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 war dogs.
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.