On June 2, 2018, The Highground Veterans Memorial Park in Neillsville, Wisconsin will be holding the “2018 Military Working Dog Tribute Dedication” ceremony. At the ceremony, a group of veterans will unveil a new memorial that honors the many military dogs that served in the Vietnam War, as well as their handlers.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains in their article, “5,000 military dogs went to Vietnam; only a handful came back. Now there is a memorial to honor them,” this is a very special ceremony for Vietnam veterans because it allows them to pay tribute to the military dogs that saved their lives.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains, “When soldiers finished their tours, another handler was assigned to dogs already in Vietnam. After the war ended and troops returned home, the dogs were deemed excess equipment and left behind—many were euthanized, some were given to the Vietnamese army and some were left to fend for themselves. Only about 200 came back to the US.”
It has only been in recent years that the United States government has begun to set funds aside to bring all military dogs home, regardless of whether they are actively serving or retired.
Sculpted by Michael Martino, the Vietnam War Memorial features a kneeling solider holding a M-16 rifle with his military dog crouching next to him in a harness. Martino also made sure to include details suggested by the veterans. These include the solider wearing a boonie hat and two canteens—to carry water both himself and his dog. Martino explains the design of the sculpture to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by saying, “The idea was the teamwork and closeness of the soldier and dog. It’s kind of an inseparable bond.”
The efforts to erect a military dog memorial was spearheaded by David Backstrom, a Navy corpsman who served in Vietnam and volunteers at the Highground. He was inspired by the story of Pfc. Erling Anderson.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains, “On June 22, 1967, Anderson was killed and Satan wounded in a firefight. Satan was nursed back to health and returned to duty with another handler. Anderson’s widow, Jan, shared mementos of her husband including photos and medals, and told Backstrom she sometimes visited the Highground.”
A group of Vietnam veterans and one Korean War dog handler joined together to create a committee, and together they raised $200,000 and chose a sculptor for the project. While the memorial is inspired by the stories of Vietnam War military dogs, it will honor all working dogs and military dogs that have served in the US armed forces.
Image via Shutterstock
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