Memorial tells rarely heard old war stories
Guam will always remember its 1944 liberation from Japanese occupation and honor the U.S. soldiers who risked, and gave their lives to make it happen. But there are also, “the few, the proud, the Marines” who made the ultimate sacrifice on all fours – 25 faithful canines from the 2nd and 3rd War Dog platoons.
Perched prominently at a small parcel near Sumay on Naval Base Guam is a large black granite monument with a life-size noble bronze figure of a Doberman pinscher. He sits obediently with ears upright and utterly attentive. Inscribed in gold letters on the base of the Guam War Dog Memorial are the names of 25 dogs, most of whose graves surround it.
“(Twenty-five) Marine war dogs gave their lives liberating Guam in 1944,” the memorial reads. “They served as sentries, messengers, scouts. They explored caves, detected mines and booby traps. Semper Fidelis.”
That this proclamation would end with the Marine Corps’ famed Latin motto, “always faithful,” is fitting. During Guam’s liberation, Marines relied on these mostly Doberman working dogs – not only to sniff out enemy soldiers hiding in caves or carry needed medical supplies – but also to warn against enemy attacks as they spent the night alongside the dogs in foxholes, or went on more than 450 patrols.
According to surviving veterans, and as described on the monument itself, many of the Marines owe their lives to these faithful canines.
In one incident alone, Kurt, the Doberman whose regal likeness tops the monument, saved the lives of 250 Marines when he silently warned them of Japanese troops ahead, according to several published accounts. Such incidents made for powerful bonds between the dogs and their handlers.
“In these battles, as in their training, the men learned to depend on their dogs and to trust their dogs’ instincts with their lives,” veterinarian William W. Putney writes in his book “Always Faithful: A Memoir of the Marine Dogs of WWII.” The retired Marine captain helped train the dogs in 1943 and was the commanding officer of the 3rd War Dog Platoon and veterinarian for both platoons during the battle of Guam. “The dogs proved so valuable on Guam that every Marine division was assigned a war dog platoon and they paved the way for the many dogs that have followed them in the armed services, most famously in Vietnam.”
Putney lobbied, largely unsuccessfully, to have war dogs detrained and returned to civilian life after the war (it happened to only 4 out of 549). He was also the driving force behind the Guam War Dog Memorial – America’s first memorial dedicated to military working dogs.
As the dogs were killed while searching out bombs and enemy troops or transporting equipment across enemy lines, they were buried at Asan, the initial invasion point, in a small parcel at the Marine Cemetery. Latter, white headstones were added to what would become Guam’s War Dog Cemetery. In the late 1980s, Putney returned to find the animal’s graves overgrown and unkempt. He put the word out and was soon able to help raise funds to clean the grounds and commission the monument.
On July 21, 1994 – the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Guam – the Guam War Dog Memorial was dedicated to the dogs that gave their lives to liberate Guam. Today, it also stands as a monument to all U.S. military working dogs – as well as the special bond and missions they share with their handlers.
For more information about the Guam War Dog Memorial, visit <www.vet.utk.edu/wardog/biography.shtml> or <www.dpca.org/Legisltv/AlwaysFaithful.htm>. To see a brief documentary, visit <www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtKKrgq8P4E>.