might not have known. And they were certainly interested through the whole thing."

To contact the U.S. War Dogs Association, call (609) 747-9340 or visit

Canine 'soldiers' honored

Published in the Asbury Park Press 5/03/03

HOLMDEL -- A group of New Jersey military dog handlers is raising money to build a U.S. War Dog Memorial on the grounds of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans' Memorial complex.

The U.S. War Dogs Association Inc. hopes to raise $95,000 to pay for a bigger-than-lifesize bronze statue of a war dog and his handler atop a polished black granite base.

The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs has given its approval for the statue. A department official said the statue could be placed at the entrance to the walkway leading down to the memorial, at Exit 116 off the Garden State Parkway.

But only $12,000 has been raised after approximately a year of fund raising, said Ron Aiello, president of the association. Some 3,747 dogs were used during the Vietnam War as sentries, combat trackers and bomb detectors.

Aiello said yesterday he is hopeful that forthcoming details of dogs being used by the U.S. military in Iraq will convince more individuals and corporations to contribute.

"I can't tell you how many war dogs were used in Iraq because I can't find out. That information has not been available," Aiello said. "But our country has used dogs in every military activity of the past century, and the dogs are currently in locations such as Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan."

Aiello said the Belgian Malinois and German shepherds are sent to military installations to serve as sentries and to detect bombs. The dogs are trained at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, the only base that trains dogs for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Aiello, who lives in Burlington County, was a Marine scout dog handler in Vietnam. His dog was Stormy, a female German shepherd. He and Stormy were among the first of 30 Marine Corps scout dog teams to go to Vietnam in 1966, Aiello said.

Association members attend dog shows and makes presentations at schools and community groups to promote the long history of military service dogs, he said. They also are selling bandannas and T-shirts to raise money for the memorial.

He and other members have written many letters to corporations seeking support for the memorial but have had relatively little success, Aiello said.

"It's coming in with dribs and drabs. We thought we'd be well ahead of where we are now," said Aiello, who hopes to have the statue paid for and built in another two years.

Donations for the memorial may be mailed to U.S. War Dog Memorial, c/o Bucky Grimm, treasurer, 183 Cummings Ave., Long Branch, NJ 07744. For more information, contact Aiello at or call Aiello at (609) 747-9340.

Veteran seeks donations for military's dogs
Burlington County Times

BURLINGTON TOWNSHIP - Vietnam veteran Ron Aiello knows the perfect way to support some of the U.S. military forces deployed in the Middle East.

Send them a heavy-duty chew toy, or maybe a few tennis balls, or even some jerky.

Aiello's suggestions are for the dogs serving in the military. The Burlington Township resident is president of the U.S. War Dogs Association.

He said he's been in contact with a number of active-duty military dog handlers stationed as far away as Kuwait and has found that the soldier's four-legged partners could use a few things.

"Normally, these dog handlers could go to the PX (post exchange) and get what they needed, but that's not possible for a lot of them now," Aiello said.

That being the case, Aiello, who was a dog handler in the Vietnam War, decided to step into action.

"As soon as I knew we were definitely going to war, I started contacting corporations and companies about donating some stuff to the dog handlers stationed abroad," he said.

Within days, he had a couple donators lined up. A dog-food company donated 15 cases of jerky dog treats, and a second company gave him about a dozen heavy-duty rubber chew toys for the dogs. Another company donated some comfort kits filled with toothbrushes, toothpaste, and razors for the dog handlers.

Aiello said the military dogs are used for everything from patrolling to sniffing out explosives. Nearly 1,400 military dogs serve the military. It's unclear how many are currently stationed abroad, but Aiello said he plans to send a care package to as many as he possibly can.

"Not only does it help them, it shows that people here care about them," Aiello said.

For information on how to make a donation for the dogs or their handlers, go to the U.S. War Dogs Association's Web site at or contact Aiello at (609) 387-2587.


Vietnam vet looks to erect U.S. War Dog Memorial

By Todd McHale
BCT staff writer

BURLINGTON TOWNSHIP - More than 30 years later, the wind, rain and heat still remind Ron Aiello of Stormy.

Certain smells trigger Aeillo's memories of being hunkered down in the rain with a poncho covering both him and his German shepherd scout dog. While the Burlington Township man doesn't cherish the memory of the stench of a wet dog snuggled up to him in a downpour, he'll never forget what Stormy did for him and what the government did for his dog.

"My dog, Stormy, went through a lot of trouble getting me through Vietnam," said Aiello, who served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam in 1966 and '67. "I'll never forget her. There's too many things that remind me of her."

Now Aiello, president of the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association/Northeast Region Chapter 1, wants to make sure that others don't forget the dogs' contributions. He and other association members are trying to raise $80,000 for a U.S. War Dog Memorial, featuring a life-sized bronze sculpture of a soldier and his dog. It would be erected near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel.

"We had about 4,000 dogs in Vietnam," Aiello said. "They saved my life and thousands of other lives, but only 190 dogs were brought back. For some reason at the end of the war, the dogs were classified as surplus equipment."

This still bothers Paramus police Officer Al Gundersen, an Air Force dog handler in Vietnam.

"These dogs put it on the line every day in Vietnam, and they were left there like an old Jeep," Gundersen said. "That wall in Washington would be twice as long if it weren't for those dogs."

At the end of the war, thousands of dogs were euthanized or turned over to the South Vietnamese, which doesn't sit well with Aiello. "They eat dogs over there," he said.

The handlers were upset because they had built bonds with these dogs, only to later see the canines discarded.

"I've been married for 25 years, and I tell people that I've never spent every minute of every day for 25 days with my wife like I did with my dog," said Karl Gross, a U.S. Marine veteran of Vietnam now living Harleysville, Pa., who is working with Aiello.

"On missions, the only thing in my backpack was dog food, a pair of socks and a couple of other things," Aiello said. "I would have to get my food from the battalion."

At first, soldiers were skeptical about the worth of the scout dogs that walked in front of them on patrols until the dogs alerted them to the trip wires, booby traps and enemy ambushes. Other dogs used in the war protected sensitive areas, found injured soldiers and searched for mines and tunnels.

Aiello said there are too many memories to recount, but that one mission still brings a smile to his face. The mission was to search and destroy an area near where a blockade was being set up.

Stormy and the other dogs on the mission worked flawlessly. The dogs alerted the American troops to booby traps, helped capture the enemy and even discovered a series of tunnels used by the Viet Cong that a demolition crew destroyed, Aiello said.

Later, at the base camp in Da Nang, he and a buddy found out they had helped back up an entire North Vietnamese platoon into the blockade, where they were captured and taken prisoner.

"Every thing we were trained to do, we did," Aiello said. "Everybody was congratulating us. They even gave us better living quarters after that."

After 13 months of walking the point with Stormy, Aiello was shipped back to the United States. To his dismay, Stormy had to stay.

About three years later, Stormy was still working in Vietnam, according to Gross, who was there in 1969 and '70.

"I actually met Stormy 30 years before I met Ronny (Aiello)," Gross said. "She was a good-looking dog that looked like a family pet."

Aiello can only wonder what happened to Stormy after 1970. That's why he and the others are working to get funding for the War Dog Memorial in Holmdel.

"This is our way of honoring the canines for saving my life and thousands of other lives," Aiello said. "Rightly so. I think they deserve the recognition, and being able to touch the statue may give us some closure."

The organization has raised about $11,000 toward its goal. Information about contributions to the memorial can be obtained by e-mailing Aiello at

or calling (609) 387-2587.

Sunday, December 9, 2001

Kryn P. Westhoven
Public Affairs Staff

Kazan and Stormy were just two of more than 4,000 war dogs that served the military in Vietnam. The dog’s loyalty to their handlers is being rewarded not with a treat or verbal praise, but with a monument to be placed at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Holmdel.

The state recently approved the request of the United States War Dog Association (USWDA) to place a full-size sculpture of a handler and his dog. That was the easy part, now the handlers must sniff out nearly $75,000 dollars to honor their canine companions.

For Burlington resident Ron Aiello, president of the USWDA, this mission is driven by memories of Stormy. “I still miss her to this day, I remember everything we did together.” Aiello was assigned the 3rd Battalion, Fifth Marines when he started training with the 18-month old German Sheppard at Fort Benning.

Bob Thompson and Kazan, right, pose for a photo at their Vietnam base camp in 1971. Thompson with another German Shepherd,left, this time posing to show what the proposed monument at the New Jersey Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Holmdel will look like when completed. Thompson and other volunteers have received approval from the NJ Deptpartment of Military and Veterans’ Affairs to build the monument. All they have to do is raise the money. The New Jersey statue will be quite different from the one near the Infantry Musuem at Fort Benning, Ga., top, that was dedicated in October 2000.
The three months of instruction prepared the pair to be part of the first group of 30 Marine scout dog teams to be sent over to Vietnam in 1966. For the next 13 months the bond between man and dog grew.

“If I was going out on a night patrol, once it got dark I would get with Stormy and we would sit down in some little lonely place the two of us and I would talk to her,” said Aiello. “I would talk about what we had to that night and how we were going to do it, how we were going to get out there and how we were going to get back safely.”

These canine conversations helped the young lance corporal prepare for the missions, working out the details as Stormy listened intently to her master’s words. “I worked everything out in my mind so it when it was time to go out there I didn’t give it a second thought,” said Aiello.

“I guess it kept my sanity. It took my mind off the situation,” added Aiello. “My dog Stormy got back to the States in one piece, physically and also mentally.”

The dogs acted as a therapy dog for the handlers, being more than just a working partner. “I had some buddies, but she was my best friend, said Aiello. “They did everything for you. They gave you so much and ask for so little.”

The saying that ‘a dog is man’s best friend’ helped another Marine handler several years later as the conflict in Southeast Asia continued on.

“I just remember how wonderful it was to have a friend with you. Your buddy,” said Bob Thompson of Shrewsbury.

“Troops would see a German Shepherd and it would take them right home in their head. They would put out their wallets and show you the picture of the dog they got at home,” added Thompson.
Like most dog handlers, Thompson volunteered for the position with the Marine 43rd Scout Dog Platoon. Arriving in Vietnam in 1971 as un-assigned Marine infantryman the choice between spending two-plus months in the jungle compare to five days out and three days back in the rear were positives. The negative was he would have to walk ‘point’ in a patrol. He would be out in front for the rest of the soldiers, but Kazan who be with him.

While on patrol near the Cambodian border Thompson and Kazan turned the corner on a trial. “He just started to make an alert. I heard boom, boom, boom and last thing I saw was the dog up in the air,” recalled Thompson. “That was the last I ever saw of him.”

“The majority of us would like to think our dog died in combat,” said Aiello. The fate of the dogs is unknown as the U.S. military pulled out of Vietnam. Many were turned over to the South Vietnamese Army, but others could have been left to die in the kennels or used as food by the local population.
Not knowing what happen to their faithful partners still bothers many handlers, who believe that there would be many more names on “The Wall” in Washington, DC if the dogs were not on duty.

When a dog’s head went up, or ears perked, that was the cue to the handler that there was danger ahead. “You can’t second guess a alert. If your dog stops, you stop, you don’t take that second step,” Aiello noted.

Aiello volunteered for a second tour to stay with Stormy. His request was denied and in three hours he tried to explain all he knew about the dog he had spent 16 months with.

The new handlers that only had three weeks to get to know the dog and Aiello thinks that could have been responsible for the higher casualty rates. “I think that’s what when wrong with some of the handlers later on they took that second step.

For Fort Dix museum curator Dan Zimmerman, his time with the canines of the Army’s 981st MP (Sentry Dog) Company made him appreciate the animals abilities to see, hear and smell things he could not.

“If I had to go to a similar situation I would rather go back with a dog,” said Zimmerman, who served in Vietnam for a year starting in December 1967.

The United States War Dog Association is part the national Vietnam Dog Handlers Association as the Northeast Region/Chapter 1 and works to support efforts for a national memorial in Washington and trying to get a postage stamp to commemorate the service of the war dogs.

Right now the local group is concentrating on gaining membership, either from former handlers or supporting members to make the New Jersey memorial a reality.

It will take Pennsylvania sculptor Bruce Lindsey about nine months to create the bronze statue of a handler kneeling beside a dog. The life size monument will sit atop a granite base, just high enough so visitors to the New Jersey Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial can look into the dog’s eyes.

“People are going to want to touch the dog,” said Aiello. So the monument will be placed near the sideway leading down to the main memorial area.

If you would like to join the efforts contact Aiello at 609-747-9340 or email him at
“They were totally loyal to you, the only thing their ask in return was love and care, said Aiello.” Now these handlers will return that loyalty with a permanent display of affection for everyone to see.

See related article about Adoption of Working Dogs

Friday, May 11, 2001

Tuesday, December 4, 2001

Vet strives to honor all dogs of war

Courier-Post Staff

Ron Aiello figures he might never have made it home from Vietnam if not for a gentle German shepherd named Stormy.

That's one reason the former Marine is leading a statewide campaign to honor Stormy and all the other scout, tracker, sentry, tunnel and water dogs who served in Vietnam.

The name of the organization behind the campaign is a mouthful: The United States War Dogs Association Inc., Chapter 1, of the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association/ Northeast Region.

But its mission is simple: to raise between $70,000 and $ 80,000 for a life-size bronze sculpture of a GI and his dog. The sculpture is being designed by Bruce Lindsay of the Johnson Atelier in Mercerville and will be erected at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Holmdel.

"It will be the first official state war dog memorial," says Aiello, 57, who lives in Burlington Township with his wife, Judy, and their sons Travis and Nicholas. He runs a porcelain and china repair business called Antique Restorations out of a studio behind his home.

Aiello enlisted in the Marines in 1964 and volunteered for scout dog training not long after.

"That's me and Stormy," he says, pointing to a grainy black-and-white photo of a young Marine and his scout dog leading a patrol through a village near Da Nang.

Scout dogs were trained to detect the scent of the enemy and the presence of everything from booby traps to tunnels.

"You never second-guessed your dog," Aiello says. "Your dog was always right.

"You lived with your dog day and night," he continues. " You never left your dog. When I was sleeping, she was by my side. We depended on each other."

After working with Stormy for 16 months, Aiello was reassigned. He came home in 1968.

But only 190 of the 4,000 dogs that served in Vietnam made it back to the United States.

"After all they did for us, and all the lives they saved, we thought they would come home and be put up for adoption," Aiello says. Instead, they were likely euthanized or abandoned.

So far, the organization has netted about $11,000 toward the cost of the memorial, mostly by setting up fund-raising displays at dog shows.

A scale model of the bronze is being fabricated and should help attract corporate sponsorship for the project. Ultimately, the full-size sculpture will stand outside the memorial's entrance.

"You'll be able to touch it," Aiello says, noting that veterans who were dog handlers "will all want to touch it, because it's like your dog you're touching. It's like a final goodbye."

(For information about the memorial project, call 609- 387-2587 or send e-mail to

Kevin Riordan's column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Contact him at (856) 486-2604 or kriordan@courierpostonline. com

Forgotten Heroes

April 23, 2001
Written by: Erin Harty, Staff Writer
As the troops that Charlie Cargo was leading neared the summit of a barren slope, Wolf, his German shepherd scout dog, suddenly stopped and sat down.

"Come on, Wolfer, let’s go," Mr. Cargo urged. But the dog refused to move. He just sat there, his big pink tongue hanging out the side of his mouth.

The soldier following just behind was getting impatient. "Cargo, let’s go," he said. The other troops were starting to bunch up, and they were all still dangerously exposed in the open.


His knees began to shake as the realization of just how close he’d come to dying began to sink in—and how he would have taken Wolf with him.

"Then tell them to spread out and take what cover they can find," Mr. Cargo said irritably, without taking his eyes off of Wolf. "He’s alerting to something."

He called Wolf back, and then sent him out to do a second search, not really believing there was anything to worry about. There were only a few dry clumps of weeds, pitiful cover for anybody or anything.

Forgotten Heroes

April 23, 2001
Written by: Erin Harty, Staff Writer
As the troops that Charlie Cargo was leading neared the summit of a barren slope, Wolf, his German shepherd scout dog, suddenly stopped and sat down.

"Come on, Wolfer, let’s go," Mr. Cargo urged. But the dog refused to move. He just sat there, his big pink tongue hanging out the side of his mouth.

The soldier following just behind was getting impatient. "Cargo, let’s go," he said. The other troops were starting to bunch up, and they were all still dangerously exposed in the open.


His knees began to shake as the realization of just how close he’d come to dying began to sink in—and how he would have taken Wolf with him.

"Then tell them to spread out and take what cover they can find," Mr. Cargo said irritably, without taking his eyes off of Wolf. "He’s alerting to something."

He called Wolf back, and then sent him out to do a second search, not really believing there was anything to worry about. There were only a few dry clumps of weeds, pitiful cover for anybody or anything.

As Mr. Cargo moved to step around Wolf, the dog suddenly wrenched his body sideways, blocking him. "Hey, it’s okay, I’m only looking," Mr. Cargo whispered. And then Wolf bit him.

The vice-like jaws locked on to his right hand. It was such a shock that it took a few seconds for the pain to sink in, and when it did, it was blinding. But he was too surprised to scream.

Mr. Cargo frantically tried to wrench his hand out of the dog’s mouth. Blood was starting to trickle down his wrist when Wolf finally let go.

Now Mr. Cargo knew something was wrong. "Well, for crying out loud, what is it?" he said, fighting nausea as the pain rolled up his arm.

And then he saw it.

A tripwire the thickness of a hair, two feet ahead. His knees began to shake as the realization of just how close he’d come to dying began to sink in—and how he would have taken Wolf with him.

Credit where it’s due

Mr. Cargo, who today lives in Stanton, Calif., went to Vietnam as an Army infantryman in 1970. As the low man on the totem pole, he was assigned to "walk point" for troops in the jungle. "I had no idea what to look for in the jungle, how to recognize a booby trap, let alone know the signs of a possible ambush. But that was the way it was for new guys—because we were the least experienced, we got the worst kind of duty," he explained. "Live long enough, and you eventually got rotated off the point position."

When Mr. Cargo heard that a recruiter was looking for scout dog handlers, he volunteered—even though it meant a permanent position walking point. "The way things were going, I wasn’t sure if I was going to survive the first month of my tour, walking a dogless point. I had grown up with German shepherds, and I had heard what the dogs could do in the field. I figured I had to be better off with a canine to help me out," he said.

When he was allowed to pick a dog to be his partner—one of the few times he was ever offered a choice in the military, he noted—Wolf stood out.

"[Most of the dogs] were very excited to have a visitor. They stood on their hind legs, yelping and jumping. But it was Wolf who caught my attention. There he was, sitting calmly in his kennel. I remember I knelt down to talk to him and he was so serious. He just sat there, listening to me intently, while the other dogs were going bonkers," Mr. Cargo said. "I walked a little distance away from the kennels and stopped to look back. All the other dogs had lost interest and gone back to lay down, but Wolf was still sitting there, staring at me intently. Something inside me told me this was the dog I was supposed to be with.

"It wasn’t until Wolf stopped me from hitting a trip wire, however, that it really sunk in, how special he was," Mr. Cargo said. "From that day on, I never second-guessed Wolf again. And to this day, I still have a scar on my right hand to remind me of that lesson."

Mr. Cargo’s website, Scout Dog Pages, relays the story to pay tribute to Wolf and the estimated 30,000 other dogs that have served alongside humans in the military since World War I—and those that are still serving today.

Dogs in the military? If you were unaware of the existence of our canine soldiers, you’re not alone.

"Until very recently, most Americans had no idea that dogs even served in the military, let alone that four thousand are working for our military today," Mr. Cargo said. "That was part of our history that somehow got forgotten the past fifty years, but especially so after the Vietnam war, when so many just wanted to close the door on that chapter and move on. The handlers themselves often did not want to think about it, let alone talk about it, so as a result their own families had no idea what they did in the war, or that they pulled duty with dogs who they considered their best friends."

During the Korean War, according to Mr. Cargo’s website, a study concluded that when dogs worked the front line, casualties decreased by more than 65 percent. One scout dog named York completed 148 combat patrols without a single loss of life.

Like Mr. Cargo, Ron Aiello of Burlington, N.J., served as a dog handler in Vietnam. Mr. Aiello, a member of the Marine Corps, was assigned a female German Shepherd named Stormy.

"Stormy saved my life so many times, I couldn’t count them. And I was just one of ten thousand dog handlers [in Vietnam]," he said.

But Vietnam also marked a low point in the history of military dogs. For the first time, they were classified as "equipment," and when the war ended, the United States government ordered that the dogs be euthanized in the field, or handed over to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam.

No one really knows what happened to the dogs left behind—of the 3,000 dogs that were left, only about 200 returned to the United States. Many probably starved or died from neglect, while others were probably killed or eaten.

Wolf was one of those few lucky dogs who made it home to the U.S.; Mr. Aiello doesn’t know what happened to Stormy. "Most of us hope that our dog died in combat, rather than just being left there or euthanized," he said.


Dogs in the military? If you were unaware of the existence of our canine soldiers, you’re not alone.


Those who served alongside these dogs feel that they deserved better—and still do. The Vietnam Dog Handler Association, a group of about 1,700 veterans, is launching a campaign to establish a national memorial to all dogs that have served in the U.S. military. They say it’s only fitting that these canine veterans be honored alongside the men they served, with a monument in our nation’s capital.

A special soldier

Dogs have fillled a variety of functions within the U.S. military. Sentry dogs were trained to be vicious, attacking intruders and protecting their own troops. Scout dogs, valued for their intelligence and superior senses, would lead patrols with their handlers to sniff out enemy troops, weapons, or booby traps. The dogs were trained to alert a handler to any unforeseen danger, giving soldiers time to seek cover or avoid a trap. Dogs were also used to detect mines and track the enemy.

The first U.S. military dog was a stray bull terrier named Stubby, who was adopted by members of the 102nd Infantry and smuggled aboard a ship carrying troops to France in World War I. Stubby carried messages during combat, comforted wounded soldiers, acted as a sentry, and once awakened a sleeping soldier to warn of a gas attack. He served in 17 battles before returning home to a hero’s welcome.

Dog owners were encouraged to volunteer their dogs for duty in World War II, and tens of thousands obliged. In Korea, the U.S. had only one platoon of military dogs—the Army’s highly successful 26th Scout Dog Platoon—but use of dogs resurged in popularity during Vietnam.

John Burnam, president of the VDHA, was an Army infantryman and scout dog handler in Vietnam. He and his dog, a German shepherd named Clipper, would walk about 20 steps ahead of a patrol, searching out possible dangers.

"It was dangerous—we were the first ones exposed," he said.

Clipper was a typical German shepherd—bright and friendly, and well aware of his job. "He knew what he was there to do," Mr. Burnam said.

Clipper was trained to sniff out a variety of smells—the chemical smell of ammunition, or the scent of the enemy. He also learned to spot trip wires, which would be strung about the height of a dog’s shoulder.

When Clipper was working, he’d be walking along slightly in front of his handler, head lowered, without pulling on the leash. The patrol walked at the dog’s pace, and occasionally he’d look back at Mr. Burnam to check that he was still going the right direction.

But when Clipper sensed danger, he adopted an "alert" stance to let his handler know something was wrong. "His head comes up, his ears go forward, the hair stands up on the back of his neck, and he’s rigid. And bam, I’m on the ground!" Mr. Burnam said.

The troops often wouldn’t know until afterwards that it was Clipper’s alertness that saved them, he added.

In Vietnam, soldiers didn’t welcome their canine comrades with open arms at first, Mr. Aiello said.

"They were a little skeptical. It sounded ridiculous to them [that a dog could protect them], until we went out there," he said. After about two months, soldiers were going so far as to request the dog’s escort on their patrols, they were so convinced.

"They started to love the dogs too. It was really working well and saving lives," Mr. Aiello said. "My dog was treated better than I was! Our dog was our lifeline, and had to be kept in top condition, physically and mentally."

The hardest part came at the end of a soldier’s tour of duty—they’d head home, and their canine partner would be paired with a new recruit. For many soldiers, who’d formed deep bonds with their dogs, it was a heartwrenching experience.

"I’d shake [the new handler’s] hand, wish them good luck, and then walk away and never see my dog again," said Mr. Aiello. "That was harder than the 13 months I spent there leading patrols."

As Mr. Cargo’s tour drew to a close, family members back home in the U.S. pleaded with the military to release Wolf as well. Mr. Cargo even applied to extend his tour, to have more time to deal with the bureaucracy, but his request was denied.

Mr. Cargo came home alone in December 1971. Thirty years later, documents revealed that Wolf returned to the U.S. in March 1972, and continued to work for the military until he died from lymphoma in 1979.

A long road

Although military dogs were once heralded for their bravery and decorated with the same medals as their human compatriots, that practice was changed after Korea—some felt it cheapened the honor for human recipients if dogs earned the same honors.

But military dogs continued to serve in quiet distinction, and still do so today. Twelve hundred dogs worked in Bosnia, and canine units also served in Kuwait and the Persian Gulf, said Mr. Burnam. They’re still used for security purposes and bomb detection, mainly trained out of Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

But many veterans feel that the dogs, and their handlers, deserve recognition on the scale of other military heroes—with a memorial in the nation’s capital.

"Certainly this country owes the dogs who served some kind of official nod of appreciation for the many lives they saved. The dogs were not automatons. They were soldiers, albeit four-footed ones, and the government owes them a debt of thanks—and an apology," said Mr. Cargo.

"We’re trying to get the word out about how great these dogs were," said Mr. Aiello. "It’s a shame they didn’t come back [from Vietnam]. That’s the greatest crime."

Last year, members of the VDHA petitioned to plant a tree in Arlington National Cemetery in honor of military dogs and their handlers—their request was denied. A recent campaign to feature military dogs on a commemorative postage stamp also failed.

But veterans are heartened by smaller victories. The first state-sanctioned memorial for war dogs has just been giving a conditional go-ahead in New Jersey, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Aiello and other veterans, who are now planning a fund-raising drive. The memorial—a bronze, life-size statue of a dog at full alert and his handler—will accompany an existing Vietnam veterans’ memorial in Holmdel, N.J.

A handful of other memorials have been erected around the country, as well as the first U.S. museum for military dogs (in Georgia). Two different television documentaries have also highlighted the dogs’ achievements.

But a national memorial—honoring all the dogs (and handlers) that have served, and acknowledging that so many were left behind—seems only fitting, veterans argue.

Such a memorial belongs in Washington, near the memorials for soldiers who served in Vietnam, Korea, and World War II. "Dogs served in all of these wars," said Mr. Burnam. "[A memorial should be] where the public has a chance to see it, so they understand what it’s about—what wars the dogs fought in, and what jobs they had.

A campaign is already underway for a Congressional resolution to recognize the efforts and importance of military dogs, Mr. Burnam said, and the time is right to launch the effort for a national memorial. An April cover story in Parade magazine, which has a readership of about 80 million, highlighted the drive to recognize military dogs, and the public reaction has been outstanding, he said.

"The public is asking, ‘Why don’t we have this already?’" he said.

"The pressure is on," Mr. Aiello said. "We have the opportunity right now to keep the public aware of what dogs did in Vietnam and other wars."

While dog handlers represent only a small percentage of veterans—about 10,000 in Vietnam, out of the 3.5 million soldiers who served—a memorial for their efforts would be enormously meaningful to them, Mr. Aiello said.


Last year, members of the VDHA petitioned to plant a tree in Arlington National Cemetery in honor of military dogs and their handlers—their request was denied.


"There are still handlers who can’t talk about it. It still bothers them, and they won’t even talk about their dog," he explained. "If we have a memorial, they don’t have to talk."

He hopes to see more local monuments scattered throughout the country as well, so every veteran has the opportunity to visit one. "You go to the memorial, pay your respects, and thank your dog for bringing you home," he said.

The VDHA estimates that dogs saved at least 10,000 lives in Vietnam, since there were 10,000 handlers. Handlers from every war seem to have no doubt that their dogs were instrumental in their safe return—the opportunity to recognize their canine partners for their efforts seems only just.

"Our pals are no longer with us, but they’re with us in spirit and in heart," said Mr. Burnam. "I’m not done on this until I die. My dog is going to get his due."

Four-legged Heroes: Scout Dogs of Vietnam
by Deborah Long

Hobo. Major. Baron. Prince. Stormy. Devil. Sergeant. Kaiser. Chief. King. Just a few of thousands of names you won't find on The Wall in DC that honors those who gave their lives in Vietnam. But the men who served with them would like you to know that their service in that war saved more than 10,000 lives. Without them, there would be that many more names on that heartbreaking black monolith.

Hobo, Major, Baron and the others were scout dogs in Vietnam, specially trained to detect snipers, ambushes, mines, boobytraps, enemy caches of food and weapons, and to alert their handlers to the presence of an enemy attempting to infiltrate a camp. Their superior sensory perception, remarkable intelligence and ability to adapt to a variety of climate zones made them ideal soldiers. Add in the skills of a dog handler trained to read his animal's body language and the United States had a formidable tool for saving American lives. So formidable, in fact, that the Vietcong placed bounties on the handlers and their dogs - the equivalent of $10,000 to anyone who killed a handler and brought in the shoulder patch with his K9 insignia and $20,000 to anyone who killed a dog and turned in the ear with the animal's serial number attached. Even the Vietcong were sensitive to the fact that there were more than twice as many handlers as dogs stationed in Vietnam.

Four thousand dogs and nearly ten thousand handlers served in Vietnam. Military reports indicate that, of these, 263 handlers and 500 dogs were killed in action. Their efforts saved thousands of lives and prevented tens of thousands of others from being maimed or injured. Ron Aiello, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam with a German Shepherd named Stormy, put it very well: "As a Marine," he said, "we were trained to kill. Kill the enemy to protect our country, that was our job. But as a dog handler, our role was reversed. As a dog handler, our job was to save lives. And with our dogs, we did that. We saved American lives."

Speaking with the veterans who handled these dogs is mesmerizing. Time stands still, so powerful are their memories and so potent their love for their dogs. Karl Gross, another Marine Corps veteran, explained the love he felt for his dog, Hobo, by saying, "I've been married to my wife for 28 years. There isn't another human being on the planet I know better or love more. But even with Theresa, I've never shared what I shared with Hobo. We were together 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We ate together, slept together and entrusted our lives to one another. I've never been closer to any living thing, human or animal." Time and again, handlers expressed the same sentiment about their relationships to their canine partners.

"Semper fi," the Marine motto meaning, "Always faithful" or "Always true," was no less true for war dogs than for any human soldier. True to Marine protocol, which dictates that you do not ever leave a wounded or dead comrade behind, Marines would carry injured or dead dogs to safety, even if it meant days of humping an 85 pound dog through the jungle in unforgiving heat and humidity. And this dedication to the dogs was not unique to the Marine Corps. In every branch of the service, the dogs were treated as equals. In fact, the military issued orders that injured dogs were to be given equal priority to that of any wounded combatant. Further, anyone who hit or otherwise mistreated a dog could be court-martialed. "The dogs," said Karl, "were treated better than we were. They came first. Come back from a mission, and your first stop . . . even before you dropped off your gear . . . was the vet, so that the dog could be taken care of. You carried two meals a day for yourself so that you could carry extra food for your dog. The dogs always came first for us." This wasn't something anyone resented. As Ron Aiello put it, "In Vietnam, your life depended on that dog." In turn, the dogs were completed devoted to their handlers. Dogs sometimes dragged wounded handlers out of harm's way or stood guard over them until help arrived.

World War II dog handler Jack Moore with Vietnam dog handlers Steve Reichenbach and Ron Aiello.
Steve Reichenbach, who received the Purple Heart after being injured in an explosion that killed four Marines instantly and badly injured three others, said his dog, Major, had to be muzzled because he didn't want to let anyone near Steve. The Company Commander persevered in spite of Major's objections, and both handler and dog were loaded on a helicopter and taken to safety. Steve was too badly hurt to register much of what happened after the explosion. However, last year, at a Marine Corps League dinner in Richfield Connecticut, where General Walter E. Boomer, Commander of the Marine Forces during the Gulf War, was to give the keynote address, Steve finally got to thank that Company Commander. It proved to be none other than General Boomer himself, who had been Captain Boomer when he was serving in Vietnam. He relayed the story of Steve and Major when he opened his address and praised the heroism of the dogs and their handlers.

Being a dog handler was dangerous and the handlers volunteered for the detail. Scout dogs and handlers "walked point," meaning they were at the first point of contact with the enemy. A statue in memorial to the dogs dedicated in Riverside, California last month portrays this beautifully, showing a dog and handler walking through a wall that symbolizes the safety of the unit, and into harm's way. The danger was real. Hobo once jumped straight up in the air one day while he and Karl were walking point. Not knowing what had alarmed his dog, Karl came to a complete halt and looked around. What he found was a trip wire that he would have activated with his very next step. Hobo saved at least fifteen men from certain death or injury on that day alone.

John Harvey at the grave of Prince (KIA). John is laying Prince's leash and halter at the grave.
On another patrol, Marine Corps veteran John Harvey and his dog Prince came upon a bunker complex. Because a handler needed to give his full attention to reading his dog, it was usual for a third soldier to accompany the duo as a body guard, or "shotgun." On this day, a "tunnel rat," or small infantry soldier, bounded out of the complex yelling, "Grenade!" As they had been taught, John, Prince, and the shot-gun, who was a young corporal from Texas, got down. But the grenade rolled between the shotgun and Prince and when it exploded, both were killed. Because they were in a "hot zone," it wasn't possible to get a chopper in to the unit, so John carried Prince's body for a day and a half before he could be helicoptered out. After burying Prince, John worked with another veteran scout dog, Baron, who kept him alive until he returned to the States in 1970.

War Dog Memorial, dedicated in Riverside, CA in February of 2000.
What makes these stories of heroism even more poignant is that, for the dogs, there was no end to the war. With the exception of 204 dogs, none of the 4,000 who served were shipped home. This is in stark contrast to the fate of dogs who served in World War II, who were not only shipped home but were given papers proving that each dog had been awarded an Honorable Discharge. Sadly, the fate of the war dogs of Vietnam was either to be euthanized or to be turned over to the South Vietnamese, a shameful way to treat a friend who laid his life on the line for you day after day. Horror stories circulate of what befell the dogs in the hands of the South Vietnamese, horror stories which are not hard to believe of a country where dogs are considered a food source. Some handlers attempted to smuggle their dogs to safety, to bring them home. Others shot the dogs themselves rather than leave them to an uncertain fate in a hostile country. Leaving the dogs behind was akin to an amputation, that painful, that severe, and accompanied, too, with the same kind of lasting pains. Even now, more than 30 years later, the pain expresses itself and many handlers say they still think of their dogs everyday.

Last month at the War Dog Memorial dedication in Riverside, California, one Vietnam vet brought his dad, Jack, who had been a dog handler in World War II, to the ceremony. Jack's dog, Rex, had come home with him after the war. He lived with Jack and his family for nine more years, playing with his children and sleeping by his feet. It is telling that every dog handler I spoke to - and I interviewed each separately - told me the story of Jack and Rex. Jack lived out what was, for them, nothing more than a fantasy. He took his best friend home.


The author would like to thank all the Vietnam veterans who shared their time, their stories and their pictures. A special thanks to Karl Gross, who traveled from his home to New York City for an interview and put me in contact with others who were interviewed for this article.


Dogs of war get helping hand

Published in the Home News Tribune 1/13/05

They sniff out explosives and drugs, live on military rations and spend months or even years in the desert of Iraq or the tundra of Afghanistan.

Like their human counterparts, the dogs in the United States military are fighting the war on terror across the globe. And, New Jersey residents Ron Aiello, Joanne Niestempski and Jean Marie Pelkowski suspect the canine units could use some moral support from back home.

With hundreds of dogs engaged in military action overseas, Aiello, Niestempski and Pelkowski are trying to ease the canines' lives by collecting goodies for care packages for the dogs and their handlers.

For them, supporting the troops means collecting jerky treats, rawhides and Kong toys.

"It just gives them a little bit of home, and it builds up their morale," said Aiello, a Burlington resident who served as a Marine scout dog handler in Vietnam. "That's the most important thing out of anything."

Aiello, president of the United States War Dogs Association, has mailed about 250 packages to dogs and their human partners in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait in the last 17 months.

He's getting help from South Amboy resident Niestempski, who works at the Sayreville Pet Adoption Center, and Pelkowski, who owns the South Amboy dog-grooming shop Poochie Doo. They're among the volunteers collecting supplies for the packages that are tailored to handlers' requests.

In the winter, packages often include lip balm and hand cream for the handlers, while in the summer, they include sunblock. For the dogs, packages include special mats that are warm when turned one way and cool when flipped over.

Less timely items include treats, Frisbees and tennis balls for dogs, and candy, work socks and flashlights for humans.

Aiello stays in touch with the units and handlers by e-mail to stay updated on what they need. Sometimes, the requests are unexpected.

One dog handler wrote him to ask for low-carbohydrate, Atkins diet-like foods -- cookies, candy and crackers.

"That's not easy to find," Aiello said. But after visiting several stores, he found enough to fill a package for the woman.

When Aiello began sending packages, the project progressed slowly -- he was funding it out of pocket, and did not have a lot of extra money to spend. But as publicity increased, Aiello has received more donations, of both supplies and money for postage.

Aiello's two-car garage, which he uses for his porcelain- and china-restoring business, is now so full of supplies to send overseas that his customers can't get inside, he said.

Much of the additional goods have come from people like Niestempski, who read about Aiello's project in "The Animal Companion," a New Jersey newspaper for animal lovers, and decided it would be a good activity for the Naval Sea Cadet Corps group she leads in Leonardo. Each of the 35 youngsters in her cadet squad brought a bag of supplies for the drive, providing a large haul to donate.

Niestempski, who has two children in the Coast Guard, also collects items at the Pet Adoption Center in Sayreville, while Pelkowski keeps a bin for donations and a sign announcing the drive at Poochie Doo.

Customers who see the sign often say they never thought about animal units in the military, Pelkowski said. And many quickly begin donating.

For Pelkowski, the importance of caring for dog units was reinforced by a dog she groomed that was trained to sniff out bodies at disaster sites. The dog's owner would often recount their exploits, which included searching for bodies after an earthquake in Mexico.

"Every time she'd be in she'd tell me something they did," Pelkowski said. "I'd get a tear in my eyes that an animal could do such good."

For Aiello, collecting goods for dogs on active duty serves as a reminder of Stormy, the German shepherd he teamed with to lead patrols and search for land mines and ambushes nearly 40 years ago in Vietnam.

"I had such confidence in Stormy, because we were such a great team, I didn't think anything of it," he said

For dog handlers, serving with a companion means more than just the dogs' sniffing expertise.

"When you're away, you've got somebody to talk to, your dog, and they always listen," Aiello said. "You always have somebody to bounce your problems off."

For more information or to donate items, visit, or contact Ron Aiello at (609) 747-9430, or, 1313 Mount Holly Road, Burlington, NJ 08016.

Arielle Levin Becker: (732) 565-7205;


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