STATES WAR DOGS ASSOCIATION
A dog called Chips
by: Mary Ann Whitley
This is a tale of strange coincidences. I work as a copy editor at The Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio (I edit stories and write headlines). One night at work, I happened to be editing a story that came over the wires that was to be used in our Sunday paper on Aug. 6, 2006. It was about war dogs and the U.S. War Dogs Association’s effort to get medals for these dogs. The story was by Lisa Hoffman of Scripps Howard News Service.
As I read the story, I came upon this paragraph:
In World War II, a shepherd-collie mix named Chips was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart for attacking an enemy machine-gun nest in Sicily and, despite a bullet wound, forced the six-man crew to surrender. The Army later revoked the awards, calling it demeaning to service members to give medals to animals.
Suddenly, something rang a bell. I was pretty sure I remembered seeing a photo of a dog named Chips in my dad’s photo album. He served with the Third Infantry Division and I knew he had been in Sicily. I looked up Chips on the Web, in the meantime, and a Web site confirmed Chips had been with the Third Division throughout the war, from North Africa, Sicily, Italy, to France and Germany--all places where my dad served. After I got home, I looked through the photo album and sure enough, there was a photo of a dog that my dad had labeled “Chips.” It’s easy to tell it’s the same dog pictured on the Web. I never had any idea who the dog was or why my dad had a photo of him in his album.
Chips – photo taken by Herson Whitley
I brought the album in to work the next night and showed it to our national editor. She said that there weren’t any photos of historic war dogs sent with the story, just more modern ones (such as dogs serving in Iraq). So my dad’s old photo of Chips was scanned into the computer system to run with the story in The Plain Dealer. My dad was Sgt. Herson L. Whitley and he died in 1982.
I then e-mailed Ron Aiello, president of the U.S. War Dogs Association, and told him the story. I offered to share my photo of Chips, so it is here on this page. I’m also including a synopsis of my dad’s wartime service, below. There is also a “p.s.” to this story. After corresponding with Ron, I remembered that I had a large envelope full of my dad’s Army photos--ones that were not in the photo album. I decided to look through them, and lo and behold, I found another photo with Chips. This one had my dad in it and was obviously taken by someone else. Unfortunately, Chips was crossing in front of the camera and the photographer “cut off” his head. On the back of the photo, my dad had written: “Don’t quite know what I’m attempting to do here. Probably trying to get Chips to smile.” I’ve sent the photo and an image of the handwritten note on the back to post here on the USWDA site, as well.
Herson’s note on the back of the photo of himself with Chips says: “Don’t quite know what I’m attempting to do here. Probably trying to get Chips to smile.”
It appears that my dad not only had a chance to photograph Chips, but that Chips’ handler must have been serving in very close proximity with my dad. I’d sure like to know more about this ... who was Chips’ handler during the war? It’s possible I even have some photos of him among my dad’s pictures, as he labeled some photos on the back with his war buddies’ names. If someone would e-mail me with the name of Chips’ handler, I will be glad to check the photos that I have. (My e-mail address is at the end of this article.)
Sgt. Herson Lamont Whitley’s service highlights
(From notes taken in a 1970s interview of Herson by his daughter, Mary Ann Whitley, and from his discharge papers)
Herson Whitley served with the Third Infantry Division. He landed in Fedahla, French Morocco, and described the landing this way: It was pitch black. They sent a group ashore. The first ashore were to signal the rest to either attack or land. Herson was standing on the deck of the Leonard Wood waiting his turn to get into a landing boat. He had his rifle belt with ammunition on, three hand grenades and a full field pack, rifle, map case, life belt and was smoking a pipe. He bent over and his pipe fell out of his mouth. He had his hands in his pockets and when he bent over to get the pipe, the life belt expanded and he couldn’t get his hands out of his pockets. Herson often told this story in later years, laughing at the memory of being made helpless by the inflating life belt. During the attack, a piece of shrapnel hit his helmet. He was on guard duty along the Spanish Moroccan border.
In 1942 and 1943, he moved near Algiers for invasion training. He moved up to Tunisia to join Gen. George Patton. The campaign ended in North Africa. The Third Division prepared to invade Sicily; the invasion ended in 40 days. He went to Italy, up to Monte Casino Monastery. The pulled back to make the Anzio invasion. That took six months. He pulled out of Italy to make the southern France invasion. He then served in Germany and Austria until the war ended in 1945.
A family friend later said that Herson was involved in liberating some of the concentration camps. Herson, who was talented at drawing, painting and lettering, also did drafting work during the war, helping to make maps. He recalled meeting Gen. Patton on one occasion when Patton came into the tent where he was working. He said Patton had a high, squeaky voice and wore two pearl-handled pistols.
Herson brought back some interesting “souvenirs” of war. One was an oil painting he said he took from Hitler’s “summer palace,” called the Eagle’s Nest, at Berchtesgaden, Germany, when the war ended. The painting (still owned by his daughter Mary Ann) depicts buildings and trees, is signed by Ernst Friedrich, and was done on something like masonite, rather than canvas. Herson said the painting is of the view looking down from the hilltop retreat. It is not known who the artist is. (Note: Mary Ann has tried numerous times to verify the authenticity of the painting and if anyone has any information that would be helpful, she asks you to email it to her.)
Herson Whitley with Chips (location unknown)
Herson also talked of just missing out on getting Hermann Goering’s personal rifle. He said he saw a locked locker with the initials H.G. on it. [Not sure if this was at Berchtesgaden or elsewhere--M.A. Whitley] He went back out to his Jeep to get something to use to break the lock. When he returned, a higher-ranking officer had the locker open, and had taken possession of the rifle, engraved with Goering’s name. He also brought back some small liqueur glasses from the King of Italy’s palace (Mary Ann still has those as well.) They are engraved with the king’s insignia.
Herson’s honorable discharge papers state that he was wounded with shell fragments in his right hand and leg in Italy on Nov. 15, 1943. He earned the American Defense Service Medal, the Bronze Star Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal with arrowhead, the Good Conduct Medal and the Croix de Guerre with Palm.
Chips Update! (November 2006)
Since writing the above article, I have received information from a couple of people about Chips' handlers. One person who e-mailed me was Nancy West, who wrote the children's book called Chips the War Dog (which you can find featured here on the USWDA site on the page "US War Dog Merchandise"). Nancy told me that she had discovered that Chips was born and raised in Pleasantville, New York, the same town where she lives. She discovered that she knew the family who is now living in the house where Chips was raised. She also found that the son of the family who had owned Chips, a man named John Wren, was a lawyer in her village. John, who was a small boy during World War II, shared many anecdotes about Chips that eventually became part of her book. Nancy told me that according to John Wren, Chips had several handlers during the war. John Rowell was one of them, and John Wren's mother had corresponded with him. (Alas, I have not discovered the name John Rowell on any of my dad's wartime photos.) I also heard from a gentleman named Noel Gusler of North Carolina, who said he was in Co. I/30th INF Reg, 3rd Div. He told me that the person who trained Chips in the States was a man named Harold Graves, who lived in Burlington, N.C. Noel said that Graves told him that when Chips came back to the U.S. after the war, Graves escorted Chips on the train to return him to the family in New York who had donated him to the Army. (That, of course, would be the Wren family).
-- Mary Ann Whitley
An additional note: My dad was born in Belfast, Ireland (now Northern Ireland), in 1909, and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 11, settling in Flint, Mich., with his parents and siblings. His unusual first name comes from a friend of the family, Frank Herson. He added the middle name Lamont himself, later in life, taking a family name from his grandmother’s side of the family. Herson’s father (my grandfather) as well as several uncles helped to build the Titanic at the shipyard in Belfast. I spent several years researching that family connection. If interested in learning more about the Titanic, check out the sites for these organizations, of which I’m a member:
www.titanicinternationalsociety.org (Titanic International Society)
www.belfast-titanic.com (Belfast Titanic Society)
-- Mary Ann Whitley
Sgt. Herson L. Whitley
The Plain Dealer newspaper article August 6, 2006.
War dogs perform as heroes but go unhonored
By LISA HOFFMAN
Veterans of three combat tours together, two U.S. Marines ran out of luck when they approached a suspicious-looking man outside an Iraqi police-recruitment center in Ramadi in January.
Marine dog handler Sgt. Adam Cann sensed trouble when Bruno, his bomb-sniffing canine partner, became agitated, signaling the proximity of explosives. In a flash, the suspect detonated the pounds of explosives he'd hidden in his suicide-bomb vest, leaving dozens of dead and injured all around.
Cann, 23, fell fatally wounded as he tried to shield his German shepherd from harm. In the aftermath of the blast, Bruno, his fur bloodied by his own shrapnel wounds, refused to budge and lay on Cann's chest as if to return the favor. Others in the unit said the pair were as close as brothers, having served one tour together in Afghanistan and two more in Iraq.
Cann, of Davie, Fla., was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and nominated for the Silver Star. But despite his war wounds, exemplary performance and devotion to duty, Bruno _ who is considered to be a bona-fide leatherneck _ will receive no official decoration in honor of his sacrifice and service.
Nor will Flapoor, a Belgian malinois Marine K-9, who was critically wounded when he took a hunk of shrapnel to the liver in the same attack. Nor Chang, a black shepherd that saved his handler's life in a separate battle by jerking him out of the bull's-eye just as an enemy sniper fired.
Nor will any other of the hundreds of U.S. war dogs serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom daily put themselves in harm's way to catch insurgents, uncover hidden bombs, search buildings and otherwise save lives. The canine casualty count now stands at six dead and five wounded.
But because they are what the Air Force and other services categorize as "non-humans," they are ineligible for any official medal _ no matter how extraordinary their contributions or how many lives they save.
An organization devoted to honoring "military working dogs," as the armed services calls them, and their handlers wants to change that.
The U.S. War Dogs Association, a nonprofit group created by former Vietnam War K-9 troops, has launched a drive to convince the Pentagon that, at the very least, dogs serving in combat deserve a medal to show the country's appreciation for their loyal and courageous conduct in war.
The group is not advocating that Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars or any other current high honor be bestowed on dogs. Instead, the organization has asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to create a new decoration _ the "United States K-9 Military Service Medal" _ to recognize the canines for their combat contributions.
Dogs working side-by-side with U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are "saving lives on a daily basis," Ron Aiello, a Vietnam war-dog handler and president of the association, wrote in a recent letter to Rumsfeld. "In some cases they are also wounded or killed in the line of duty, yet we give them no credit for their service."
Even the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans organization, has no objection to the creation of a medal for war dogs, said Legion spokeswoman Ramona Joyce.
"We recognize the value of our animals in the line of duty," Joyce said.
The military won't reveal the total number of K-9s deployed, citing security concerns, but Aiello estimates about 700 have served in the war zones.
Asked about Aiello's letter, a Pentagon spokeswoman said the no-medal policy is firm. Although K-9s are appreciated for the "invaluable contribution" they make, decorations are reserved for "human personnel," Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke said, via e-mail.
Citing statues at two U.S. bases that honor war dogs, the Defense Department "maintains the most appropriate means to recognize this service is through the use of military memorials," Krenke said.
It wasn't always thus. In World War I, Stubby, a squat little mixed-bull terrier, earned fame by accompanying soldiers in 17 battles, getting wounded and gassed in the process. He even held a German spy by the seat of his pants until GIs could secure him. Now stuffed and on display at the Smithsonian Institution, Stubby boasts a Purple Heart (awarded posthumously) and eight other medals on his cloth "uniform" cape. He was even made a lifetime member of the American Legion.
In World War II, a mixed-shepherd-collie named Chips was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart for single-handedly attacking an enemy machine-gun nest in Sicily and, despite a bullet wound, forced the six-man crew to surrender. The Army later revoked the awards, calling it demeaning to service members to give medals to animals.
That policy continues now, although some commanders have presented Bronze Stars or Purple Hearts to dogs for their Iraq and Afghanistan war duty. An Army brigadier general at Fort Gordon, Ga., for instance, pinned a Bronze Star on the collar of Donja, a Belgian malinois, who detected explosives residue in a sport utility vehicle in Afghanistan in 2002. The driver was a suspected terrorist wanted for murder in Pakistan.
While the general violated Army policy and rules, the service isn't inclined to enforce either, when it comes to such "unofficial" medal awards, Army spokesman Lt. Col. Kevin Arata said. Instead, the Army views these infractions as benign ones that hurt no one but provide a big boost for the soldiers, who are passionate in their devotion to their charges.
"We don't come looking for violators. We realize that it is good for the morale of the unit," Arata said.
Those serving with war dogs are their greatest advocates, attesting to their unmatched skills at ferreting out hidden munitions and explosives, and finding or deterring bad guys. These troops marvel at the dedication and perseverance the dogs demonstrate, even in the worst of conditions.
"Our dogs are what (make) us a valuable part of this fight on terrorism. Without them, we would just be another cop on the gate or patrol," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Bryan Gudmundson via e-mail from Kuwait, where he is on his fifth tour, this time with Zorro, a malinois.
Many dogs are on their third or fourth combat tours, which each can last six months to a year. Most of those wounded in combat or felled by the heat return to duty.
Besides risking their own safety each time they hunt for explosives or patrol a dangerous street, the canines endure blazing 120-degree heat, hearing damage from close-by explosions, worn-out paw pads, broken teeth, stress diarrhea _ and still give their all to their jobs, say handlers, who are required to provide meticulous care and ample rest to their charges.
"They love to work," said Bill Childress, military dog program manager for the Marine Corps. "They are extremely effective."
There is no official count of how many tons of bombs and other weapons the dogs have found, nor any way to calculate the number of lives saved _ including those of Iraqi forces and civilians _ by the confiscation of lethal items or the disruption of intended suicide and other deadly attacks.
Santo, a Marine shepherd deployed to Fallujah, sniffed out _ among other things, 250 enemy armor-piercing rounds buried more than a foot deep in the Iraqi desert, not to mention 1,000 rounds of other ammunition and 12 rocket-propelled grenades. Rico, an Air Force malinois, is credited by his fellow airmen with catching 26 insurgents in the Kirkuk, Iraq, area.
Air Force handler Gudmundson, 25, says those K-9s and others have earned their nation's thanks, over and over. Aiello says the 30,000 canines used by the U.S. military since World War I _ including the 4,000 who served in Vietnam, only to be euthanized or abandoned when U.S. forces left _ deserve it, as well.
"These animals work their entire lives as 'pieces of equipment' and deserve a lot more credit and recognition than what they get now," wrote Gudmundson, of Vista, Calif.