Military War Dog Memorials
Military Patrol Dogs Honored
They were veterans who weren't allowed to come home. Their contribution to America's role in the war in Vietnam was invaluable, but their physical makeup made them expendable. It's because they had four legs, not two.
Thousands of German shepherd "war dogs" were euthanized, shot or otherwise eliminated after their services no longer were needed by the American military. "It was an honor to work with those noble animals," Bill Wigginton said Saturday morning, his voice cracking with emotion as he talked about how the dogs helped protect B-52s at Ubon Air Base in Thailand.
Wigginton and other dog handlers took part in the Military Working Dog Tribute at the Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base's Gunter annex. Men in their 50s drifted back to their 20s, when they patrolled perimeters of air bases where giant bombers took off on missions over Vietnam. With them were their faithful German shepherds -- dogs that became extensions of them as they looked for possible enemy infiltrators trying to destroy the huge bombers.
During the ceremony, a large dog cage was placed next to a memorial with the names of the dogs engraved on it. The door of the cage was open, a large aluminum food bowl was tilted toward the entrance and an American flag rested on top. The 93 names were listed in alphabetical order -- ranging from Ali to Whitey. Several dogs were named King. One was named Hitler. Enlisted service members donated money to purchase the nameplates.
Wigginton said his dog, Sarge, saved him on more than one occasion when he sensed danger ahead, including cobras that could kill in minutes. He mentioned their first meeting, when the dog kept his distance. "It took an hour and 45 minutes for him to let me in the kennel with him," Wigginton said. "It took longer than that for him to let me pet him. I soon learned who the boss was. It wasn't me. It was Sarge."
Wigginton said the American government designated the patrol dogs as excess equipment when the war ended and estimated that up to 4,000 of them remained behind in Thailand and other countries where they helped protect aircraft.
Bill Cummings, who served in Thailand during the same period Wigginton was in that country, said Saturday's dedication was the first of its kind to honor only the patrol dogs. He said other memorials honor handlers as well as their dogs, "but this one is pretty special." "We're here to honor these dogs for what they meant to our efforts over there," Cummings said. "They were important assets. They never had a day off. They had nerves of steel."
Cummings said German shepherds normally have life spans of 15 years, but those who served during the Vietnam War rarely lived that long. He said few lived 10 years. (Source, http://www.vdha.us/content148.html) Location: Gunter Annex - Montgomery, Alabama Sculptor: Air Force Enlisted - Heritage Hall-Dedicated: 11/09/2002