On this US Memorial Day, we honor those souls who served and sacrificed during time in the US armed forces. The bravery of anyone willing to put his or her life on the line while fighting to protect democratic ideals is incalculable.
Among those who deserve an honor are the many dogs who served in the military. Working with human handlers, these thousands of dogs often provided protection and aid in treacherous conditions.
Dogs have provided battlefield assistance since ancient times, fighting enemies or offering encampment protection. They fought alongside American soldiers in the American Revolutionary War. General Washington knew of their usefulness as he was a dog-lover. The British also knew the value in having fierce dogs on the battlefield as their bulldogs proved terrifying.
Despite this history, it was not until World War II that the US military began actual programs to train dogs. In fact, according to the website ArmyHistory.org, during the time of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, the US military dogs consisted only of a few sled dogs used in arctic areas. Some American civilian dog owners began a program called Dogs For Defense which involved people donating their dogs to the military to serve as protectors. Eventually dogs were trained to work alongside the Coast Guard, and later, in the Pacific theatre. While fighting in jungles, soldiers often could not see or hear the enemy, but dogs could often smell enemy fighters. Upon sensing an enemy presence, the dogs would stiffen and fur would stand up, alerting the handler and other nearby soldiers.
Dogs did not do similar work in Europe, although they did some work as landmine sniffer scouts and as paratroopers. The British used dog paratroopers much more than the Americans, primarily to work behind enemy lines to sniff out landmines and keep watch. Americans often deployed paratroop dogs to accompany medics and surgeons to offer protection while an injured soldier received help.
Since then, dogs have proven vital in military campaigns in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. And of course, the companionship that they have offered the soldiers both on deployment and upon returning to life back at home has been priceless.
Charities that support dogs in military K9 programs include warriordogfoundation.org that helps transition military dogs to civilian life by fostering adoptions. There is also USWarDogs.org which works to educate the public about war dogs and to erect a memorial dedicated to military dogs left behind in Vietnam. Both are worthwhile causes and help some of the best dogs ever to work as a best friend.