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The line-up of 32 German shepherd police dogs was a sobering sight. The
long line stretched up & down the Irving Park Road perimeter of
Streamwood’s Veteran’s Memorial Park as the badge-wearing K-9s & their
handlers waited quietly.
Inside the park, the annual Streamwood Veterans Memorial Ceremony was
underway: bagpipers & drummer, posting of flags, wreath laying, a
soldier’s chorus, a 21-gun salute, & even aerial maneuvers including the
missing soldier formation by the Lima Flight Team in six T-34s.
There would be something different added to the memorial service this
year, and this is what drew the working dogs from K-9 units across the state.
They would honor their own in a remembrance long overdue.
At the end of the three-hour ceremony, the German shepherds were led to a
corner of the small park. There, a life-sized bronze monument to the nation’s
war dogs was unveiled in stirring ceremony.
As hundreds gathered to watch the dedication of the war dog memorial the
first of its kind in the Midwest a lone soldier marched slowly up to the unveiled
sculpture of soldier and war dog, stuck a bayoneted rifle into the ground,
saluted, & slowly marched away. He marched back to the monument several
times to reverently place other worn items before the down-turned rifle: a pair
of army shoes, an upturned army helmet, the harness of a war dog tucked inside
the helmet, &, lastly, a second helmet atop the rifle butt.
As the soldier gave a farewell salute & left, about 20 dog handlers
who served in Vietnam stepped forward. One by one, each man deposited a single
red carnation at the feet of the bronze shepherd. Some left yellowing
photographs of themselves as a young soldier & his war dog. One soldier left
his dog’s ashes, kept these many years, in a thin, silver canister.
And after the Vietnam K-9 handlers were done, the crowd parted to allow
the German shepherds who had waited so long on the outskirts. One by one, the
policemen and their K-9s walked by, each dog downing in tribute as its handler
also placed a single red carnation on the growing pile.
That day, America’s war dogs received a bit more of their due, these
dogs who so bravely served with the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, & the
Coast Guard as sentries, trackers, & scouts with, until recently, little
recognition. These dogs whose life-saving skills were so formidable, the
Vietcong offered bounties of $10,000 to anyone who killed a handler and brought
in his shoulder patch with his K-9 insignia, and $20,000 to anyone who killed a
war dog and turn-ed in the ear with the animal’s serial number attached. These
dogs credited with saving the lives of more than 10,000 U.S. soldiers.
Listening to one veteran who handled two of these dogs was a saddening
experience. John Burnam, president of the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association,
recalled a time in 1968, a few days before his 21st
birthday, when he said good-bye to Clipper. The German shepherd had been at his
side for nearly a year of combat in the jungles of Vietnam. Burnham said it
wasn’t an easy parting because, although he was going home, Clipper had to
stay behind to an un-known fate, like most of the 4,000 war dogs in Vietnam.
“For these dogs, the fight didn’t end. The government considered war dogs as
expendable equipment. But I can tell you this: There’d be a lot more
tombstones if it weren’t for these war dogs. We owe them.”
In John Burnam’s closing remarks, he spoke aloud the names of a few of
these four-legged heroes, dead now for more than three decades: Mack (the first
K-9 casualty in Vietnam), Ringo, Rip, Duke, Cap, Kiz, Roland, Rolf, Cardy,
Fritz, Bullet, Duchess, Sam, Toby, Power, Max, Bruiser, Sparky, King, Laddie,
Hobo, Major, Artie, York, Nemo, Rad, Lucky, Rambler, Rebel, Tarzan, Baron,
Prince, Stormy, Devil, Princess, Sergeant, Kaiser, Chief, King, Rex, Champ, Joe,
Cheddar, Scotty, Danko, Bear, Gina, Spike, & Timber.
Rest in peace, war dogs. Semper fi. We will remember you.