Remember Military Working Dogs on Memorial Day
who stand up for our nation in time of war, putting themselves in
harm’s way, are heroes. We honor the men and women of the U.S.
Military this Memorial Day. And there’s one more group that deserves
recognition: the dogs of the U.S. military.
“No one knows how
many lives have been saved (by military working dogs) but many
thousands, hundreds of thousands since World War II,” says John Burnam,
author of “A Soldier’s Best Friend.” Today, military working dogs deployed across
the U.S. and overseas search for explosives and land mines, search for
bad guys, and serve as guard dogs. They protect U.S. military equipment
Ron Aiello, president of the non-profit U.S. War Dog
Association, estimates that American military working dogs
conservatively saved over 10,000 lives in Vietnam, and that number has
likely doubled or tripled in Iraq and Afghanistan.
himself in Vietnam when his partner, a German Shepherd named Stormy,
alerted him to impending danger.
Aiello heeded the warning and moments
later, a sniper opened fire, just missing him. “My dog saved my life
more than once, and most handlers say the same thing,” Aiello says.
Burnam also served in Vietnam. His dog was a German Shepherd named Clipper. “One
time, we were leading a patrol in an area we had previous combat
experience in,” he says. “This was an open space with rows of rubber
trees. We spread out in a wide formation.
Then all the sudden a guy to
my right gets hit and badly hurt. There were explosives with trip wires
booby-trapped all around. We had nowhere to go but forward; it was our
only choice. Clipper guided us through this area and past at least five
booby traps. He save my life and others on that day.”
with Clipper for about a year, Burnam returned home in 1968. The
Department of Defense classifies military working dogs as equipment.
Lots of equipment was left behind in Vietnam to be used by the South
Vietnamese military instead of spending money to bring it back,
including the dogs. While some dogs did work for the South Vietnamese military, most were euthanized.
“I don’t really know what happened to Clipper, but I suspect he was euthanized also,” Burnam says.
Today, dogs working for the military
are supposed to be retired to civilian life following their service to
our country. “It’s the way it should be,” Burnam adds. “Truly, ever
since World War II, these dogs have served America, and our soldiers.”
service to our country began during World War I. Although there was no
official program back then, dogs were used by the military. The most
famous was a Bull Terrier named Stubby, who repeatedly returned to the
front, even after suffering from exposure to gas and wounds from
In 1921, Gen. John J. Pershing awarded a gold medal to “Sgt.
Stubby.” The same year, the dog visited the White House to meet
President Warren Harding and again in 1924 to meet President Calvin
Coolidge. Sgt. Stubby died in 1926 and his remains are preserved at the
America’s military officially began its
working dog program in World War II, and dogs have served our nation in
every war (or military action) since. Today, more dogs are used for
more jobs than ever before.
“Definitely, our dependency on war dogs has increased,” Aiello says.
relationship soldiers have with their dogs is a difficult one to
describe,” adds Burnam. “We really do depend on one another. The
soldiers know it and the dogs know it.”
While many agree that
America’s soldiers don’t receive the recognition they deserve, military
working dogs receive none. Burnam and Aiello are setting out to change
Burnam and others have persuaded the U.S. Congress and
President Barack Obama to officially allow for the construction of a
Military Working Dog Teams National Monument. No government money has
been allotted for the project, but Burnam has been authorized to
conduct a fund-raising campaign.
“This is right – to give closure to soldiers still alive today who lost their dogs
on the battlefield, or the soldiers in Vietnam whose dogs did not come
back,” says Aiello. “And today dogs are saving lives at this moment. We
need to honor all our military; it’s overdue.” To that end, Aiello is
hoping to work with the U.S. Department of Defense to find a way to
offer military dogs some recognition for their service. The DOD
maintains only people can receive medals, but Aiello says military dogs
(and their handlers) deserve some special acknowledgment of their own.