This is not posted to diminish the service of our veterans but to bring to light a surprising policy of our government. If the various posters on this board of any military or law enforcement agency have a story to share, I'd be honored to read it.
During a 1945 Japanese "Banzai" attack against U.S. troops in the Philippines, Bruce didn't wait for a command to act. Instead, he hurled himself at three enemy soldiers with fixed bayonets who were poised to finish off two wounded GI's 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 backup. 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 help arrived.
For acts of similar bravery, many soldiers have been thanked with the nation's highest military medals. But because Nemo and Bruce were dogs, their valor has been all but officially overlooked. "They're 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 the 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' heroics, Burnam has begun to lobby Congress to authorize a memorial. Unlike many European countries, which not only have national memorials to 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 of 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 GI's in the Vietnam War alone.
"Without them, there would have been another 10,000 names on the (Vietnam Veterans Memorial) Wall," said Ron Aiello, who walked point on patrol in Vietnam for 13 months with his beloved Stormy, who saved his life and those of other GI's "more times than I could count."
Since America first used combat canines in World War I, more than 30,000 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 soldiers, 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, explosives sniffers and land-mine detectors. But it was in Vietnam that the canines really earned their stripes _ only to be shamefully betrayed by their nation in the end, Harvey, Aiello, Burnam and other members of the Vietnam Dog Handler Association contend. More 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 jobs in 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 as the reward paid for a GI, according to war-dog histories. An estimated 500 dogs died in combat in Vietnam. Others succumbed to illness, parasites or the tropical heat. Barely 200 were brought home to the United States.
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 euthanized by the U.S. military, turned over to the South Vietnamese army or simply abandoned as America hustled to pull out of the unpopular conflict. "They didn't get to come back home like we did. For them, (serving) was a death sentence," said former Air Force Sentry Dog handler 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, facing 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 proselytizing about the dogs, is heartened by the support he has tapped in his travels. A fund for a national memorial has collected nearly $100,000. And, in a sign of belated appreciation, the Hasbro Toy Company has introduced a dog handler to its GI Joe series. "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."
NSFDrew...you better have a box of tissues handy first.
This photo at 3:48 says so much.