Riverside, California Memorial to War Dogs Draws Visitors From Around the US

We should remember the sacrifice of all of our heroes. Thanks to the LA Times for this article. Veterans visit Riverside memorial to honor war...


We should remember the sacrifice of all of our heroes.

Thanks to the LA Times for this article.

Veterans visit Riverside memorial to honor war dogs

Memorial gives veterans a place to pay tribute to dogs that served with them in war and even saved their lives. Most were left behind.
By Jonathan Abrams, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 3, 2007

The small group of veterans gathers at Riverside’s March Field Air Museum once a year, traveling from all corners of the country, to mourn forgotten heroes of battle.

They come to honor the dogs that saved lives by detecting booby traps and watching over military camps, dogs that became trusted friends in times of loneliness.

The meeting point is the 16-foot-tall West Coast War Dog Memorial, which holds a bronze statue of a soldier and his German shepherd.

For years, veterans have sought to have the contributions of war dogs recognized with a national monument.

The West Coast memorial, designed by Denver-area sculptor A. Thomas Schomberg, was to have been placed at Riverside National Cemetery, but a national Veterans Affairs advisory committee argued that doing so would be disrespectful. The museum agreed to take it, and the veterans to meet there every year on the Sunday before Memorial Day.

“It honors another aspect of the military that is forgotten,” said Patricia Korzec, the museum’s executive director. “Man’s best friend truly turned out to be man’s best friend on the battlefield.”

Legislation currently weaving through Congress would establish a national memorial at Ft. Belvoir, Va. It is included in the House’s 2008 defense authorization bill and is waiting to be heard in the Senate. If passed, it could be signed into law as early as November.

The tribute could not come sooner for many war dog handlers, most of whom were forced to leave their dogs behind when they returned to the United States after World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

John Burnam, a Vietnam veteran who spent countless days with his German shepherd, Clipper, credits the dog with saving his life several times.

Once while on combat patrol, Clipper stopped, his muscles tensed and ears perked toward the sky. Burnam, who always followed the dog’s lead, ducked to the ground. Machine gun fire erupted, killing a soldier in front of them.

Burnam said he and Clipper played dead for 10 minutes before help arrived.

If not for Clipper, Burnham said, he has no doubt that he would have died. “We were basically leading combat patrols, and the dogs, with their natural abilities, were leading us.”

Burnam now travels the country, advocating for a national war dog monument. He and others proposed generating the $3 million needed for the monument through fundraisers.

“We aren’t equating them to humans, but we are saying . . . there are families that have grandkids as a result of these dogs being deployed,” said Burnam, author of “Dog Tags of Courage: Combat Infantrymen and War Dog Heroes in Vietnam.”

The Vietnam Dog Handler Assn. estimates that dogs saved 10,000 soldiers’ lives during the Vietnam War. They would alert handlers to tripwires blowing in the breeze or the otherwise undetectable scent of buried explosives.

Depending on their level of aggressiveness, the dogs were sent to two camps to hone their skills before deployment. Scout dogs were trained at Ft. Benning, Ga., and sentry dogs at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, still one of the country’s largest dog training facilities.

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