Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif. --
Throughout history dogs have been our constant faithful companions and protectors. As far back as the Civil War, stories have been written of heroic dogs that have served alongside our service members in our nation’s history. Dogs have played vital roles as mascots, guards, trackers and even mine detectors - saving thousands of human lives.
Dogs were originally enlisted by the Quartermaster Corps, and a diversity of breeds were accepted, but were viewed as equipment. German Shepherds and Doberman pinschers became the choice breed selected for the work. These dogs are commonly referred to as war dogs; however, the correct term is military working dogs. Military working dogs have been used by the U.S. Military since World War I, the Marine Corps was the last branch to implement a war dog program during the Vietnam War, and they are still used today.
During the Vietnam War, approximately 4,000 U.S. dogs served in the conflict. The First Marine Dog Platoon consisted of 48 enlisted men working in pairs as handlers for the 21 Dobermans and three Shepherds. On Nov. 1, 1943, the 24 canine members were sent ashore just one hour after the first wave of Marines hit the beach on Bougainville.
The fighting Marines met the dogs with mixed reactions, since the use of dogs in combat was in a trial run. But these dogs proved to be invaluable in combat.
Otto, a thin Doberman pinscher, described as a very intelligent, well-trained, and good point dog hit the beach with his two handlers, Pvt. Martin R. Troup and Pfc. Henry L. Demault. Working ahead of the point in a reconnaissance patrol on Nov. 2, Otto’s keen sense of smell and hearing allowed him to alert the position of a machine gun nest at least 100 yards away. This allowed the Marines time to disperse and take cover before the machine gun opened fire, resulting in zero casualties. Otto would go on to alert his handlers of Japanese snipers and more gun positions, but the stress and heavy combat conditions proved to be too much for him. Otto developed a nervous condition as a result of shellfire, and had to be put down on July 20, 1944. Unfortunately, after the conflict the majority of the working dogs had to be euthanized.
Labradors eventually replaced the Doberman due to the nature of the work that had to be accomplished, but the German Shepherd remains the most frequently used dog. Military working dogs continue to be of service today, but upon retirement, suitable veteran war dogs are allowed to be adopted into loving homes. The heroic actions of these ‘DEVIL DOGS’ should not be forgotten; they have saved countless lives and prevented casualties throughout their military service.