July 9, 1943 The Most Decorated K-9 of WW2

The machine gun episode ended with a final score of Chips 4, Italian machine-gun team 0, but he wasn’t done. Before the day was over, Chips had helped to bag ten more.

By the end of the “Great War”, France, Great Britain and Belgium had at least 20,000 dogs on the battlefield, Imperial Germany as many as 30,000. Some sources report that over a million dogs served over the course of the war.

Dogs performed a variety of roles in WWI, from ratters in the trenches, to sentries, scouts and runners. “Mercy” dogs were trained to seek out the wounded on battlefields, carrying medical supplies with which the stricken could treat themselves. Sometimes, these dogs simply provided the comfort of another living soul, so that the gravely wounded should not die alone.

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French propaganda postcard of WW1

The famous Rin Tin Tin canine movie star of the 1920s was rescued as a puppy, from the bombed out remains of a German Army kennel, in 1917.

Leaders of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) discussed the use of dogs as sentries, messengers and draft animals, but the war was over before US forces put together any kind of a War Dog program.  America’s first war dog, “Sgt. Stubby”, went “over there” by accident, serving 18 months on the Western Front before coming home to a well-earned retirement.

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Sergeant Stubby

In March 1942, the US Army Quartermaster Corps began training dogs for an American “K-9 Corps.” In the beginning, the owners of healthy animals were encouraged to “loan” their dogs to the Quartermaster Corps, where they were trained for service with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Chips.jpgOne such dog was “Chips”, the German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix who would become the most decorated K-9 of WWII.

Chips belonged to the Wren family of Pleasantville New York, who “enlisted” their dog in the “Dogs for Defense (DfD) program in 1942. He was trained at the War Dog Training Center in Front Royal Virginia, and served in the 3rd Infantry Division of Patton’s 7th Army, along with with his handler, Private John Rowell.

Tip of the hat to my son-in-law Nate who also served in the 3rd ID in the Wardak Province of Afghanistan, partnered as handler and “battle buddy” with a four-year-old German Shepard and Tactical Explosives Detection Dog (TEDD) named “Zino”.

Back to WW2.  Chips and his handler took part in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.  He served as a sentry dog for the Casablanca Conference of 1943, where he met the American President Franklin Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The Allied invasion of Sicily was a large scale amphibious and airborne operation, beginning this day in 1943 and lasting through the 17th of August.  The Rowell/Chips team was part of the landings, beginning six weeks of land combat in an action code named “Operation Husky”.

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Chips

During the night landing phase on July 10, Private Rowell and Chips were pinned down in the darkness by an Italian machine gun team, operating out of a nearby hut. The dog broke free from his handler as the platoon dived for shelter, covering the beach in a flash and jumping into the building.

Private Rowell described the scene.  “There was an awful lot of noise and the firing stopped. Then I saw one soldier come out of the door with Chips at his throat. I called him off before he could kill the man.”

Three others were quick to follow, hands up.  Chips had grabbed the Italian’s machine gun by the barrel, knocking the gun off its mount before turning his attentions on the team. The dog sustained a scalp wound and powder burns, demonstrating that someone had tried to shoot him during the brawl.  How many lives were spared by the actions of a single dog, is anyone’s guess.

That episode ended with a final score of Chips 4, Italian machine-gun team 0, but he wasn’t done. Before the day was over, Chips had helped to bag ten more.

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“Chips” goes to war, 1942

Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart, but those awards were later revoked. At that time the army didn’t permit commendations to be given to animals. His unit awarded him a Theater Ribbon with an Arrowhead for the assault landing anyway, along with eight Battle stars. One for each of his campaigns.

Chips was discharged in December, 1945, and returned home to live out the rest of his days with the Wren family in Pleasantville, New York.  In 1990, Disney produced a made-for-TV movie based on the life of the most highly decorated K-9 of WW2, calling it “Chips, the War Dog”.

Afterward

In 1917, the British animal welfare pioneer Maria Dickin founded the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), to “provide care for sick and injured animals of the poor”. Today, the PDSA is the largest veterinary charity in England, carrying out a million or more free veterinary visits every year and employing the largest number of veterinary surgeons and nurses in the United Kingdom.

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Dickin_Medal

The Dickin Medal was established in 1943, to recognize animals displaying “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units“.  Sometimes referred to as “the animals’ Victoria Cross”, the Dickin medal has been awarded only 75 times as of November 2017, plus an honorary Dickin Medal for all animals who served during WW1.

On January 15, 2018, seventy-five years to the day following the Casablanca Conference, Chips was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal.  John Wren, who was only four when Chips went to war, accepted the award in Chips’ honor.  United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Alan Throop and Military Working Dog (MWD) Handler Staff Sergeant Jeremy Mayerhoffer of the United States Air Force were also there, along with MWD Ayron, who stood in for Chips to wear his Dickin Medal.

The medal reads “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve.” Previous recipients include 33 dogs, 32 messenger pigeons, four horses and a ship’s cat.

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“John Wren (left), who was four years old when Chips the family pet returned from the war effort, with military working dog Ayron and his handler Staff Sergeant Jeremy Mayerhoffer (centre) and US Lieutenant Colonel Alan Throop (right) in London today”  H/T Daily Mail
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December 21, 2007 MWD Lex

Tactical Explosive Detection Dogs, or “TEDDs”, come in many shapes and sizes. They can be German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers or Belgian Malinois. Even Pit Bulls. The first thing they have in common is a high “ball drive”

Tactical Explosive Detection Dogs, or “TEDDs”, come in many shapes and sizes. They can be German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers or Belgian Malinois.  Even Pit Bulls. The first thing they have in common is a high “ball drive”. To these dogs, a tennis ball is the beginning and end of all joy. From that starting place, the dog is trained to associate finding a bomb with getting the tennis ball as a reward. The results can be astonishing.

The first official American bomb dogs were used in North Africa in the 1940s, where they were used to detect German mines. Today’s TEDD is a highly specialized and well trained soldier, working with his handler and able to detect 64 or more explosive compounds.

Military Working Dog (MWD) Lex was one such dog, deployed to Iraq with the Unitedlex-lee States Marine Corps in 2006. The dog’s second deployment began in November, when he was paired with Marine Corporal Dustin J. Lee, stationed in the military police department at Marine Corps Logistics Base (MCLB), “Albany”.

Detached as an explosive detection and patrol team for the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, then part of Regimental Combat Team 6, the pair was patrolling a Forward Operating Base on March 21, 2007, when they were hit by a 73 mm SPG-9 rocket attack. Lee was mortally wounded, Lex severely injured with multiple shrapnel wounds. Despite his own injuries, Lex refused to leave his Marine and had to be dragged away before corpsmen could attempt treatment. There is little in this world to compare with the magnificent loyalty of a dog.

lexThe most dreadful moment in the life of any parent, is when they receive word of the death of a child. It wasn’t long after Jerome and Rachel Lee were so notified, that they began efforts to adopt Lex. Dustin was gone, but they wanted to make his partner a permanent part of their family.

An online petition was created by the Lee family, soon gaining national media attention as well as that of Congressman Walter B. Jones of North Carolina’s 3rd congressional district, which includes Camp Lejeune. US armed forces don’t commonly release MWDs prior to retirement age, but there can be exceptions.

Meanwhile, Lex had gone through a 12-week recuperation at Camp Lejeune, later re-deployed to MCLB Albany on July 6. He was once again at full working capacity, despite the more than 50 pieces of shrapnel veterinary surgeons had left in his back, fearing that removal would cause permanent damage to his spine.

Lex was at this time under the jurisdiction of the Air Force working dog program managers at Lackland Air Force Base.  Marine Corps Headquarters made a formal request for the dog’s release in November. Lex was released on December 6, and turned over to the Lee family in a ceremony on December 21, 2007.

Lex was 8 years old at the time.  He soon began to visit VA hospitals, comforting wounded veterans and assisting in their recovery. He received an honorary purple heart in February, 2008, and the 7th Law Enforcement AKC Award for Canine Excellence in September.  On March 19, 2010, the base dog kennel at MCLB Albany was named in honor of Corporal Dustin J. Lee, with Lex in attendance.

Lex’ injuries troubled him for the rest of his life, despite stem cell regenerative therapy at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital, assisted by the Humane Society of the United States and Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield. Lex succumbed to cancer on March 25, 2012.

nate-zinoIn telling this story, I wish in some small way to honor my son in law Nate and daughter Carolyn, who together experienced Nate’s deployment as a Tactical Explosives Detection Dog handler with the US Army 3rd Infantry Division in Soltan Kheyl, Wardak Province, Afghanistan. Months after departing “The Ghan” in 2013, the couple was reunited with Nate’s “Battle Buddy”, MWD Zino, who is now retired and lives with them in Savannah.  “Here & Now”, broadcast out of ‘Boston’s NPR News Station’ WBUR, did a great story on the reunion.  You can hear the radio broadcast HERE.  Thanks for the great job, Alex.

To those TEDD teams deployed today and those of the 2013 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division: Spec.Nate Korpusik & K9 Zino, Sgt. Austin Swaney & K9 Rudy, Sgt. Logan Synatzske & K9 Bako, Spec. Chase Couturiaux & K9 Nina, Spec. Jake Carlberg & K9 Abby, Spec. Ethan Mordue & K9 Moto, Spec. Matthew Shaw & K9 Senna, Spec. Luke Andrukitis & K9 Robby, Sgt. Jeremy Shelton & K9 Rexy, Spec. Sean Bunyard & K9 Kryno, and Spec. Luke Parker & K9 Max:  I say with great respect and profound appreciation to these men, their dogs and their families, Thank you.

December 4, 1966  War Dogs of Vietnam

A Military Working Dog (MWD) is anything but a “disposable” asset. It is a highly trained, specialized soldier who complements and adds to the abilities of his human partner, as that two legged soldier complements those of the dog.

There are times when two highly trained individuals are able to function at a level higher than the sum of their parts.  Professional athletes like NFL linemen and NHL forwards are two examples.  Another is often the partnership formed between law enforcement officers.

On the battlefield, few assets more powerful than a well equipped and highly trained soldier. Unless we’re pairing that soldier with a Military Working Dog.

A Military Working Dog (MWD) is anything but a “disposable” asset.  It is a highly trained, specialized soldier who complements and adds to the abilities of his human partner, as that two legged soldier complements those of the dog.

“Nemo”, born in October 1962, entered the United States Air Force as a sentry dog in 1964, at the age of 1½ years.  After an 8-week training course at Lackland AFB Sentry Dog Training School in San Antonio, Texas, the 85 pound German Shepard was assigned to Airman Leonard Bryant Jr., and sent to Fairchild Air Base in Washington for duty with Strategic Air Command.

The pair was transferred to the Republic of South Vietnam with a group of other dog teams, and assigned to the 377th Security Police Squadron, stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base.  Six month later, in July, Bryant rotated back to the States, and Nemo was paired with 22-year-old Airman 2nd Class Robert Thorneburg.

Early on the morning of December 4, 60 Vietcong guerrillas emerged from the jungle, setting off a near simultaneous alarm from several sentry dogs on perimeter patrol.

Three dogs, Rebel, Cubby and Toby, were killed with their handlers in a hail of bullets.  Several other handlers were wounded, including one who was able to maintain contact with the enemy, notifying Central Security Control of their location and direction of travel.

Thanks to the early warning, a machine gun team was ready and waiting when 13 infiltrators approached the main aircraft parking ramp.  None of them lived to tell the story.  Security forces quickly deployed around the perimeter, driving some infiltrators off and others into hiding.  Daylight patrols reported that all VC infiltrators were gone, either killed or captured, but they had made a big mistake.  They should have brought the dogs with them.

That night, Thorneburg and Nemo were out on patrol near an old Vietnamese graveyard, about ¼ mile from the air base’ runways.  Nemo alerted on something.  Before Thorneburg could radio for backup, that something started shooting.  Thorneburg released the dog and charged in shooting, killing one VC before being shot in the shoulder.  Nemo was badly wounded, shot in the face, the bullet entering below his eye and exiting his mouth.  Ignoring his injury, Nemo attacked the four enemy soldiers hiding in the brush, giving his partner time to call for reinforcements.

Four additional VC were discovered hiding underground, as quick reaction teams scoured the area.  They found Nemo and Thornburg, both seriously wounded, together on the ground.  Both would survive, though Thorneburg was shot a second time, while returning to base.

I’m sure that individual dog handlers during the Vietnam era were as good to their dogs as they knew how to be.  That’s a guess, but having an MWD handler in the family, I think it’s a good one.  The Department of Defense bureaucracy was another matter.  The vast majority of MWDs were left behind as “surplus equipment”.

Nemo was one of the few lucky ones.  He was officially recognized for having saved thenemo-on-the-plane life of his handler, and preventing further destruction of life and property.   MWD Nemo was given the best of veterinary care and, on June 23 1967, USAF Headquarters directed that he be returned to the United States, the first sentry dog officially retired from active service.  The C124 Globemaster touched down at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, on July 22, 1967.  Nemo lived out the seven years remaining to him in a permanent retirement kennel at the DoD Dog Center at Lackland Air Force Base.