Giving the dogs their due

9/15/2005 7:03:54 AM

You are a military scout dog handler walking point for the U.S. Army in Vietnam. The air is hot, and the jungle is wet.

The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong have placed a bounty on all U.S. scout dog teams, with the higher bounty placed on the dog.

You suspect the enemy was recently in this area, so you move even more cautiously than usual. Guards flank you, keeping watch for snipers.

The year is 1967.

Your dog crouches, the hair on its neck standing on end. You read the dog's signal and know there are enemy personnel, trip wires, booby traps or mines nearby.

You are 25 yards ahead of your 175-man unit and crouch to use your hand-held radio and inform them that something is awry.

This scene was typical for dog handlers in the Vietnam War, said two former handlers living in Otter Tail County.

Mike Lister of Elbow Lake served two tours of duty in Vietnam, both of them as a dog handler. His first tour was from November 1966 to '67, and his dog was named Krim.

A 1967 report in "Stars and Stripes," a military publication, documented one of this duo's adventures.

"A company was moving cautiously along a trail deep in the jungle, 50 miles north of Saigon when Krim gave her first alert. Upon investigation, the troopers found fresh enemy positions. In the next 30 minutes, the dog and handler alerted the infantrymen eight more times. Then Krim gave two strong alerts, and Lister pointer them out. Just then, the enemy opened fire from one position and hurled a grenade from the other. Lister saw the grenade coming through the air. He killed one enemy soldier. The rest withdrew."

Lister is a member of the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association and a volunteer to try and get a resolution passed by Minnesota recognizing the service of military war dogs.

To that end, the National War Dog Memorial Committee approved him to represent them in Minnesota, to get a resolution passed recognizing the service of war dogs.

Both organizations are hoping that with states passing resolutions, there cause will be furthered by having a monument recognizing the service of military dogs erected in Washington D.C.

Mike Voorhees of Fergus Falls served as a dog handler from May 1966 to May '67. Currently a chaplain in Fergus Falls, Voorhees said the dog he handled, Satan, was like a best friend to him.

"There's not many pastors who can say, 'Satan saved my life two times,'" Voorhees laughed. "I didn't name the dog Satan. He had that name when I got him."

More than 4,000 dogs served in Vietnam. They were the most important element of the team, said Lister.

"The life of the dog was more valuable than the life of the human," added Voorhees.

He recounted an incident when Satan stopped to sniff a piece of ground that appeared normal and eventually found a vast Viet Cong tunnel system hidden underground.

"Dogs found things you and I wouldn't find," he said. "They have an amazing sense of smell. I was just the idiot at the end of the leash."

On May 9, 2005, a resolution recognizing the service of military dog was presented to the Minnesota House of Representatives and then sent to the Rules Committee.

Soldier dogs have a history dating all the was back to the Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman armies. The U.S. Army had no war dogs at the beginning of World War II, but established a dog program shortly after the war began.

After WWII, dogs were obtained by donation and by purchase from their owners. They were generally German Shepherds. After entering military service, the dogs were shipped to various training centers and trained in their specialty: sentry dogs, patrol dogs, tracker dogs, mine and tunnel detection dogs, contraband detection dogs and scout dogs.

After their service, the dogs are returned to the States, but in Vietnam the dogs were left abroad. This is the only war where the dogs were never brought back, said Voorhees. He said military dogs saved approximately 10,000 U.S. lives during the Vietnam War, which would amount to another 100 feet on the Vietnam Wall Memorial.

There are currently eight war dog memorials across the nation. More information on the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association can also be found at vdhaonline.org.