The WWII story of Sergeant Gander is one of courage, companionship, and sacrifice. Gander was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal in 2000. Sgt. Gander, a Newfoundland dog, and other animals who served in Canada’s military are recognized on the Veterans Affairs Canada webpage. A grenade killed Sgt. Gander. He grabbed it and ran, taking it away from his men. It took his life when it exploded, but his action saved many.
The book Sergeant Gander: A Canadian Hero, by St. Thomas’ own Robyn Walker, is called “a fascinating account of the Royal Rifles of Canada’s canine mascot, and his devotion to duty during the Battle of Hong Kong in the Second World War”. Intended for children, it is very informative for anyone interested in Newfoundland dogs, Newfoundland or Canada’s role in WWII.
The Dickin Medal, at left, has been awarded to heroic animals by the UK’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) since 1914. It has an amazing history and the list of recipients includes dogs, pigeons, cats, and horses. It is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
Judy, a British WWII dog (at right wearing her Dickin Medal), was the only dog to ever officially be listed as a Prisoner of War in a Japanese prison camp. First brought onboard HMS Gnat at a mascot, she proved invaluable in alerting the crew to dangers nearby.
Damien Lewis wrote about her and her partner Frank Williams in Judy: A dog in a million. (Here is an Amazon link to it and other books about her.) Mr. Williams and his wife and children settled in British Columbia in the 1950s. His family’s website tells about his life and Judy’s, and plans to make their story into a movie. (“A Tribute…”)
Flanders Fields’ Bonfire, WWI
Another faithful four legged friend who served in war was the horse Bonfire. Bonfire is shown here with John McCrae, born in Guelph, Ontario, who served as a field surgeon with the Canadian Army Medical Corps during World War I. The misery the two of them saw is hard to imagine. McCrae, who would become a Lieutenant Colonel, never returned to Canada, having passed away in 1918 from pneumonia. He was buried in France with full military honours. His flag-draped coffin was borne on a gun carriage and his mourners, who included Sir Arthur Currie and many of McCrae’s friends and staff, were preceded by Bonfire. McCrae’s boots were reversed in the stirrups. John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields.
Eli and Colton Rusk, Afghanistan
“Fallen Marine’s parents adopt son’s bomb dog” read the headlines Feb. 2, 2011. In only the 2nd time that a US military dog has been adopted by the family of a handler killed in action, Eli’s leash was handed to Darrell Rusk, his wife and two sons who crouched down to hug and pet Eli, who lifted his paw. Because Eli was still considered operational, the adoption was approved with special permission of the Sec. of the Navy. Eli will join the other dogs on the Rusk ranch in Texas.
Eli was assigned to Rusk in May, 2010. On duty in Afghanistan, the two quickly grew inseparable. Military dogs are supposed to sleep in kennels when deployed. But Rusk broke the rules and let Eli curl up with him on his cot. He shared his meals with him. “What’s mine is his” wrote Rusk.
The day a sniper killed Colton Rusk, Eli was the first to reach his body. So loyal, he snapped at other Marines who rushed to his fallen handler. They had already found two roadside bombs that day, and had stopped when a vehicle had run over a third. Rusk was shot after the soldiers stopped to secure the area. Pfc. Colton Rusk was 20 years old.
11 of the Bravest Dogs in History
These are great. Mother Nature Network (MNN) put together a list of 11 of the bravest dogs in history.
One of them, in the photo on the left, is Balto. He was the lead husky in the dog team that ran the final leg of a run across Alaska to Nome in 1925. The teams were bringing serum to combat a diphtheria epidemic in the town.
The run made by these dogs and men is now commemorated in the annual Iditarod race.
Smoky – “Four pounds of courage”
Smoky was found by an American soldier in an abandoned foxhole in the New Guinea jungle in 1944. She was sold to Corporal Bill Wynne for two Australian pounds so her owner could return to his poker game. For the next two years Smoky traveled with Wynne, even on combat flights over the Pacific. Wynne was with the 26th Photo Recon Squadron and went everywhere – jungle and air – and was credited with being on twelve missions. Smoky was on all of them.
Wynne credited Smoky with saving his life by warning him of incoming shells on a transport ship, calling her an “angel from a foxhole”. Smoky guided Wynne to duck the fire that hit the eight men standing next to them.
In down time, Smoky learned numerous tricks, which she performed for the entertainment of the other troops with Special Services and in hospitals from Australia to Korea. With Wynne, Smoky developed a repertoire beyond that of any dog of her day. In 1944 Yank Down Under magazine named Smoky the “Champion Mascot in the Southwest Pacific Area.” Smoky would later, after the war, perform in 42 live-television shows without repeating a trick.
From Bill Wynne’s website he tells us that, having had six lessons in obedience training in Cleveland in 1942, his experience when he obtained the four pound Yorkie in New Guinea was indeed limited. But soon Smoky was ‘playing dead’ and weaving between Bill’s legs as he walked along. She learned to walk on a drum and peddle a scooter made from an orange crate. And she was soon walking on a tight wire blindfolded.
Smoky lays wire
Smoky’s tricks enabled her to become a hero in her own right. She helped when engineers built an airbase. They had to run a telegraph wire through 70 feet of pipe, which had shifted in spots. It was quite the moment when she emerged from the other end of the pipe with the string that had the wire attached. Her “trick” saved three days work as well as men being exposed on the runway in a very dangerous situation.
For most people, her ultimate trick was spelling her name out of letters by actual recognition, no matter how they were placed. Smoky and Bill performed for their buddies and at Army and Navy Hospitals. Many of her tricks are used today in agility trials. She and Bill were in show business for 10 years after the war doing the tricks Smoky learned overseas, all set to music. Bill also worked in Hollywood for a short time after the war, training and handling dogs in major studios.
First therapy dog
According to Wikipedia, Animal Planet determined that Smoky was the first therapy dog of record. Her service in this arena began in July 1944 at the 233rd Station Hospital, in New Guinea, where she accompanied nurses to see the incoming battlefield casualties from the Biak Island invasion. Smoky was already a celebrity of sorts, as her photograph was in Yank Down Under magazine at the same time, which made it easy to get permission. Dr. Charles Mayo, of the famed Mayo Clinic, was the commanding officer who allowed Smoky to go on rounds. He also permitted her to sleep with Wynne in his hospital bed for five nights. Smoky’s work as a therapy dog continued for 12 years, during and after World War II.
After the war Wynne brought Smoky back to Cleveland to live with his family. In Cleveland, Wynne and Smoky were featured in a page one story with pictures, and Smoky soon become a national sensation. Over the next 10 years Smoky and Wynne traveled to Hollywood and all over the world to perform demonstrations of her remarkable skills. She appeared with Wynne on some of the earliest TV shows in the Cleveland area. They also had a show of their own, Castles in the Air, on Cleveland’s WKYC Channel 3. They were especially popular as entertainers at the veterans’ hospitals. According to Wynne, “after the War, Smoky entertained millions during the late 40s and early 50s.”
In 1957, at age 14, Smoky passed away unexpectedly. Wynne and his family buried Smoky in a World War II .30 caliber ammo box. Nearly 50 years later, on Veterans Day, November 11, 2005, a bronze life-size statue of Smoky sitting in a GI helmet atop a two-ton granite base was unveiled. The monument is dedicated to:
“Smoky, the Yorkie Doodle Dandy, and Dogs of All Wars”
Bill retired after 50 years of professional photography. After his experience in the 26th Photo Recon Squadron, he spent 7 years with the National Advisory Committee For Aeronautics (now NASA). He flew on research missions and worked on research programs that tested and developed equipment still used in modern aircraft today. Bill then worked as a photo journalist and photographer/writer with the Cleveland Plain Dealer for 31 years. He returned to NASA for four more years before retiring to write Yorkie Doodle Dandy, a memoir about his war experiences and Smoky.
United States War Dogs Association
War Dog adoption requests rose following the Bin Laden mission. Great interest is now on this topic. Are retired war dogs the new “hot” dog choice? The website United States War Dogs Association has a lot of research and information. You can turn the music off, too. There’s info on the modeling session and the finished scale model of the project they are working on. It is the U.S. War Dog Memorial to be located on the grounds of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial in New Jersey.
The War Dogs Association website has lots of information and personal stories such as the one pictured here – Who Let the Dogs Out? – about the Vietnam era. It also has a War Dog Heroes page, and info on books about dogs in war.
One book it mentions, Always Faithful, is about Marine dogs of WWII. The story is told by retired Marine Corps captain and veterinarian, Bill Putney, who “writes a moving and heartrending account of his days as commander of the 3rd Marine War Dog Platoon, in which some 72 dogs and their handlers were his responsibility.”
Belgian Malinois or German Shepherd?
The Navy Seal team that took down Osama Bin Laden included one dog. Like other members of the Seal team, the identity is kept secret, including the breed at this point. The Seals have long favoured Newfoundland dogs. But a smaller breed, including one trained to sniff out explosives or booby trapped, may have been used, especially if the dog was strapped to the trainer and dropped from a helicopter into a desert compound.
Interesting coverage of the speculation surrounding which breed and other info is on Global Animal, which includes some other sources too. PS: The claim by one source that some trained military dogs have titanium teeth at a cost of $2000 each has not been verified. But that hasn’t stopped the story from spreading.
‘Vapor Wake’ trained dogs being used in NYC
In a new twist on combating terrorism, dogs specially trained to detect a ‘vapor wake’ left by explosives are starting to be used in the New York City subway system. Shown above is Rachel during a trial run at Grand Central Station. According to the article, it costs $20,000 to to breed and train these animals. Normal bomb-sniffing dogs are trained to find explosives that are stationary. But dogs like Rachel are trained to detect a moving scent.
Looking after the Dogs of War
Here’s something you don’t see in the Sears or Eaton’s catalogue: Dog Gear from K9 Storm Inc., a Canadian company that was awarded an $86,000 contract by U.S. Naval Special Warfare Group. The dog pictured above is wearing a K9 Storm Aerial Insertion Vest, which is part of their catalogue.
The photos above are from a photo essay at foreignpolicy.com. Great info with the pics too.
And as with any war action, there are wounds and casualties. The Holland Working Dog (MWD) Veterinary Hospital is established to handle the special cases that arise from military action. The hospital was named in memory of Lt. Col. Daniel Holland, killed in Iraq in 2006, the first Army veterinarian to be killed in action since the Vietnam War. The dog shown above is Taker, who is thankfully getting nothing more serious than a root canal (photo from Foreign Policy). And below – a bit of history for you from a 1935 Popular Science article.
Remembrance Day in St. Thomas, 2011
Remembrance Day ceremonies took place at the Boy Soldier Memorial in front of the St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital in St. Thomas. Despite the cold wind, there was a good turnout of people who paid their quiet respects to those who have made our society possible.