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Military War Dogs - Vietnam War Era
Some may think it strange to call a dog a hero. After all, dogs are merely pets, or military equipment as the government categorized them to be. But the military war dogs sent to Vietnam were so much more.
The Vietnam War was a war no one will forget. This war brought sorrow and loss to many. Many sent to Vietnam were killed in action, some missing to this day, and a few fortunate ones returned. The difference between these soldiers and the military war dogs is that while soldiers were sent home and honored for their efforts, heroism, and courage, these dogs were left behind and forgotten.
During the seventies, the war dog story was prevalent. But today it has been forgotten. Maybe it's because it's too horrific. It’s not something everyone wants to hear about. It’s a story of patriotism, heroism, courage, and betrayal.
It all began in the 1960’s when the first sentry/scout dogs were sent to Southeast Asia and trained to scout the parimeter, assist in preventing Vietcong infiltration, ambushes, hunt Vietcong, and guard key installations.
Having the dogs with the US troops proved to be a formidable challenge to the Vietcong who tried to infiltrate different installations in Tan Son Nhut. This success prompted the Vietcong to facilitate mortar attacks on the kennels on several bases.
Most of the attacks missed their target. The sentry dogs continued to prevent the VC’s infiltration.
However, on December 4, 1966, a handler and three sentry dogs were killed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Rebel, who first detected a group of 75 VC less than a 100 yards away, was the first to be cut down by automatic fire. This gave his handler time to radio for a reaction force and escape to the next post. At that same post, Chubby, alerted the same base, and was killed by gunfire. Another sentry dog, Toby, also alerted the US soldiers, as the infiltrators advanced.
Eventually the VC's had to retreat, hide, and wait for nightfall to escape. These dogs assisted in stopping the infiltration, saving thousands of Americans. As nightfall came, another sentry dog, Nemo detected several VC's hiding in the nearby cemetery of the base. He was shot. His handler was also wounded. Before help could arrive, Nemo, although wounded, protected his handler, by crawling across his body, and guarding him against anyone who dared to come near. When the help arrived, they were able to convince Nemo to leave his handler, who was given first aid. Nemo suffered from a gun wound to his face. Nemo lost sight in one eye and was relieved of sentry dog duty. Nemo’s service to his country did not end.
The military used Nemo as an air force canine recruiter. He made several television appearances and helped maintain an adequate supply of dogs for all the armed services. Nemo was one of the few who was able to return home.
The heroics of these dogs’ service to this country did not end at just detecting the enemy or traps. They also saved their handlers from snakebites, which were common in Vietnam. One such dog was Mac. Mac saved his handler’s life from a poisonous snakebite by pushing him out of the snake’s attack and taking the bite himself. Mac was bitten on the shoulder. First aid was administered and Mac was back in duty after three days. Unfortunately, not many dogs were as lucky. Some died of the snakebite due to inadequate supplies of anti-venom serum or none at all, because it was not operating practice to have one.
In addition, sentry dogs were not always congratulated for their detection of the enemy. These dogs often detected enemies that would simply disappear. With only the handler and the dog seeing the enemy, it was hard to convince the others that the dog was not simply reacting to something else. Ultimately, it was discovered that VC's hid in man-made tunnels directly above airbases and escaped human detection by hiding in these tunnels.
Another dog that prevented more US casualties was Tiger. He was able to alert his handler and unit from walking into a VC ambush. Unfortunately, Tiger was also the first to go down from the first gunfire. Some of these dogs were the first to take the brunt of booby trap explosions, which saved the lives of their handlers and many others in their unit. Another dog was Miss Cracker. Miss Cracker and her handler detected a booby-trap, only too late. An explosion occurred, which injured Cracker’s handler and ultimately killed Cracker. Cracker’s handler tried to save her life, but to no avail.
Unfortunately most of these dogs’ death was not attributable to the enemy but to spoiled food, heat-induced illness, and snakebites. These dogs were at times over-worked by their unit leaders. For example, a mine dog on a road sweep had to endure 21 miles of hard surface and heat. The dog became exhausted, suffered from heat stroke, painful blisters, and cuts to all the pads on his feet. Although these dogs were malnourished and sometimes treated poorly, they often opted for praise and affection given to them by their handlers instead of the food offered them as reward.
In addition to malnutrition, these dogs also received a variety of foot injuries due to their sentry duties. Most often had to walk on hot, hard surfaces for miles, while others had to walk over rocks, marshes, and coarse grass.
In due course, the United States began to pull their armed forces from Vietnam. Naturally, some handlers, anxious to go home, left without a second thought or “good-bye” to their dogs. However, some handlers wanted to take their dog’s home with them. But the government prevented this from occurring. It was against military policy for war dogs to re-enter civilian life after it has served in combat. It was also decided that dogs were military equipment.
Therefore, these dogs that valiantly served their country and survived, were abandoned in Vietnam. Most were given to ARVN, who already had an excess of dogs. The ARVN also feared these dogs due to their size and color. The only reason these dogs were accepted by the ARVN was the promise of dog food, which it lacked. No one truly knows what happened to these heroes. Although several politicians, due to public resentment and disillusionment, tried to pass a bill to establish a humane shelter for these war heroes, it never transpired.
The government recruited over 4,000 dogs and only a few made it home. These dogs saved over 10,000 American soldiers. Their service to their country was rewarded with exile.
The United States is the only country that has not honored their canine war heroes. Our government continues its refusal to build a memorial to honor these forgotten heroes. They were instead rewarded with exile or death. Of the 4,000 dogs sent to Vietnam, 371 dogs were euthanized and 148 died of various causes. The fate of those unaccounted for remain unknown to this day. Some of these dogs were simply abandoned.
Doing a paper on this subject was very hard. Knowing what these dogs did for this country and the reward given for their efforts brought tears to my eyes. They are truly heroes.
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