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The War Dog Platoons

Marine Dogs of World War II

Converted for the Web from "Always Faithful: A Memoir of the Marine Dogs of WWII" by William W. Putney

Marine Dogs Less than twenty-four hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded Guam, an American possession. The small Pacific island, virtually defenseless, held out for only four days. For the next two and a half years, the brave people of Guam endured a horrible occupation: they were starved, beaten, and herded into concentration camps. Many of Guam's people were summarily shot for crimes they did not commit. Some were beheaded. No other American civilians suffered so much under so brutal a conqueror.

On July 21, 1944, the Americans struck back. The battle for Guam lasted only a few weeks, until August 10, 1944, when the island was declared secured. In those weeks, American Marine, Army, and Navy casualties exceeded 7,000. An estimated 18,500 Japanese were killed, and another 8,000 Japanese remained hidden in the jungle refusing to surrender.

Among our dead were 25 dogs, specially trained by the U.S. Marines to search out the enemy hiding in the bush, detect mines and booby traps, alert troops in foxholes at night to approaching Japanese, and to carry messages, ammunition and medical supplies. They were buried in a small section of the Marine Cemetery, in a rice paddy on the landing beach at Asan that became known as the War Dog Cemetery.

I was the commanding officer of the 3rd War Dog Platoon during the battle for Guam. Lieutenant William T. Taylor and I led 110 men and 72 dogs through training, first at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; then at Camp Pendleton, California; later on Guadalcanal and then into battle on Guam.

Most of the young Marines were assigned to the war dog program only by a twist of fate. Some had never owned a dog in their lives, and some were even afraid of them. But trained as dog handlers, they were expected to scout far forward of our lines, in treacherous jungle terrain, searching for Japanese soldiers hidden in caves or impenetrable thickets. Under these circumstances, the rifles we carried were often useless; a handler's most reliable weapons were his dog's highly developed senses of smell and hearing, which could alert him far in advance of an enemy ambush or attack, or the presence of a deadly mine, so he could warn in turn the Marines who followed behind at a safer distance. It was one of the most dangerous jobs in World War II, and more dogs were employed by the 2nd and 3rd Platoons on Guam than in all of the other battles in the Pacific.

During the course of the war, 15 of the handlers in the 2nd and 3rd Platoons were killed: 3 at Guam, 4 on Saipan and 8 on Iwo Jima. These men were among the bravest and best-trained Marines of World War II, and were awarded the medals to prove it. During the course of some of the war's most vicious battles -- Guam, Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa -- they were awarded five Silver Stars and seven Bronze Stars for heroism in action, and more than forty Purple Hearts for wounds received in battle.

In these battles, as in their training, the men learned to depend on their dogs and to trust their dogs' instincts with their lives. Yet when I returned home from overseas, I found that rather than spend the time and expense to detrain the dogs, our military had begun to destroy them. Our dogs, primarily Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds, had been recruited from the civilian population with the promise that they be returned, intact, when the war ended. Now, however, higher-ups argued that these dogs suffered from the "junkyard dog" syndrome: they were killers. Higher-ups were wrong. I lobbied for the right to detrain these dogs and won. Our program of deindoctrination was overwhelmingly successful: out of the 549 dogs that returned from the war, only 4 could not be detrained and returned to civilian life. Household pets once, the dogs became household pets again. In many cases, in fact, because the original, civilian owners were unable or unwilling to take the dogs back, the dogs went home with the handlers that they had served so well during the war.

* * *

More than fifty years have passed since the Battle of Guam. The dogs, of course, are long gone, and to the annual reunions fewer and fewer veterans of the war dog platoons return. Although it was a small chapter in the history of that worldwide conflagration, the story of the war dog platoons is significant. 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.

For their contribution to the war effort, the dogs paid a dear price, but the good they did was still far out of proportion to the sacrifice they made. They and their handlers led over 550 patrols on Guam alone, and encountered enemy soldiers on over half of them, but were never once ambushed. They saved hundreds of lives, including my own.

This book is dedicated to the memory of those loving, courageous and faithful dogs of the 2nd and 3rd War Dog Platoons. They embodied the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis.

Rest in peace, dear ones.


Copyright © 2001 by William W. Putney. All rights reserved. Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.

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