When we think about military dogs, we probably picture the Belgian Malinois working with U.S. Navy SEALs, or the Labrador Retriever detecting explosives. Below, we will hear from one such celebrated breed (my own Shepherd, Zoey, insisted I include the German Shepherd Dog on this list). But we’ll also hear from some lesser-known military dog breeds that have served our country as military dogs. Let’s start exactly with whom you’d expect: a small Terrier breed.
I’m thrilled to headline this list of military dogs! I’m a tiny terrier with a mouse-chasing history, but my forefather Smoky was a renowned hero in WWII, attributed with many feats of bravery. For example, he bravely pulled critical wire through narrow pipes, sparing the soldiers a dangerous three-day digging task. Smoky’s companionship was valued as well. History teaches us that dogs are treasured mascots in war. When President Franklin Roosevelt brought his dogs (an Irish Setter and a Scottish Terrier) everywhere he traveled, soldiers took this as an okay to adopt their own mascot dogs during WWII. And at 4 pounds, my cousin Smoky made an easily transportable mascot.
We’re named after Friedrich Louis Dobermann, a late 19th-century German tax collector who was harassed by thieves and perhaps some indignant tax-payers. Dobermann wanted to develop a well-rounded dog breed for both protection and companionship. Those traits were highly valued by the military. My forefathers worked in WWII as messengers and sentries for the U.S Marine Corps in the Pacific. A memorial statute in Guam, Always Faithful, honors my ancestors who died in service. Kurt, depicted on the statute, was the first canine casualty in Guam.
We bully breeds, including me, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, generally show both a natural affinity for humans and great physical strength. I myself was bred in England partly for some (wretched) fighting sports, but also for companionship. Let me introduce you to Stubby, a bully breed mix, who warned his WWI unit of poisonous gas, assisted in capturing an enemy spy, alerted his unit to incoming artillery shells and found injured soldiers,. We bully breeds cherish the war posters depicting us as symbols of dedication and valor.
We have quite the story to tell. After WWI, American soldiers returned from Germany with stories about our remarkable trainability. Americans fell in love with our loyalty and work ethic. Rin Tin Tin also gave us some great PR. In WWII, we were used for guarding, sentry work, and delivering messages. In the Vietnam war, Nemo, one of my heroic cousins, served as a sentry, fighting off guerrillas. Even though Nemo was seriously injured, he guarded his wounded handler until medics arrived. And our service as military dogs continues. Today, I have relatives at the 341st Training Squadron, at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, being trained for the Department of Defense. We also work in service roles assisting veterans, such as in the Rebuilding Warriors program. I have a cousin Dreamy, who watches over her Gulf War Army Veteran, Gary Orvis, in California. My Uncle Koda takes care of USMC Iraqi Veteran, Troy Burmesh, on a Montana ranch.
In the world wars, we worked as guards, messengers and pack-carriers. In WWII’s Berlin airlift, my cousin Vittles, equipped with his own harness and parachute, boosted morale for sure! My breed’s bravery I attribute to our early ancestors, developed to hunt and hold prey such as bear. No small feat! And now I have the honor of concluding this article by giving a shout out to the many other champion breeds, including the Rottweiler, Airedale and Giant Schnauzer, that have served as military dogs in wartime. And let’s not neglect our mixed breed cousins. After all, the most decorated WWII war dog was a mixed breed (German Shepherd-Collie–Siberian Husky) named Chips, assigned to the 3rd Military Police Platoon. During the invasion of Sicily, Chips and his handler were held on the beach by an Italian machine-gun team. Chips attacked the gunners, who surrendered to American troops. He eventually served in some eight campaigns across Europe. Now that’s impressive indeed.
Thumbnail: Photography by Polryaz / Shutterstock.
This article was originally published May 26, 2017.
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