Sunday, August 23, 2009

The soldier no one knows

The words in "War Dogs," a 2006 song by Murray Weinstock, are on the Pentagon's web page devoted to what are now called military working dogs, but which have always been known as war dogs.

When I left my home in the USA.

I was one of many trained a special way.

There was a war going on.

And I was sent to help.

Never did I complain,never whine, never yelp.

The Air Force photo above was taken in April 2007 of Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Reese of the 20th Infantry Regiment, 20th Infantry Division, and his military working dog Grek at a safe house before beginning an assault against insurgents in Bahriz, Iraq.

The training hours were long

They worked you to the bone.

When youre part of a team

You got to hold your own.

Military working dogs as they're now called are respected as fellow soldiers and honored veterans especially for the lives they saved.

But while revered, especially by former handlers, as recently as Vietnam it wasn't always that way. Over the last few years, former handlers and non-profit advocates have been working to do justice to their service and memories by finding them homes after their working years, and since 2005 have been working on a war dog memorial.

Sniffing out the bad guys,

sniffing out the mines,

scouting up ahead,

I’m the point man on the line.

Especially in Vietnam. But from that war in which homecomings left scars, war dogs had no homecomings.

According to the US War Dogs Association, Dr. Howard Hayes, a retired National Institute of Health veterinarian in 1994 counted 3,747 dogs served in Vietnam, determined from records of "brand numbers" tattoed on the dogs' left ears.

However, more likely 4,900 dogs were used between 1964 and 1975 as records of dogs in Vietnam were not maintained before 1968, the association says.

The military working dog association says on its Web site:

"Only 204 dogs exited
Vietnam during the 10-year period. Some remained in the Pacific, and some returned to the United States. None returned to
civilian life. So what happened to the dogs that remained? Most where euthanized and the others where turned over to the ARVN (South Vietnamese Army)."

War dogs, never lose their way.

War dogs, saving night and day.

War dogs, we’ve been led astray.

War dogs. Left behind, where we stayed.

Long before the current wars, man's best friend was at his side in defense of home and trained to help in the work of survival. They were transformed into military working dogs and used in larger scales in wars since ancient times.

While Egyptians and Greeks used the dogs as sentry and attack dogs, the Romans took them to new levels, used large mastiffs from Brittannia in actual battalion sized battle formations.
Over the centuries their duties grew, including messenger dogs, search and rescue, scouts and explosive detectors. In Iraq, they also were infamously misused to intimidate prisoners during interrogations. During WW II the Soviet Union made suicide bombers of them, strapping explosives to them then remotely blowing them up as she searched under German tanks for food.

(Not everyone realizes, too, that dogs like the cuddly Portuguese Water Dogs made famous now by President Barack Obama's family, were once the messenger dogs of the Spanish Armada. Bred as fishermen's dogs, these original sea dogs are extremely intelligent, have big lungs and webbed feet, can dive 30 feet for nets, herd fish and swim between boats. Some who didn/t drown as the Armada's ships sank, it is believed, made it to Ireland and are the ancestors of Wheaton terriers.)

In Vietnam alone, according to the Pentagon, nearly 4,000 dogs served, 281 officially reported as killed in action. But those are only what is known since records were kept.

A bond is built forever,

forever and a day.

Built on love, built on trust,

that’s the K-9 way.

Out on a mission

we pray for all our friends

that the shepherd will lead his flock

back to safety once again

So what is being done with U.S. dogs when they retire?

Military Working Dogs Adoptions, an informal group that wants to find homes for retired four-legged veterans, has a site that features heartwarming remembrances of modern success stories, and tells how people can contact the military, without being too much of a pest, to adopt one.

One story involves the adoption by a former military K-9 handler in Vietnam, whose working partner in that war was a German shepherd named Smoke, who 40 years later adopted a modern day working dog.

Despite their military duties, the military working dogs were screened prior for their acceptance by the military and are known for their tremendous temperaments.

The U.S. military has used several breeds of dogs in an war dog capacity since World War II. At first primarily German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers, though the Doberman's have been replaced by Labrador Retrievers, with Belgian Malinois in the mix, according to U.S. Military Working Dogs Association.

Those who worked with, loved and respect these four-legged veterans also, since 2005, have been working to recognize and remember them through the U.S. War Dog Memorial Fund for a monument to be built in New Jersey.

There's already a recognition at the Air Force Armament Museum in Florida in a sculpture, "Faithful Partner - Guardian of the Night" was sculpted by Susan Bahary to honor and remember all working dogs, their handlers, trainers and veterinary staff.

Those who served with or admire these canine veterans make a promise echoing a conscience-pricking one made by the human troops who returned from Vietnam, ignored or forgotten:

Never again.

As Weinstock's song concludes:

My heart and will’s been broken

lying in this cage.

This war has left me

just another on the page

I’ll never understand

why I’ve been left here to die.

A hero forgotten

but that’s the way it goes.

War dogs. The soldier no one knows.

1 comment:

  1. Great Post, I loved it, I can't wait till the day I have the place to adopt one of our forgotten hero's.