20 Things You Never Knew About America's War Dogs

Marines Dogs War

Photo: via U.S. Marine Corps

Believe it or not, dogs have been fighting beside their human counterparts in military conflicts for the better part of the last 3,000 years.Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, and yes, Americans.

We here at BI Military and defence do a lot of slideshows about jets or tanks or patrols, but not much about our literal dogs of war.

So now’s your opportunity to …

The United States War Dogs Association estimates that, since the beginning of their service, dogs have saved approximately 10,000 American lives.

Dogs have been in service and seen combat with Americans in every conflict since the birth of the nation, but have only served officially since WWI.

Dogs were mostly used as message carriers during the first few conflicts.

In WWI, Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated War Dog in history, saved an entire company from a serin gas attack. He also met three presidents.

The biggest hero of WII though, was a German Shepherd named Chips who single-handedly forced a machine gun crew to surrender. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and the Purple Heart-all later revoked due to Army regulations against awarding animals.

But Rin Tin Tin became the most famous dog of WWII. A German war dog, he was abandoned, then adopted by American troops and brought to the U.S., where he became a movie star.

In the Pacific Campaign, Marine dog handlers were awarded a total of five Silver Stars and seven Bronze Stars for heroism in action, and more than 40 Purple Hearts for wounds received in battle.

And there was actually a program during the Pacific Campaign which aimed to train a battalion of dogs to lead Marines in a possible assault of mainland Japan.

The highest ranking Marine War Dog was also the first official mascot, Sgt. Maj. Jiggs. He was one of the most liked due to his belligerent demeanor. His death in 1927 was mourned throughout the Corps.

Upon returning, of the 592 in the Marines' WWII war dog unit, only 4 of the animals couldn't adapt to civilian life.

Duke, a Vietnam war dog, once alerted his company to an impending ambush, and is credited with saving over a hundred lives with a single action.

In total, 5,000 dogs served in the Vietnam War, and approximately 300 lost their lives.

Dogs also serve in special forces—the SEALs brought a dog with them on the Osama bin Laden raid.

Present-day military dogs are like the K9 version of Navy SEALs. Highly trained, these dogs can cost upward of $8,000 each once they graduate.

A living, four-legged Swiss Army knife, they can be used to track, detect bombs, weapons, drugs, and even attack the enemy.

There are about 2,500 war dogs in service today, with about 700 serving at any given time overseas.

Dogs and their handlers alike have been known to need therapy after losing their partner in combat.

In fact, there's a popular story about a dog named Hawkeye who didn't leave the side of his fallen master's casket until the funeral service was over.

The dogs, like their military counterparts, often find service in law enforcement after their retirements, which occur at the 10 year mark.

Upon retirement though, their handlers are given the option to adopt, or the service will help the dogs find willing families.

Servicemen have also been known to adopt strays out in the field, like this one, from a visit I made to a border fort in Iraq in 2008.

Adopting dogs is strictly prohibited, and when a colonel visited our base, he objected to two things—that we had a new puppy, and that we were fielding an illegal Mk-19 Automatic Grenade Launcher.

He let us keep the grenade launcher, but the puppy had to go

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