They say that the dog is man’s best friend and I do subscribe to that nation, although I haven’t had a dog for several years. The reason being, the last dog I had got very sick and needed to be euthanized, it broke my heart, and ever since that time I decided not to have any dogs anymore.
But before I get sidetracked this blog is about the heroic dogs that served in WWII.
On March 13 in 1942, the Quartermaster Corps (QMC) of the United States Army begins training dogs for the newly established War Dog Program, or “K-9 Corps.”
Many brave dogs served in various war efforts including scouting, message couriers, patrolling, sentry duty and mine-detecting, not to mention the companionship they provided to the troops.
In the United States, the practice of training dogs for military purposes was largely abandoned after World War I. When the country entered World War II in December 1941, the American Kennel Association and a group called Dogs for Defense began a movement to mobilize dog owners to donate healthy and capable animals to the Quartermaster Corps of the U.S. Army. Training began in March 1942, and that fall the QMC was given the task of training dogs for the U.S. Navy, Marines and Coast Guard as well.
The Dogs for Defense program was initiated by a private citizen, a well-respected breeder of poodles, Mrs. Alene Erlanger. She gained the support of the American Kennel Club, and her organization soon became the primary procurer of dogs for the military.
(Greer Garson and poodles with Alene Stern Erlanger, circa 1942)
The K-9 Corps initially accepted over 30 breeds of dogs, but the list was soon narrowed to seven: German Shepherds, Belgian sheep dogs, Doberman Pinschers, collies, Siberian Huskies, Malumutes and Eskimo dogs. Members of the K-9 Corps were trained for a total of 8 to 12 weeks.
After basic obedience training, they were sent through one of four specialized programs to prepare them for work as sentry dogs, scout or patrol dogs, messenger dogs or mine-detection dogs. In active combat duty, scout dogs proved especially essential by alerting patrols to the approach of the enemy and preventing surprise attacks.
A number of dogs trained by the Quartermaster Corps earned outstanding records in combat overseas. Probably the most famous war dog was named Chips. Donated and trained at Front Royal, Virginia, Chips was among the first dogs shipped overseas. Assigned to the Third Infantry Division in North Africa, one of his assignments included sentry duty at the Roosevelt-Churchill Conference in Casablanca, Morocco, in January 1943. On another occasion, Chips, sensing danger, broke away from his handler to attack a pillbox containing an enemy machine gun nest. A bullet pierced his body, but, ignoring the pain, he threw himself upon the enemy and forced the entire crew to surrender. Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart.
Unfortunately all medals were revoked because he had violated the sacred rule to never break away from his handler. Even though Chips did not need an award to validate his heroism, his service friends took the matter into their own hands and bestowed a theater ribbon on their pal.
By 1945 the Quartermaster Corps had trained 10,425 dogs, including 9,295 for sentry duty, issued to the Army, Navy (Marines) and the Coast Guard. Fewer than 1,900 of those animals were shipped abroad, and by the end of the war only 436 had actually served overseas.
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