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Dogs at War; Nemo's Story

Dogs at war: Nemo

Dogs at War: Nemo

Author unknown


4000 dogs served in Vietnam with American forces in various roles including tunnel duty and booby trap detection. One particular animal stands out. He was exceptional both in his action, which demonstrated a contribution beyond the dreams of Army strategists, and in the attention and publicity he received as a result of his actions.


Nemo was assigned to 377th Security Police Squadron at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in 1966. He was, like many of the war dogs of Vietnam, a German Shepherd.


He had completed an eight-week training course at Sentry Dog Training School at Lackland and duty at Strategic Air Command in Washington. After six months his original trainer returned home and he was paired with Airman 2nd Class Robert Thorneburg.


On December 4th at Tan Son Nhut sentry dogs raised the alert and were released in response to a perimeter incursion by a large enemy group.


After several were killed and their handlers wounded, one handler managed to maintain contact with the enemy group and alert Central Security Control, who successfully stopped the incursion. By daybreak search patrols – without dogs - indicated that all members of the group had either been killed or captured.


The following night Nemo and his handler Thorneburg were on duty near an old cemetery when suddenly the dog gave the alert. Almost immediately the two came under fire but they responded by charging.


Thorneburg was shot in the shoulder and Nemo under the right eye, the bullet exiting through his mouth. Despite his massive wound, the dog continued to attack, providing his handler with sufficient time to call for support.


Nemo then crawled over to the handler and covered him with his body, refusing to allow anybody to touch him. Subsequent searches by Quick Reaction Teams found nothing. However, sentry dog teams discovered eight Vietcong soldiers concealed in the area.


Extensive veterinary care was able to save Nemo, but he was blinded in one eye and as a result of his injuries he was returned to the United States in 1967, being the first dog to be retired from official service and with honors.


Subsequently, he made many trips across the country and television appearances as part of the US Army’s war dog recruitment drive.


He died in 1973 at the age of 11 and was buried with honors at the Department of Defense Dog Center in Texas.

USAF Sentry Dog Nemo-A534 (WIA Dec 1966)
USAF Sentry Dog Nemo-A534 (WIA Dec 1966)