Burnam's buddy spotted enemy patrols,scouted hostile territory and led a platoon of Marines through an orchard laced with hidden explosives – all using little more than his sense of smell.
Burnam's friend,Clipper,a German shepherd and military working dog,was among the thousands of U.S. war dogs to serve in Vietnam. He and other dogs have yet to be honored for their service.
Burnam,a Vietnam War dog handler and president of the John Burnam Monument Foundation,met with military officials Jan. 15 to finalize a design for the nation's first national war dog monument at Fort Belvoir, Va.
“This monument represents all wars,all services and all dog handlers of all wars,” Burnam said. “It represents a piece of the military that hasn't really been memorialized.”
Burnam started pushing for the monument in 2001. He has traveled the country to rally support for the project.
“I … cried my heart out for these dogs,” said Burnam,a technical writer from Bethesda, Md. “They don't have a voice. They need that to keep this story alive.”
The military has used dogs since World War II as scouts,trackers and guards. Dobermans landed with U.S. forces at Iwo Jima,while German shepherds helped liberate Sicily. During the Korean War,dogs served as sentries. Several thousand dogs served in Vietnam as trackers and scouts.
Dogs have played an integral part in the War on Terror. In Iraq and Afghanistan,U.S. forces use dogs to detect roadside bombs or hidden weapon caches,often saving the lives of U.S. and NATO troops.
Ron Aiello,Vietnam dog handler and president of the United States War Dog Association,said war dogs have saved thousands of lives while sometimes giving their own.
“They've been shot; they've been blown up,” said Aiello,a china restorer from Burlington, N.J. “After all these years and all the lives these dogs have saved,these dogs deserve recognition.”
As a military monument,the project required approval from the departments of Interior and Defense and numerous congressional subcommittees. It also needed a congressional sponsor,which Burnam found in Rep. Walter Jones,R-N.C.
Jones introduced a bill calling for a national war dog monument in 2006. It was approved in 2008 as a part of the DOD budget. Jones said the monument has wide,bipartisan support in Congress.
The memorial will be about 100 square feet. At its center will stand a bronze statue of a dog handler surrounded by statues of the four most common war dog breeds: Doberman pinscher,German shepherd,Labrador retriever and Belgian malinois. A granite wall etched with war dog images and history will be placed behind the statues.
Burnam said the monument foundation,a non-profit,will pay for the $850,000 monument using donations. He said he hopes to break ground by Veterans' Day 2011,but donations for the monument have slowed because of the poor economy.
Aiello credited his partner,Stormy,a German shepherd,with saving his life and keeping his fellow soldiers in high spirits.
“You trust your dog to save your life,and your dog trusts you to take care of your dog,” Aiello said. “You work together. You play together. You eat together.”
Because dog teams rotate among military units,the only lasting bond some handlers make is with their canine partners,Burnam said.
“I understood nothing about the bond of man and animal until I served with one in a war,” said Burnam,who was a sergeant with the Army's 44th Scout Dog Platoon,part of the infantry. “These dogs have these feelings. You see it in their eyes; you see it in their body gestures.”
Jones said the monument will recognize the role dogs play in boosting morale.
“I see how these dogs can bring a quality of life to a wounded soldier,” Jones said. “There is a role for these dogs to be a companion,wartime or not.”
The monument will also help handlers grieve,Aiello said.
Most handlers in the Vietnam War were forced to leave their dogs behind. Only recently has the military allowed handlers to adopt their dogs after returning home.
Aeillo said the monument allow handlers to a say “a final goodbye” to their fallen friends.
“It's not going to be to the statue – it's going to be a goodbye to the dog they served with in Vietnam or Iraq,” Aiello said. “It's going to be to Stormy,or Duke or Kaiser.”