The Dogs Who Died So Others May Live
By Linda Anderson
"There'd be a lot more than 50,000 names on the Vietnam
[Memorial] wall without these dogs and I don't think the average American even
knows the role they played. There is no memorial to honor them, except the
living testament of children who were born because their fathers survived a
distant, violent dream--thanks to man's best friend."
These are the words of Dr. John Kubisz, a veterinarian
who served with the 764th Veterinarian detachment in Vietnam. He and others were
interviewed and had their stories reenacted in an inspiring, disturbing, and
moving documentary that the Discovery channel aired on February 15, 1999. War
Dogs, America's Forgotten Heroes, produced by GRB Entertainment and funded
mostly by Nature's Recipe Pet Foods, tells the story of over 4000 dogs who
served and protected U.S. troops in Vietnam. They are credited with preventing
more than 10,000 American casualties.
Yet these American heroes have never been honored by
receiving medals or recognition. After World War II, war dogs were sent back
home to families in America and given honorable discharges. When U.S. troops
were pulled out of Vietnam, the war dogs, these brave creatures and best friends
to their handlers and the battalions in which they served, were classified as
"equipment" and "surplus armaments." Instead of being feted with honors they
were euthanized or abandoned to the Vietnamese. Only 200 dogs made it home to
the country that they served so nobly.
John Burnam, a highly decorated combat veteran, shared
with Angel Animals a story about his war dog Clipper. John was featured in the
War Dogs documentary and expects to have his book, Dogging the VC, pub-lished
and available to the public in June 1999.
After John enlisted in an elite infantry outfit and was
assigned to Camp Alpha, where he'd been previously stationed when he first came
to Vietnam, he was sent to Dau Tieng. He describes his new assignment as "a
small, remote, dusty base camp situated in the middle of a rubber tree
plantation." There John signed up to be a dog handler for a scout dog team.
After John's first dog Timber was injured, he partnered with Clipper, a
friendly, playful, and very intelligent animal.
John taught Clipper how to detect trip wires and hidden
enemy soldiers and equipment. Clipper taught John how to understand signals the
dog used to alert his handler to danger--a sudden pause, flick of an ear, or
sniff of the air. John says, through weeks of training and working together, "We
became teammates and friends."
John writes: The enemy was a master of hit-and-run
tactics. One day an American patrol was under attack. The enemy detonated mines
wired high in the rubber trees, instantly killing and wounding several men. My
platoon was called in to help.
After crossing a narrow road, a deafening explosion
shredded the legs of a soldier who stepped through a booby trap wire. Fearing
further casualties, Clipper and I took the lead, while the remaining patrol
formed a single file behind us. Clipper walked slowly forward, about thirty
yards, and paused briefly. Clipper moved left a few feet and then forward again.
Clipper repeated the maneuver of weaving right and left around the rubber trees
for several hundred yards. My eyes stayed glued on Clipper's head and
The troops following behind spotted and marked a booby
trap at each location where Clipper changed directions. When I reached the outer
edge of the rubber trees, I waited for the platoon leader to catch up. As the
men filed by, many reached down to pat Clipper's head and thank him for finding
the booby traps. Clipper's extraordinary instincts and training led the troops
to safety beyond the maze of death traps.
Before John had to leave Dau Tieng after the TET
offensive, he tearfully said good-bye to his courageous friend. It broke his
heart that Clipper and the other war dogs would never be given the hero's
welcome home that they deserved.
Now Jeffrey Bennett, CEO of Nature's Recipe and
co-producer of the War Dogs documentary, is spearheading the building of two
memorials to these Viet Nam unsung heroes--one at the Riverside National
Cemetery in California and the other in the Washington, D.C. area. They will
each contain sculptures by world-renowned artist A. Thomas Schomberg.
Would you like to support these efforts to honor the
incredible spiritual connection between Vietnam war dogs and those whose lives
they saved? If so, you can donate to the building of the Vietnam War Dog
memorials by sending money to The War Dog Memorial Fund, Nature's Recipe Pet
Foods, Att: Laura Benge, 341 Bonnie Circle, Corona, CA 91720.