Honoring our four-legged heroes

  • Published
  • By Wayne Amann
  • OSI Public Affairs

I have to admit, I did not know there are two Veterans Day observances.

Like anyone who has served, is serving, or knows someone who has served in the military, I know the annual day set aside to honor the people who have ever worn a uniform of our Armed Forces is November 11.

But, it wasn’t until a few days before penning this article, I was made aware of the “other” Veterans Day, observed each year on March 13. It’s National K9 Veterans Day, which honors and commemorates the service and sacrifice of American Military Working Dogs (MWD) throughout history.

Dogs of war can be traced back to 4000 B.C., when ancient Egyptians took dogs with them into battle. Alexander the Great’s dog, “Peritas,” took down a charging elephant. An unnamed Newfoundland rescued Napoleon during his escape from exile on the Isle of Elba. And the dog of Robert the Bruce defended the Scottish King from English troops.

Fast forward to March 13, 1942, when the U.S. Army started training dogs for its ‘K9 Corps’ program. In 1958, the U.S. Armed Forces began training military dogs at, what is now Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. As recently as 2019, author Nolan A. Watson detailed in his textbook, Military Veterinary Services, the number of professions MWDs are used in.

Among the K9s varied missions are to find illegal drugs and get them off the streets, find missing adults and children, detect bombs and protect their handlers. They're able to run, chase and apprehend criminals in places too difficult for humans to navigate.

While the Office of Special Investigations does not employ its own K9 unit, OSI has through the years recognized the value of MWDs in supporting joint military Security Forces, and civilian law enforcement partner operations.

For example, on July 25, 2015, members of OSI Detachment 212 at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., joined local civilian authorities to honor a four-legged comrade killed in the line of duty.

In 2011, 6-year-old “Fargo,” a Belgian Malinois trained in narcotics detection, tracking and criminal apprehension, was tracking down armed robbery suspects when he was shot three times by one of them and died. He was the first K9 to lose his life in the line of duty in South Carolina history.

The detachment participated in a memorial 5K run/walk honoring the legacy of K9 deputy “Fargo” of the Richland County Sheriff's Department K9 Unit.

The event, officially called the Guardians of the Night K9 5K, was created to raise funds to purchase items for the K9 team including collars, leads, food, veterinarian care and a custom fit ballistic vest. The goal is to provide these dogs the best equipment and services available while they ensure families, homes and property are safe and secure.

"It was a great event to go out for," said then Det. 212 Special Agent Georgia Marshall. "Our detachment loves to support the local community and it was amazing to support something as important as a law enforcement K9 unit."

“Fargo” joined a legacy of inspiring MWDs giving their all to the mission.

“Stubby” was an American Pit Bull Terrier with the 102nd Infantry Regiment, serving 18 months in France during World War I and facing 17 battles. His keen senses warned his unit of poison-gas attacks, incoming artillery fire, locating soldiers on the battlefield, and sniffing out a German spy in the trenches. “Stubby” was wounded in the foreleg by retreating Germans throwing hand grenades and injured in mustard gas attacks.

“Chips” was a Collie-German Shepherd-Siberian Husky mix who deployed as a sentry dog with the 3rd Infantry Division during WWII. During the invasion of Sicily “Chips” and his handler were pinned down on a beach by an Italian machine gun team. “Chips” broke from his handler and jumped into the pillbox, attacked the gunners, causing them to surrender. He suffered a scalp wound and powder burns but helped take 10 Italians prisoner.

“Kaiser,” a German Shepherd, was one of 4,000 dogs serving in the Vietnam War. He and his handler went on more than 30 combat patrols and 12 major operations together. While on a search-and-destroy patrol with “D” Company, they were ambushed by the Viet Cong. “Kaiser” was hit and died trying to lick his handler’s hand, making him the first war dog killed in action during Vietnam.

These are just three of the countless canines accompanying humans into combat with unconditional loyalty. If there was ever a Mount Rushmore for dogs, their examples of putting service before self would earn them a place on it.

As a longtime dog owner, I appreciate the joy all of our dogs have given our family. It’s helped me understand the palpable bond fostered between MWD handlers and their four-legged partners. It’s in that spirit I salute all MWDs, past and present, on this and every March 13, National K9 Veterans Day!