On this Memorial Day, when we’re honoring the men and women who have given so much in service of their families and neighbors, I’d like to also recognize the thousands of canines who have given the same.
Although dogs have been used in military actions for as long as someone has been around to record it, it wasn’t until World War II that the United States officially recognized the use of dogs in war through the creation of the “Dogs for Defense” program. Interestingly, the breeds initially used were limited to German Shepherds, Belgian sheep dogs, Doberman Pinschers, collies, Siberian Huskies, Malamutes and Eskimo dogs. While this program originated with the Army, many of us are probably more familiar with the later and more famous Devil Dogs of the Marine Corps.
Today, the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Program in San Antonio trains dogs for all sectors of the military, as well as bomb and drug detection dogs used in border patrol activities, airports, and other domestic capacities. Check out this photo essay of dogs in Iraq. A few things have changed over the years- I’m pretty sure I saw a springer spaniel in there amongst the German shepherds, Dutch shepherds Belgian Malinois that are the currently preferred breeds.
If you look around at the links I’ve referenced above, you’ll find some great sources of individual stories of dogs in each military campaign since WWI. Although I just spent the last few hours poking around to get an idea of the role of the canine in military history, I could easily spend days learning more. I’d do a disservice by trying to capture what they accomplished in this short post, but if you are at all interested I would encourage you to spend some time reading about the amazing job these dogs have done- as scouts, protectors, sentries, companions, doing jobs no human could with a steady determination.
In honor of the day, I ordered a book called War Dogs– the process of writing this post has gotten me very interested in this little discussed facet of military history. There is an unrelated documentary, also called “War Dogs“, about the dogs trained for combat during the Vietnam War. Unlike the well deserved retirements in the States earned by those dogs in other military actions, dogs used in Vietnam were not repatriated. At the end of the war, less than 200 dogs returned to the States. The “War Dogs of the Pacific” looks to be a more uplifting look at dogs in combat with some happier endings.
To those who have served our country, both human and non, thank you.