Remembering the Dogs of the Vietnam War

By Curtis M. Hendel

In the aftermath of World War II many of the dogs were returned to their original owners.  When the dogs were donated for the war effort that clause was in the contract.  After the Korean War we did not have a large number of K9 veterans and most remained in service.  The aftermath of the Vietnam War was much different.

The Vietnam War was where the Military Working Dog Program really took off.  With Scout, Mine and Tunnel, Sentry, Patrol and other types of dog teams serving it was the greatest concentration of K9 use ever.  Roughly 4,900 dogs served in the Vietnam War with about 10,000 handlers.  When a handler’s tour was done the dog would stay in country and a new handler would take the dog over.

Dog teams in Vietnam were constantly exposed to enemy fire.  Some walked point, others guarded the fence lines of vital assets, and many looked for mines and booby traps along with going down in to the tunnels that the enemy used.  But they always lived the K9 motto, “K9 Leads the Way!”  Living conditions were deplorable and duty was horrible, but man and dog served honorably.  One estimate shows that over 10,000 lives were saved by the use of Military Working Dogs.

In the end none of this mattered to the bean counters.  As we drew down forces and the withdrawal was going on the Military Working Dog went from being a hero to being surplus military equipment.  One dog, the hero that helped to stop a major attack, was allowed to retire.  Nemo went back to Lackland and lived out his life in luxury.

Of the rest of the dogs, only 203 were known to have ever left Vietnam.  Many of those were sent to other Pacific bases, and a few made it back to the United States.  Many were young dogs that had years left in their service.

So what of the other 4,700?  Any dogs that were older were euthanized, many of these could have served much longer or retired.  But our government yet left behind more dogs.  The South Vietnamese military did not have many dog handlers in the ranks.  So what exactly happened to these dogs was never proven, but it is thought that most were killed, some of those for food.

Some people would say that they are only dogs.  Even “civilian” dogs have the ability to add to the quality of life of a lucky human.  But dogs that run in to the path of death for their handler and his friends are special.  They are really above the term animal.

Today Military Working Dogs are retired to qualified personnel.  That is a long overdue development.  We cannot forget the treatment of the Vietnam Generation, two and four legged heroes alike.  This only makes sense to other handlers but I will include it anyway, “To the Dawgs!!”