Dogs, man's best friend even in war

By Megan R. Harrell

STAR STAFF
mharrell@starhq.com

   Concentrated efforts have been made to properly memorialize all of the men and women who have died serving our nation. However, there are thousands who have died while faithfully protecting American soldiers that have been overlooked. Most people are unaware of the roll dogs have played in conflicts since World War I, but the soldiers whose lives they saved have vowed to never forget their sacrifices.
   Since World War I more than 30,000 dogs have been used in combat to carry messages and first aid to the front lines. They searched for land mines, tunnels, detected booby traps, prevented ambushes, protected camps, and tracked and captured enemy soldiers.
   Dogs had some of their most profound impact during Vietnam when over 4,000 assisted soldiers in Southeast Asia. The dogs saved an estimated 10,000 soldiers' lives during the conflict by dragging their wounded bodies to safety, and scouting out potential danger.
   Mike Monger of Hampton is able to give a firsthand account of canine involvement in the Vietnam war. Monger served as a sentry dog handler at U-Tapoa Air Force Base in Thailand. He and his dog, Pistol, walked an 18 mile perimeter every night where a majority of the bombers used in the combat were housed. The pair were responsible for protecting B-52 bombers, KC-135 tankers, and American soldiers from the enemy.
   "When I got there I knew I was at a base that was one of, if not the most, prime targets in all of Southeast Asia," Monger said. "If I am going to be stuck out on a post somewhere all night it makes sense to have something that can smell better, see better, and hear better than I can."
   After serving together, Monger described his relationship with Pistol as interdependent. He noted if any North Vietnamese broke through the perimeter he and Pistol would be the first line of defense. He said they were basically alone because there was a delay in security forces response time.
   "There you are, you and your dog, and you depend on that dog, and he depends on you. There was a mutual bond of love and respect," Monger said. "That dog was my life for one long year. Everything revolved around him and my whole perspective changed. At times you doubt your sanity, but my dog was what was real."
   Pistol was trained to become a sentry dog at Lackland Air Force base in Texas.
   Monger stated that the overall use of dogs became so effective during the war that bounties were placed on both the handlers' and the dogs' heads. If a North Vietnamese soldier brought back a dog ear along with its handler's shoulder patch, he was awarded money.
   After their service during the Vietnam war many of the dogs met an end their handlers are still struggling to cope with today. Because it was not cost effective to ship the dogs back to the U.S., at the end of the war they were euthanized. Less than 200 of the 4,000 dogs that served in the war returned home.
   At home in the U.S., Monger searched to find out what happened to Pistol after he left Thailand only to discover the dog was put to death. "He was euthanized by the U.S. military. Our dogs were classified as excess equipment that was no longer needed. They were treated like trash," Monger said.
   Last week Monger traveled to Alabama to see Pistol's name and tattoo number inscribed in a wall at the Military Working Dog Memorial dedication. The memorial has given former military dog handlers across the nation a place where their companions are honored for their bravery and loyalty.
   Dogs are still used in the nation's defense today. During contemporary conflicts in Bosnia and Afghanistan, dogs have been used primarily for sniffing explosives and detecting land mines.