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Military’s best friend

Canines canonized at Colorado’s Capitol

By Leigh E. Rich

Not just man’s best friend, but soldier’s cherished companion graced the steps of Colorado’s Capitol on Wednesday.

Several four-footed freedom fighters spoke (though only when told) in favor of Sen. Stephanie Takis’ Senate Joint Resolution 08 that supports the ongoing efforts of the Vietnam Dog Handler Association (VDHA) to create a national memorial in Washington, D.C., honoring military dogs. Currently, about 20 states have such resolutions.

Though spearheaded by the VDHA, the memorial will honor working dogs from all wars. Canines have been used in every modern war since World War I, including Korea, Vietnam, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. According to Rick Claggett, a scout dog handler in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971, Dobermans were the breed of choice for the two World Wars, with mainly Labradors and German shepherds serving in the others.

“We can’t replace them,” said retired MSgt. John C. Burnam, a Denver native and chair of the VDHA National War Dogs Memorial Advisory Committee. Burnam, a past president of the VDHA, has written several books on war dogs in Vietnam.

He spoke briefly Wednesday about Clipper, a “wonderful dog … who helped save my life and the lives of others.”

Crypto, a German shepherd-collie mix, also fit that heroic mold, said Joe Scheideler, a scout handler in Vietnam with the 45th Infantry and now a Denver attorney.

“For years, we didn’t even talk about Vietnam,” Scheideler said after Wednesday’s press conference as he and Claggett explained the significance of the memorial’s details. Colorado is only one of two states that’s gotten a sneak peak at the model of what will be a 15- to 20-foot-tall monument.

On top of a large, bronze rock-like structure will crouch a soldier with his German shepherd scout dog. Below the rock and at the ready is a sentry Labrador and behind, in homage to the World Wars, a Doberman with perked ears forewarns of coming danger.

A simple message—“War Dogs”—is carved into the rock’s side.

“It’s going to be dog friendly,” Claggett proudly added, describing the built-in hooks on the surrounding benches for pet owners to attach leashes and the extra-large replica of an overturned helmet that will serve as a dog fountain and water bowl.

That’s how they did it in Vietnam, Claggett explained.

For Takis and members of the VDHA, who number around 200 in Colorado alone, it’s a memorial that’s long overdue. Many war dogs have not returned to America’s fruited plains.

According to Claggett, about 4,000 canines served in Vietnam. At the end of the United States’ involvement, a few hundred were reassigned, about 800 were sent to the South Vietnamese Army, and a “vast majority” were euthanized.

Others died on the battlefield.

Scheideler, who spent eight months in Vietnam before being wounded, remembers Crypto’s abilities, including locating two caches of weapons and alerting on “15 or 16 ambushes.”

“He wasn’t great on booby traps and that’s how I got hurt,” Scheideler said, standing in Wednesday’s brief noontime sun with Takis, members of the current generation of military dogs and their handlers from Buckley’s Air National Guard.

Takis, D-Aurora, presented SJR 08, which has no fiscal impact on the state, to the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee that afternoon. The resolution—which mentions Crypto’s name—now moves to the Committee of the Whole.

“(Crypto) was killed when I was wounded,” Scheideler added. “He evidently took a lot of the shrapnel that would have hit me.”

Rich, L. E. (2005, April 1). Military’s best friend: Canines canonized at Colorado’s Capitol. The Colorado Statesman.

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