Early in July 1943, more than 160,000 troops in Patton's Seventh Army hit the beach in Sicily under a deafening naval bombardment. With them was an unarmed G.I. who could hear and smell things no ordinary soldier could detect. Although some of his companions wondered what use he could be against tanks and machine guns, they would soon be glad he was on their side. His name was Chips and he was a dog.
As Chips and his handler pushed inland and approached a hut, it erupted in machine-gun fire. The dog sprinted inside, and moments later an Italian soldier staggered out with the dog at his throat. Chips had captured his first prisoner.
Some 10,000 dogs were trained for military service during World War II. They hauled ammunition through the snow, carried messages through enemy lines and traversed suspected mine fields. After the war, and a brief retraining, the canine heroes often went quietly back to their doghouses.
Only about 200 of the several thousand canines that served in Vietnam ever made it back home. While hundreds were sent on to other military assignments, perhaps a thousand were turned over to the Vietnamese, a fact some veterans equate with abandonment or a death sentence in a country where dogs were sometimes eaten for dinner. About 300 were killed in action.
This year the War Dog Memorial Fund erected two memorials to honor the contributions of military dogs one in Riverside, California, the other at Fort Benning, Georgia. A bill that passed the House and Senate in October will allow handlers and other qualified persons to adopt the dogs when their service is over, a situation not permitted in recent decades.