Every war dog will have its day
National monument to military canines coming to Holmdel
BY TOM CAIAZZA
Feb. 1, 2006
National monuments have long been erected to honor the thousands of American men and women who have given
their lives for their country. Those brave few who gave what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion”
will have company in the pantheon of American history — man’s best friend.
The U.S. War Dog Association (USWDA), a nonprofit military organization that trumpets the accomplishments
of canines and their handlers during military conflicts, and the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation will
present the nation’s first memorial recognizing the efforts of America’s war dogs.
The U.S. War Dogs Memorial will be housed on the PNC Bank Arts Center campus adjacent to the Vietnam Veterans’
Memorial in Holmdel and is expected to open in May or June.
Ron Aiello, the president and co-founder of the USWDA, is a former Vietnam veteran and military dog handler.
The association was formed by Aiello and other veteran handlers in 1999 after a string of successful war dog exhibits were
presented at regional dog shows, Aiello said.
Many of the dogs trained to protect and to serve in the Vietnam theater were left there after the war, and
many still were euthanized instead of returning to the United States.
“These dogs saved about 10,000 American lives,” Aiello said. “They deserve better than what
The association wrote to then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, pitching the monument and proposing the Holmdel
site because Aiello said it was one of the best Vietnam memorials in the country.
“We expected to get a response in a couple of months,” Aiello said. “We got a call two weeks
later from the Department of Veteran Affairs.”
The association began fundraising, slowly amassing the nearly $80,000 expected to cover the cost; they have
$15,000 left to go.
“We thought the hard part was going to be getting the approval and fundraising would be easy,”
Aiello said. “Instead it was the opposite.”
The last half-decade has seen 9/11, a war in Iraq, two hurricanes and a tsunami, all of which Aiello said
may have affected the willingness of the public to donate to the War Dogs Memorial.
“It has been a nasty couple of years,” Aiello said.
The memorial will be a dog and its handler, in Vietnam-era fatigues, casted in bronze and resting on a stone
Sculptor Bruce Lindsay, of Hamilton, sculpted the statue, and it will be cast by ART Research in Lancaster,
Pa., which Aiello said graciously offered to help make sure the memorial could be opened as soon as possible by charging half-price
for their services.
“We wanted to have the dedication this year,” Aiello said. “ART cut the price in half so
we could get it done this year.”
Aiello said that ART Research was dedicated to bringing the memorial to fruition and that their generosity
expedited the entire process.
Kelly Watts, the executive director for the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation, said they
were honoring all men and women who fought and died in Vietnam, but had not acknowledged the dogs.
“We have been very careful with what we want to add to the memorial,” Watts said. “We took
great pains for the men and women, but didn’t have the dogs.”
Watts said that the canines were integral to the survival of their handlers, and that the bond between them
was very strong.
“Wherever we can integrate them into something we are doing,” Watts said of the dogs, “we
Ron Aiello and the War Dogs Association send care packages to current dogs and their handlers fighting in
Iraq. They sent out 225 packages last year alone, and Aiello said that was down from the year before.
The dozen or so people that make up the inner circle have donated time and energy to recognizing the war dogs.
They are prepared to donate their money, too.
If the group is unable to raise all the funds for the project they will take it out of their own pockets,
Aiello said. The association has still to raise $15,000, half of which has been promised through donations in the works from
Pedigree and others. Aiello said that if need be, they will offer their own money just to see the memorial finished.
“And if we still don’t have enough, we will take out a loan and continue fund-raising to pay it
back,” Aiello said.
Donations can be made through www.uswardogs.org, Aiello said.
The memorial, although specifically associated with the Vietnam War, will honor all dogs of war and their
“It’s more than just Vietnam,” Aiello said. “All these dog teams that have served
and will serve, we want to honor them all.”
Dogs of war
finally get their due
Jersey memorial will pay tribute to the military's 4-legged heroes
Sunday, December 18, 2005
BY MARYANN SPOTO
When it comes to getting their due recognition in the war effort, military
working dogs have gone begging, a New Jersey-based group of veterans says.
These four-legged fighters and their human companions, considered a weapon
in the military's arsenal, have done everything from delivering ammunition and cigarettes to detecting bombs and enemy fighters
in every U.S. war since World War I.
But after generations of serving as more than man's best friend, they're
about to get their own memorial in New Jersey, to raise awareness of their contributions.
"They're trained to detect any danger that's there before you get to it,"
said Ron Aiello, president of the U.S. War Dogs Association and a Marine veteran dog handler in the Vietnam War. "I'm only
here today because, chances are, if I was in Vietnam as a scout without
a dog, I'd be dead."
By June, Aiello predicts, a life-size bronze statue of a German shepherd
and his handler will be erected near the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Holmdel. It took six years of planning and fundraising
to get to this point, and yesterday members of the association got to see a clay model of the sculpture before it goes to
a foundry to be made into a mold that will be cast in bronze.
"It can't be understated what they can do for you because of the flexibility
the dog gives the support group commander and how he would respond to force protection needs," said Tech. Sgt. William James
Gaskins III of the 305th Security Forces Squadron at McGuire Air Force Base. Three of his handlers were involved in helping
Aiello's group plan the memorial. He likes to refer to the dogs as "force multipliers."
The duties of these dogs in the eyes of the military varied from war to
war. In World War I, when dogs were first used in conventional warfare, the U.S. borrowed
them primarily from the British, French and Belgians who had already been using them.
In World War II, civilians were asked to lend their pets to the U.S. military through a program known as Dogs for Defense, Aiello said. And many citizens jumped at the chance to share
them -- some 30,000 dogs became temporary property of the U.S. Armed Forces, and 10,000 actually saw combat.
By the Korean War, the United States
no longer wanted to deal with costs associated with returning borrowed dogs to their owners, so the military asked for civilians
to donate their canines, but also started purchasing dogs from vendors. The same was true for the Vietnam War, and of the
12,000 dogs donated or purchased, 4,000 actually went to the jungles of Vietnam.
But only 200 came home. Aiello said 300 canines died in combat in Vietnam,
and the rest were either given to the South Vietnamese Army or were euthanized.
After the Vietnam War, the military scaled back its military working dogs
programs to the level of about 1,800 dogs in all four branches of the military. But in the Iraq war, the military has increased its use of dogs. There are now an estimated 2,500 dogs in the military and some 700
dog teams (including about 100 civilian) actually in Iraq, Gaskins said.
Air Force Sgt. Jonathan Walsh, who was in Iraq last year with the 938th Military Police Detachment/K-9, learned about the memorial through e-mail exchanges with
Aiello. Walsh, who is now in Saudi
Arabia, said he likes the idea of
a memorial because "I feel sometimes the military working dog is excluded from the history of war."
"We search vehicles, do foot and mobile patrols, building sweeps, scouts,
training always, and VIP sweeps and security," the 31-year-old San Bernardino, Calif., native said
in an e-mail to a reporter. I'm honored to be part of the K-9 history and those handlers that came before me."
Aiello -- whose son Travis posed for the sculpture -- and several members
of the association joined artist Bruce Lindsay in Mercerville yesterday to see how the finished product should look.
"This is getting to be a bit exciting now. We're starting to see the light
at the end of the tunnel," Aiello said. "They're getting much more respect than they did before.
From Stubby to Private Hammer: mascots boost morale for militaryAssociated Press
DAYTON, Ohio - When Air Force pilot Russ Steber
was air-dropping food and supplies to the blockaded residents of Berlin in 1948, his pet boxer dog roamed around the cockpit.
When word got back to Gen. Curtis LeMay, commander of the Berlin Airlift, Steber was summoned to the general's office.
"I thought, 'Oh boy, I'm in trouble,'" Steber recalled thinking.
LeMay surprised him.
"He said, 'This is one of the best morale builders I've had on the airlift, and I would like to have a parachute made for
the dog,'" said Steber, 86, of Melbourne, Fla.
A new exhibit at the U.S. Air Force Museum pays tribute to the boxer, among animal mascots that historians say have played
an important role in boosting soldiers' spirits throughout the history of the U.S. military.
"It just goes so far to increase morale - that somebody else, something else is sharing their experience with that level
of tail-wagging and enthusiasm," said Terry Aitken, the museum's senior curator. "It takes you away from life-and-death issues."
Steber outfitted the dog with a small cargo parachute that would automatically open if the crew had to bail out.
And, at LeMay's suggestion, Steber changed the name of the dog from Bjorn Von Mulenthal to Vittles after Operation Vittles,
code name for the airlift launched by Britain, France and the United States after the Soviet Union cut off all land and water
routes to West Berlin in an attempt to starve the western powers out.
Vittles flew in 131 missions with Steber - and more with other crews - and never had to use the parachute.
Having mascots in combat situations is not without risk. Vittles' curiosity in the cockpit is one example.
"One time he stuck his nose in an electrical outlet and liked to wreck the airplane," Steber recalled.
Aitken said lion cubs were adopted by American volunteer pilots who flew with the French Air Force during World War I.
But he said the cubs didn't work out because when they got larger they became too hard to handle.
Some mascots were an advantage on the battlefield.
Stubby, a boxer-terrier, was the mascot of a Connecticut-based infantry unit stationed in Europe during World War I. The
dog's keen sense of smell alerted the troops to German gas attacks.
Union troops adopted an eagle named Old Abe to scout out Confederate troops, which put a bounty on the bird's head. The
eagle was wounded twice in 36 battles, but survived the war.
The Army's 101st Airborne Division bears the nickname Screaming Eagles after Old Abe.
In the early days of the U.S. Navy, cats were commonly adopted to rid ships of rats, said Jack Green, historian at the
Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C. Dogs and monkeys obtained by sailors during shore leave later showed up on ships,
Mascots often became a symbol of a unit and served as something to rally around, Green said. The animals often were allowed
to stay on board if the crew took care of them and they didn't get in the way, he said.
"It tended to be what the commanding officer would put up with," Green said.
Springer Spaniels became so popular as mascots in the 1950s that the Navy produced a recruiting poster with one of the
dogs sitting next to a sailor, he said.
Exotic animals also have served as mascots.
Big John, a 12-foot-long alligator, was used as a swamp-training aid for Army Rangers at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida
for four decades before dying in 2000.
Private Hammer, a tabby cat, was adopted last year by a U.S. Army unit stationed in Iraq. The soldiers would tuck the cat
under their body armor during artillery attacks.
Ron Aiello, a Marines scout-dog handler in the Vietnam War, said his German Shepherd was a stress buster for him in the
"It made a world of difference," said Aiello, president of the U.S. War Dogs Association. "I had companionship all the
ON THE NET
U.S. Air Force Museum: http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/
Naval Historical Center: http://www.history.navy.mil/
U.S. War Dogs Association: http://www.uswardogs.org/
By LISA HOFFMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
May 21, 2002
a 1945 Japanese "banzai" attack against U.S. troops in the
Philippines, Bruce didn't wait for a command to act.
he hurled himself at three enemy soldiers with fixed bayonets who
were poised to finish off two wounded GIs huddling in
a foxhole. Bruce saved
not only their lives but also those of others in the U.S. unit.
Two decades later, near Ton Son
Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam, Nemo showed
the same selfless guts under fire.
Though shot in the head during a 1966
Vietcong attack, Nemo charged the
enemy and knocked two down, giving fellow U.S. soldiers time to radio for
When his comrade was shot, Nemo _though in severe pain and mortal
danger _ crawled to him and covered him with his body,
protecting him until
For acts of similar bravery, many soldiers have been thanked with the
highest military medals. But because Nemo and Bruce were dogs,
their valor has been all but officially overlooked.
America's real forgotten heroes," said Vietnam Marine Corps veteran
John Harvey, who, when his beloved war dog Prince died
from a shrapnel
wound, carried the 80-pound corpse on his back during a long day's trek back
to camp, refusing to leave
his best friend behind.
Harvey and a band of other former GI dog handlers, fueled by an undimmed
devotion to their canine
charges of more than three decades past, are
determined to rectify that slight. They have launched an effort to create
first national memorial to military dogs, hoping it will find an honored
spot near monuments in Washington dedicated to
their human counterparts who
also gave their all for their country.
"Those dogs never gave up for us. We'll never give
up on them," said Army
veteran John Burnam, a Vietnam War dog handler living in Fairfax, Va. He
spends all his spare
time traveling the country to spread the word about
this mission. Author of "Dog Tags of Courage," an account of war dogs'
Burnam has begun to lobby Congress to authorize a memorial.
Unlike many European countries, which not only have national
their war dogs but even award them medals, America has but a few small,
regional monuments. Until the Korean
War, some U.S. war dogs were given
ranks and medals, but that policy was rescinded for "cheapening" both.
Today in the
national cemetery system, neither K-9 burials nor tributes are
allowed. Arlington National Cemetery won't even permit a
tree to be planted
in memory of the four-footed soldiers because so honoring animals would
sully such hallowed ground,
the Department of Veterans Affairs insists.
To Burnam and his fellow former dog handlers, that attitude reflects a lack
understanding of the extraordinary contributions of the dogs, many of
which went through hell for their humans. Not only
have hundreds, if not
thousands, of dogs died in service to their country, they also saved the
lives of thousands of
GIs in the Vietnam War alone.
"Without them, there would have been another 10,000 names on the (Vietnam
Wall," said Ron Aiello, who walked point on patrol in
Vietnam for 13 months with his beloved Stormy, who saved his life
of other GIs "more times than I could count."
Since America first used combat canines in World War I, more
dogs have done everything for the military from carrying messages and
first-aid supplies to the front, to
searching for land mines and tunnels,
detecting booby traps and trip wires all but invisible to two-footed
alerting troops to imminent ambushes, protecting camps, and
tracking and capturing the enemy.
In Bosnia, Kosovo and
Afghanistan, hundreds of "military working dogs," as
they're now known, have deployed to far-flung posts to serve as sentries,
sniffers and land-mine detectors.
But it was in Vietnam that the canines really earned their stripes _ only to
betrayed by their nation in the end, Harvey, Aiello, Burnam
and other members of the Vietnam Dog Handler Association contend.
than 4,000 dogs served in that war, where, with the Army alone, they
racked up more than 88,000 missions in which at least
3,800 enemy soldiers
were killed and 1,200 captured.
The dogs, mostly German shepherds, had one of the most dangerous
combat _ ranging ahead of a patrol deep into enemy territory, usually at
night. Some dogs served as many as
five combat tours. They were so effective
that the Vietcong offered a $20,000 bounty for their capture _ twice as much
the reward paid for a GI, according to war-dog histories.
An estimated 500 dogs died in combat in Vietnam. Others succumbed
illness, parasites or the tropical heat. Barely 200 were brought home to the
The thousands of others
_ no one kept precise count _ were deemed surplus
"equipment" by the Pentagon at the end of the war. These dogs were either
by the U.S. military, turned over to the South Vietnamese army or
simply abandoned as America hustled to pull out of the
"They didn't get to come back home like we did. For them, (serving) was a
death sentence," said
former Marine Vance McCrumb, whose dog Dutch was put
to sleep after McCrumb left Vietnam in 1966.
That fate gnaws deep
at the veterans who, to a man, say their bond with the
dogs _ with whom they spent 24 hours a day for more than a year,
death together _ was unlike what they forged before or since with anyone or
anything. Some extended their combat
tours just to remain with their
four-footed buddies. Others credit the dogs with keeping them sane.
"Leaving my dog
was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life," Air
Force veteran and dog handler Kenneth Bernhardt wrote on one
of the several
Web sites that have been built as tribute to these canines. "These dogs knew
more of honor, devotion
and duty than most people today."
Burnam, 55, a computer-systems analyst whose private mission is
the dogs, is heartened by the support he has tapped in
his travels. A fund for a national memorial has collected nearly
And, in a sign of belated appreciation, the Hasbro Toy Company has
introduced a dog handler to its GI Joe
"These dogs have been waiting so long to get the credit they deserve,"
Burnam said. "I just feel in my heart
we're going to get (it) for them."
Dogs of war: Canine heroes honored with war memorial
Published in the Asbury
Park Press 6/22/02
By BONNIE DELANEY
Francis "Bucky" Grimm and Duke were best of friends when
they served at Vietman's DaNang Air Base in 1966.
It was Grimm and his German Shepherd partner's job to provide security
at the base.
"Duke and I were together 24 hours a day for a year in Vietnam," said Grimm, 59, Long Branch, who served
as a sentry dog handler. "He was more than a partner, he was a friend and he helped save many lives."
Although many of
the men have been recognized for their military service, the canine partners were not.
Now Grimm and a group of New Jersey
military dog handlers want to change that and are working to raise money to build a U.S. War Dog Memorial on the grounds of
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial complex in Holmdel.
On May 10, the group unveiled a scale model of a statue of a war dog
and his handler at the complex. Sculptor Bruce Lindsay, 41, Yardley, Pa., of the Technical Institute of Sculptors, designed
the statue using 17-year-old Travis Aiello, Burlington, and German Shepherd Noa, 6, owned by Kathleen and Bruce Brodkin, Langhorne,
Pa, as models.
The United States War Dog Association hopes to raise $70,000 to pay for the cost of the life-size bronze
statue of a war dog and his handler atop a polished black granite base.
The state Department of Military and Veterans
Affairs has already given its approval for the statue, and Stephen G. Abel, retired Army colonel who is administrator for
cemeteries, monuments, memorials and museums, said the statue could be placed at the entrance to the walkway leading down
to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"These war dogs saved lives and they should be remembered," said Grimm, who is treasurer
of the association.
"Duke was an exceptional dog. He was very talented and had a lot of abilities even before I took him,"
recalled Grimm. "He could have been a show dog, he was so talented.
"He knew hand commands and how to sit, heel, stay
and go down. I used to entertain the marines with him."
After Grimm's 12-month tour of duty he went home, but Duke stayed
behind with a new handler, said Grimm.
Dogs were used in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Bosnia,
according to Ron Aiello, 57, Burlinton, president of the association.
"More than 4,000 dogs were used in Vietnam and only
190 of them returned home," he said. "About 260 of them were killed in combat, others were euthanized or turned over to the
"These courageous canine heroes saved the lives of more than 10,000 American servicemen in Vietnam.
Now is the time to thank them for their service by establishing a monument in their honor," said Aiello.
Aiello and Stormy
were among the first of 30 Marine Corps Scout Dog Teams to go to Vietnam in 1966.
"For the next 13 months we lived together,
slept and ate together, and, of course, most importantly, Stormy saved my life and the many fellow Marines whom we were assigned
to protect," Aiello said.
Aiello recalled a few examples of how Stormy saved his life and the lives of others during his
tour of Vietnam.
"On one occasion, Stormy gave me an alert to a hidden sniper," he recalled. "On another, she detected
a booby trap just outside of a village. It was an explosive charge attached to a gateway with a trip wire. And on another
occasion she gave an alert to an enemy ambush. These are just a few examples."
Bob Thompson, 53, Shrewsbury, said he often
thinks about Kazan, the dog he worked with in the Army's 43rd Scout Dog Platoon.
The duo were on patrol near the Cambodian
border in 1971 when Kazan started to make an alert. When a dog's head went up or ears perked, that was the cue to the handler
that there was danger ahead.
"Then I heard boom, boom, boom and the last thing I saw was the dog up in the air," he said.
"That's the last I ever saw of him."
Aiello said association members attend dog shows and makes presentations at schools
and community groups in order to promote the long history of military service dogs.
They are also selling bandannas and
T-shirts in an effort to raise money for the memorial.
Donations 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 email@example.com or call
Aiello at (609) 387-2587.
When man is in trouble, God sends him a dog."
- Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869)
|Four thousand dogs were recruited for service in the Vietnam War. Only 200 or so came
home. Beth Franz's dog, Bar (above in 'Nam), was one of the lucky ones.|
THE DOGS OF WAR
Vietnam's unsung heroes finally remembered
By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Asheville, N.C., 1969:
Beth Franz is counting the days until her 18th birthday. A lifelong dog
lover, she spends most of her free time with Bodo and Bar, her 15-month-old black-and-tan German shepherds. There’s
nothing on earth that means more to her young heart — except, perhaps, the desire to somehow, some day, find a way to
make a difference in this world.
Ten thousand miles away, the war zone is shrinking — unlike the
body count, after more than a decade of undeclared war in Vietnam. Soldiers, most of them barely older than Franz, are killed
daily in the hostile, booby-trapped jungle, victims of enemy ambush maneuvers, land mines or sniper attacks.
An effective strategy in Vietnam is the use of scout dogs trained to
alert troops to imminent danger, a practice started during WWII with the K-9 Corps.
Because a dog’s senses are believed to be up to a thousand times
more acute than those of humans, their value is immeasurable in enemy territory. Demand for scout dogs is high.
Likewise, the risk to scout dog patrols is also great. The enemy rewards
its soldiers who return with the uniform emblem of a felled dog handler or the tattooed ear of his scout dog.
And so it was that, in the spring of 1969, an ad placed in the local
Asheville newspaper for donated pets to help the war effort catches Beth Franz’s eye.
Most of all she’s motivated by the memory of Jim Inman, a family
friend about her own age that was brutally murdered in Vietnam during an enemy ambush. His body was sent home to Asheville
in pieces. If giving up her dogs could save even one young soldier from dying, it would be a small sacrifice.
She answers the call and seals her destiny in one brave and selfless
act of youthful patriotism. Hugging her dogs for the last time, Beth watches tearfully as Bodo and Bar are loaded on a government
truck and transported to K-9 training camp.
Bodo was soon returned, deemed gun shy and unfit for active duty, but
Bar was sent on to Vietnam after 12 weeks of basic training. The certified letter read, "Bar is now the property of the U.S.
government. You will not pursue the fate of this dog."
And she never did.
But as fate would have it, a man happened into her barn a dozen years
later to see her horses. The war veteran was lured by a roadside sign that read, "visitors welcome."
That day, a chance conversation brought two strangers to tears. One who’d
given up the dog she loved in the hope that it might save someone’s life, and that someone, who lived to tell the story
of how his heroic scout dog, named Bar, also saved the lives of many young servicemen in the jungles of Vietnam.
That day, Beth learned that heartfelt decisions are never small ones,
and that in life, there are no coincidences.
Years passed, and Beth relocated to Morrisville with her husband, Mark
Trimmer. But she never forgot the chilling moment when she came face to face with the man who’d been Bar’s handler
in Vietnam. In fact, the only thing she couldn’t remember about the encounter was the man’s name. For 19 years
she’d tried to think of ways to find him — or anyone who might share her interest in the story of Vietnam’s
But the aftermath of Vietnam has not been conducive to reunions. Those
who’d lived through the experience learned to live with it rather than to relive it.
And that’s why the story of Vietnam’s war dogs has taken
30 years to emerge. It’s a growing collection of tales featuring battlefield heroics of four-footed soldiers told by
former dog handlers. Modest estimates are that dogs serving in Vietnam saved more than 10,000 lives.
There are books, documentaries and Web sites devoted to war dogs, including
sentry dogs, tracker dogs, water dogs and scout dogs. The stories are as stirring as they are awe-inspiring.
And they become all the more wrenching in light of the tragic fate that
befell the thousands of unsung canine heroes in Vietnam that, like their fellow human soldiers, were stripped of the usual
honor afforded veterans of foreign war.
Of the 4,000 dogs recruited, 300 died in action or of illness and another
200 or so were initially sent home. But the directive to return the dogs to the states was quickly abandoned as stability
in Vietnam disintegrated.
The remaining 3,500 scout dogs were either euthanized by Army vets or
turned over to the South Vietnamese as U.S. forces scrambled to flee the country, said Randy Kimler, president of the Vietnam
Dog Handlers Association (VDHA).
"I think the real reason those dogs were left behind was because it was
a quick getaway. The war was still going on and I don’t think [the military] wanted to be bothered with having to bring
the dogs back," explains Kimler.
Turning a token number of dogs over to the South Vietnamese army was
like leaving other surplus equipment behind. Vietnamese allies would have limited tactical use for the dogs.
"And as much as I hate to say it, people were starving over there. Protein
was in short supply in Vietnam. Rather than feeding a big dog every day, I think it became a matter of how much meat a dog
could supply for a hungry village," adds Kimler.
At the time the mission to rescue and return Vietnam war dogs was abandoned,
officials said it was due to the risk that dogs would carry home diseases, or be too vicious to return to civilian life.
"Basically they told us lies," said Kimler, who serves as city manager
in Port Nechas, Texas, since retiring from the military.
Historically, war dogs were always brought home with the troops, either
released to their handlers, returned to donors or sold to civilians. Vietnam was the exception.
In many ways, the formation of the VDHA six years ago has helped fill
the void veteran dog handlers have been living with since leaving Vietnam — and their canine companions — behind.
Part of the healing process for veteran dog handler John Burnam, who
served with the 44th Scout Dog Platoon from 1966-68, was writing a book about his Vietnam experience, "Dog Tags of Courage"
($24.95/Lost Coast Press).
"Through the VDHA we now know hundreds of stories. Men are coming out
of the woodwork and families of Vietnam veterans are finally understanding what their sons and fathers went through as scout
dog handlers," said Burnam.
But it wasn’t until the book’s completion two years ago that
Burnam learned the tragic fate of scout dogs after the end of the war, including that of his own faithful companion, Clipper.
"It just drives a sword right through my heart, knowing what became of
Clipper and the others. I will never get over leaving him behind and the compound pain of [the military] killing them," said
Since forming, the VDHA has been working to publicly honor the unsung
canine heroes of Vietnam.
Initially, a proposal was made to create a national monument near the
Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, dedicated to the memory of the dogs that served.
"When we requested a monument at Arlington Cemetery, we were told it
would be a desecration to the veterans to have an animal monument," said Kimler. Instead, officials suggested the organization
look for a pet cemetery, a notion that incenses Kimler.
"Those animals weren’t pets — they were as much soldiers
as we were," said Kimler.
Media exposure of the travesty of the Vietnam war dogs, including a recent
CNN segment featuring John Burnam, Beth Franz and others who continue to lobby for a national memorial in Washington, has
generated mounting public outrage, said Kimler.
"We’re a great nation of animal lovers. As long as the American
public remains vigilant, it’s clear that something like this will never happen again."
Through her new VDHA connections, Beth Franz has learned that Bar was
one of the lucky dogs who returned to the states and retrained as an Air Force sentry dog. His second tour of duty was in
Turkey, where he worked until, due to illness, he was put to sleep.
But her fateful journey is far from over. As a firm believer in destiny,
Beth is more compelled than ever to tell the story of Bar and his fellow four-footed soldiers.
"I’ve never not had a dog in my life. They bring me joy, laughter,
companionship. Can you imagine living day to day, depending on an animal for your life? That kind of interspecies trust? There
can be no stronger bond than the one forged working through a war, depending on one another for survival. It’s a whole
other dimension," said Beth.
"And I can’t begin to imagine the sadness and pain these men went
through, having to leave behind the dogs that saved their lives," she adds.
The kind of pain John Burnam is still learning to live with, that often
surfaces, like an old war wound, without warning. All he will ever know about Clipper’s fate is that he died in Vietnam.
"I just hope that when he went down he died quickly, as the valiant dog he was," said
Burnam. "I will always have the memory of Clipper and the lives he saved in my charge. And for that I will always be thankful."