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Nam's Dog Soldiers

Updated on August 4, 2020
...but a friend, a partner, a fellow soldier!
...but a friend, a partner, a fellow soldier! | Source

What were you thinking!?

One of the most disturbing documentaries for a dog lover like me was the horrible betrayal of fellow soldiers during the Vietnam war! No, they didn't wear uniforms or could speak up for themselves; they were 'just' dogs!

I had been watching the documentary about 'Dogs of War'; dog soldiers in Vietnam. It was a tribute to the unbelievable faithfulness and bravery of these K9 soldiers. It was great.... and it became horrible...

...At the End they were talking about hundreds of dogs having been left behind!

It brings to mind the bounties that the Vietkong had on dogs and their handlers! It brings to mind that they eat dogs! It brings to mind the hatred they must have felt towards those dogs! I try to imagine the horrible things that must have happened to those once faithful companions... After they saw their handlers walk away!

No, I am for certain these handlers did not walk away easily or without a fight! To read the accounts of denial when families of fallen handlers attempted to at least have his dog allowed to live with them! The heartbreak it must have caused to those that came to depend on those creatures!

Creatures some regard as 'just a dog', but others consider a life-saver, a friend, a companion, a fellow soldier!

Numbers make it clear:
4,000 - 5,000 Dogs of War in Vietnam
10,000 Their Handlers
10,000 Lives estimated to have been saved
232 Military Working Dogs KIA
295 Military Dog Handlers KIA
200 Dogs of War survived/assigned to U.S. bases outside the U.S.
"The remaining canines were euthanized or left behind."


The History of Dogs of War

Dogs were used in warfare for hundreds of years, but their training, purpose and status has changed greatly since their first use by the Lydians in 628BC as a "separate battalion of fighting dogs".

I remember when I was stationed in Dyess AFB in 1999. A dog named 'Dick' had been given handlers a hard time. He wasn't exactly charming and for sure not for Greenhorns. When another handler's dog died of medical complications, I was told he was buried with all possible military honors. But at that time military dogs were still not offered for adoption when they became unable to serve! This handler took over Dick and they seemed to find a way of understanding and communication. They served together for a while, but Dick was older and it became his time. According to the handler he was assigned to Lackland AFB in TX to serve as a training dog. To think that 'charming' Dick was suppose to be training Greenhorns is a scary thought. And I don't blame him! He was the product of his surroundings!
Only months later I was told he had been euthanized!

Not until 2006, when I met a ton of awesome dog soldiers in Iraq did I find out that they were now offering suitable and 'safe' former military dogs for adoption! I almost adopted one myself, but somebody else was faster! I had spend hours in Iraq playing with dog soldiers. We had kept each other company for the few hours between flights! They weren't trained 'killers', they were dogs with a talent and a 'duty'!

- In 525BC fighting dogs were used by Cambyses II as weapon against the archers and spear-men of Egypt.
- Another brave fighting dog was immortalized in a 490BC mural about the Battle of Marathon.
- In 385BC fighting dogs cut off the enemy reinforcement during the Siege of Mantineia.
- During the 101BC Battle of Vercellae women led their large Cimbri dogs to defend their wagon forts.
- Hundreds of years later Henry VII supported Spain with a shipment of 400 Mastiffs in 1525.
- Napoleon kept a large number of fighting dogs ahead of his reserves in 1799.
- The Bouvier des Flandres was much more than just a companion and show stopper in 1914. He was used by the Belgian Army to haul heavy machine guns to the front.
- 1914 - 1918 The First World War saw dogs serving as couriers for messages.
- The Soviet Union had much less heroic use for dogs between 1941-1945. They strapped explosives on their backs and used them to destroy the invading German tanks!
- The Marines made use of donated dogs in the Pacific theater during 1943 and 1945. These dogs were used to take back territory from the Japanese forces. The Doberman Pinscher would become the official dog of the U.S.M.C.; despite the eligibility of other dog breeds. They led by example and only 4 of the 549 dogs returning from war were unable to be detrained and adopted out! "Many of the dogs went home with their handlers from the war."
- 1966-1973 became the most shameful period of dogs serving their country as soldiers since the Soviet's horrible use as walking mines: The Vietnam War!
- Between 1979 and 1988 the Soviet once again used dogs in war; this time against Afghanistan!
- 2011 became the most famous year for the Dogs of War:
A Belgian Malinois dog soldier named Cairo assisted the United States Navy SEALs in tracking down America's most wanted Terrorist Osama Bin Laden; which led to Bin Laden's death during Operation Neptune Spear!

There were many others that will never be forgotten by those who served with them, loved them and got to see their worth! May they rest in peace, for their lives were far from peaceful!


Dogs in Vietnam

It started in March of 1961 when the Air Force send the first two instructors and ten sentry dogs as assistance for the Vietnamese Air Force to establish a much better base security system. The concept was doomed when nobody in Vietnam's Leadership had interest in a training program. While the handlers returned, the dogs were left behind with the ARVN.

In the same year a 1960 recommendation by MAAGV and and 538 scout- and 468 sentry dogs are sent to RVN. 300 dogs were considered sufficient for the Vietnamese program. Dogs were purchased by the Army Quartermaster Corps' Dog Training Detachment in the Western part of Germany, where they would buy them and then transport the dogs to Vietnam via airplane.

The year later Vietnamese soldiers met their dogs, who were first scared of the ARVN soldiers. Communication problems made it even more difficult. The soldiers themselves were equally intimidated by dogs that they out-weight by only a few pounds.
The Army send a six men detachment to support the Vietnamese dog program. Eventually four more instructors were send for tactical training. A facility was build in Thanh Tuy Ha.

By 1965 the Air Force had launched a Project called Top Dog 145 in which fourty handlers and their dogs were deployed to South Vietnam. During the four month deployment the handlers were stationed in Bien Hoa Air Base and Tan Son Nhut.
The Army eventually followed by deploying their sentry dogs. Its wartime high of 300 dogs was reached at the begin of 1970.
Scout dogs were soon to follow and both the Army and the Marines initiated their patrol/scout dog programs for dogs to be used in Vietnam.

A year later the first two Marine Scout Dog Platoons deployed. This was a historical moment! It was the first time since World War II that the Marine Corps used dogs as scouts again!
By now the Marines and the Navy had each one sentry dog unit stationed near Da Nang; soon to be followed by the Army's 25th IPSD arriving at Tan Son Nhut.
In the meantime the Top Dog project ended at home and was replaced by the Air Force's Limelight Project. More dogs were purchased at Lackland AFB in Texas; beginning a flood of dogs shipped to Vietnam. More dogs came from the Pacific Air Force Sentry Dog Center located in Showa, Japan.
In December of that year the first casualties occurred. Three dogs and one handler were killed when the VC penetrated the Tan Son Nhut AIr Base. It became the largest battle involving these faithful guardians, their handlers and the VC during the entire American involvement!

More casualties occured in 1969 in Thailand when one dog was killed and two wounded during a Vietcong saber attack. Two handlers were also wounded.

In 1970 the U.S. started its draw-downs and 200 dogs were turned over to the Vietnamese Army. They already had more dogs than they could want or use; over seven hundred dogs!
The first problems came to surface: Returning home!
While the soldiers may have looked forward to returning home, the dog handlers began to worry about their faithful companions! Multiple handlers fought for permission to return with their dogs, but the Military used fear of diseases as a pathetic excuse. But the handlers didn't give up easily. They sought support from the public and Congress was forced into placing several hundred dogs in quarantine at Long Binh. But Rep. John E. Moss (CA)'s bill to retire/retrain these dogs was chopped down.
Ungracefully the Army decided to abandon these dogs, saying they were too dangerous and health risks were involved!
No matter the pathetic excuses, the bitter truth was that these dogs were unwanted 'back home'! The services were downsizing to a peacetime strength and had no use for more logistical problems.
The faithful soldiers, companions and life-savers were unwanted by both the Vietnamese and the country they had served!

1971 saw only 120 of the original 200 dogs in quarantine to leave Vietnam. 15 scout dogs were flown to Okinawa and the rest was send to Lackland and Fort Benning.
Nemo, a dog considered a war hero, had returned earlier. Another dog, Turk, had been shipped to the U.S. to help save his dying handler, but when the handler died he was returned to Vietnam. The Marines withdrew their own platoons. The Military Working Dog programs were closed. So was the school in Fort Benning.

By 1972 only about 130 dogs were still under American control. They were also turned over to a Vietnamese Army that had no use for them. The final chapter of dog soldiers in Vietnam was closed!

The following year Lt. Col Bill Luckett and the 377th Police Squadron were the last operational squadron to leave Vietnam.
It is believed that it also mend the death of the remaining dogs left behind in Vietnam!


Their Duties

These dogs had to be what we all dream of our children (and dogs): They had to be well-trained and obedient! Lives depended on that!

They were used in a wide variety of duties.

Scout Dogs would walk point when going on patrol with their units. Their job was the most dangerous one for both dog and handler. They had to alert to booby traps and ambushes. They were a dog owner's dream: Obedient, alert and well-trained!

Tracker Dogs were rather docile, but their noses were their greatest talent. They were to find lost soldiers and downed pilots; and track down fleeing ambushers!

Sentry Dogs were trained for one thing and one thing only: To defend their 'territory' and kill the intruder! They were defending their perimeters with their life!

Water Dogs had pretty much the same job of what is now done by water rescue/search dogs, only with a different objective: Find human scent under water and alert to it!
They would find the Vietkong, even if they were hiding under water and using reed and such to breathe!


With Heavy Heart...

Between 4,000 and 5,000 dogs had been deployed to Vietnam during the war and served in multiple functions; faithfully and without holding back!

Some died early of contaminated food; others died through the tropical climate! Over one hundred died of heatstroke in one year alone!
Between 1970 and 1972 almost 400 were euthanized for being non-effective in warfare! Almost 150 died of other reasons.

Almost 300 were officially considered KIA. But that number seems unreal!

While their effectiveness was questioned, their plight and ungraceful end saved the lives of over 10,000 people in Vietnam!

At the end, after all these dogs had to endure, they ended up unwanted by those few ungrateful that held the power of their lives in their unworthy hands!

4,000 Dogs & 10,000 Handlers - Honoring a Soldier's Best Friend

Vietnam War Dogs

A Breed Apart

Funny how the Aussies liked BLACK Labs! Think?!
Funny how the Aussies liked BLACK Labs! Think?! | Source
I guess we could learn a thing or two from the Aussies!
I guess we could learn a thing or two from the Aussies! | Source
And my Own!
And my Own! | Source
Dog tags of 58211 American Vietnam War dead hanging from ceiling of Vietnam Vet museum in Chicago.
Dog tags of 58211 American Vietnam War dead hanging from ceiling of Vietnam Vet museum in Chicago. | Source
More great History!
More great History! | Source
Lots of great Info!
Lots of great Info! | Source
Lance Corporal Ralph H. McWilliams and his scout dog Major, Vietnam, November 1967.
Lance Corporal Ralph H. McWilliams and his scout dog Major, Vietnam, November 1967. | Source

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