Through K9 military history articles, MWDTSA shares the evolving role of dogs in combat. In the United States, stories of canine soldiers date back to the Civil War. However, World War II marks the beginning of our nation’s formal military working dog program.
In World War II, the military utilized a wider variety of breeds than today. The most common breeds currently in service include German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers.
Looking for a military-related lesson plan to spice up social studies?
MWDTSA volunteer Wendy Sotos is studying to become a Certified Humane Education Specialist. As part of her coursework, she has developed a lesson plan about military working dogs for 3rd and 4th graders. It’s free, and any interested teacher or home-school parent can download it below.
Lesson plan overview
The curriculum entails reading, writing, group work, a creative project, and public speaking focused on the meanings of “hero” and “memorial.” Students will hone critical thinking skills as they learn about the roles of dogs in the military. It’s also a creative way to observe National K9 Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, or Veteran’s Day.
Click image above to download full curriculum.
About the author
A freelance writer and published author, Wendy loves animals. Over the years, she’s served with Labrador Life Line and Nikela (which saves African wildlife, including rhinos). MWDTSA is excited to share her passion for dogs and education.
When asked what led her to create this lesson plan, Wendy replied, “I have always loved learning about war dogs from history. Their contributions have been underplayed, if acknowledged at all. A way to remedy this is to teach future generations of children about the sacrifices of these heroic animals. I want to help kids learn about these dogs who fought for our country. I hope to create appreciation for military working dogs and their human counterparts who protect our freedom.”
As you utilize Wendy’s curriculum, please share your experiences and stories in the Comments section below. What insights did you and your students gain via the activities in this lesson plan? We welcome your suggestions for enhancing the curriculum.
Wendy’s next project is a service learning plan for 5th and 6th grade students, focused on military working dog teams. Stay tuned!
Photo credit: iStock by Getty Images/Wavebreakmedia
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Illustration by Chris Tomlin; reprinted with permission of HarperCollins UK. HarperCollins UK kindly allowed MWDTSA to print a black and white version of this coloring page for use in elementary school visits. Check out Tomlin’s amazing coloring book: Art for Mindfulness DOGS.
Many thanks to Keli Schmid, Archivist and Librarian, 10th Mountain Division Resource Center, Denver Public Library, for sharing a treasure trove of World War II material with MWDTSA. Our favorite find? A 1943 newspaper piece with a dog’s eye view of Camp Hale. We included a copy of this story in each Q1-2018 care package…
It Took Bourbon to Bring Out Man’s Love for Canine—Bruno the Pup Finds
I can just see you frisking around and barking, Goody! A letter from Puppa from Pando! Well, Woof, Woof, here I am, safe and sound in the Rockies.
It was quite a trip. The train mushed up through the Royal Gorge and Salida and Cañon City. Some of the curves were so sharp the train could almost bite its tail. The scenery reminds me of the Alps that your grandfather is always talking about. I never saw an Alp, but I don’t think they could be much higher than these Rockies.
We’re on the top of the world, two miles straight up in the air. It keeps snowing all the time. They say there’s twenty feet of snow in this place, but I don’t know; when there gets to be twenty feet of it in a place, there isn’t any place. Icicles hang from the roofs to the company street, taller than men. And is it cold? Below zero!
First thing when I got here, I went over to Headquarters to make out a questionnaire.
It went something like this:
Name: Bruno St. Bernard
Age: Under 21
Color: White and Brown
Occupation: Rescue Work
This is a mountain artillery outfit and they have a lot of mules, but I never cared much for mules. Even from a distance they smell, and close up they kick. This bunch are guaranteed to kick from any angle and at any range. And they do. They can go up the mountain trails where the jeeps can’t, but I can go up where the mules can’t, on account of us being Alpine stock.
The first night, they put me in a pup tent. Can you imagine? Me! In the morning, I forgot where I was when I woke up. I stretched, and the whole tent came down on top of me. A rookie was going down the company street and I ran after him to help me out, but he gave one look . . . and ran faster. Tonight they’re going to put me some place else. Maybe in the dog house. That’s a place I keep hearing about, but I haven’t been able to locate it yet.
Somebody’s always in it. I’m all mixed up. They say I’m the first dog here, but the men are always talking about their dogs, their dogs are tired, their dogs hurt them. Still, I didn’t see any dogs.
Once I heard talk of bones. I listened because I don’t know what to do with mine.
The ground is so hard I can’t bury them. But here it seems they roll the bones. They talk about chow. That sounds like a dog and isn’t. Yesterday they had hot dogs for chow. And they say I’m a guinea pig. They’re experimenting, and if I turn out to be useful in the war effort with these ski troops, they’ll train a lot of us. That’s being a guinea pig. There’s a lot to learn about this Army language.
My basic training started today. It was funny. The sergeant said I was to go out and save somebody who was supposed to be lost in the snow. He asked for volunteers to be saved. Well, it was pretty cold, ten below, and nobody cared much about lying around in the snow. But when I came trotting out with a little flask of bourbon tied around my neck, according to the good old Swiss custom, the men began falling down all over the place. They started whistling and calling, “Here, Bruno! Nice doggy! Hey, waiter!”
The sergeant got sore. “Pipe down, you guys,” he barked.
“You’re supposed to be stiffs. You can’t whistle! You’re getting him all balled up. And we’ve got to use this flask every day. You can’t go drinking his basic training on him. Fall out!” Then he patted me and said, “I’ll give you your basic training my own self.”
The men have big white capes with hoods to wear over their uniforms. They call it snow camouflage. It makes them look funny, like big Russian wolfhounds standing on their hind legs. I didn’t get in on that issue. They say I’m snow camouflaged already with my white coat. Only the brown spots have them a little worried.
Well, be good and eat your kennel ration before they start to ration kennel ration. Remember, one of these days you’ll have to do your bite.
Lots of love, Puppa
p.s. I didn’t have to go to the delousing plant. It’s so cold here fleas freeze…tell Mama.
Inspired by Bruno’s tale above, MWDTSA would love to read dog’s eye stories from present-day handlers.
Seventy-five years from now, someone might be reading your piece to glean insights about military life in 2018. To submit a dog’s eye story or poem for MWDTSA’s blog, email Nikki Rohrig (firstname.lastname@example.org).
To learn how you can support military working dog teams deployed in conflict zones overseas, visit https://www.mwdtsa.org/.
https://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-kenneltalk-blog-brunoillustration-lowres-scaled.jpg25602166Leigh Steerehttps://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-website_headerlogo-01-2020-300x138.pngLeigh Steere2018-03-15 11:55:492021-04-18 23:13:13Camp Hale dog #1?
Dick Durrance served as an Army photographer during the Vietnam era. Today, at age 75, Durrance is on a mission—to raise public awareness about the challenges of serving in a combat environment. Through photos and speaking engagements, he shares words of wisdom on how people can support today’s military. His recent TEDxTalk brought 5,000 people to their feet.
Dick Durrance II, Army Specialist 4th class, sits in a Camp Evans bunker, March 1968. The Army issued him a Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex which shot medium format 120 mm film. He also carried a 35mm Nikon F camera. (Photo courtesy of Dick Durrance)
As you’ll see in the interview below, his family has a tie to the 10th Mountain Division, Camp Hale, Colorado. MWDTSA’s Q1-2018 care packages are commemorating the 75th anniversary of Camp Hale, and we were excited to learn about the Durrance connection.
Kennel Talk (KT): Tell us about your role in the Army.
Dick Durrance: I served in the Department of Army Special Photographic Office. Based at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, I shipped out for three months at a time to take pictures for the Pentagon in Thailand, Vietnam (twice), and Korea. My assignments ranged from photographing equipment, facilities, and terrain to documenting combat missions. The Pentagon used these pictures to brief the President on military activities in Southeast Asia in 1967 and 1968.
KT: Did you ever have a chance to photograph military working dogs?
Many of Durrance’s assignments involved photographing terrain and military assets for the Pentagon. Pictured here: Command Post 250 on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a heavily patrolled border separating North and South Korea. (Photo by Dick Durrance)
Durrance: Just once, and the experience left me with a lifelong fear of German Shepherds. While in the Korea DMZ, I received an assignment to photograph the canines. I was young and dumb at the time. One of the dogs was on a 30-foot chain attached to a stake. I had the idea of kneeling 33 feet from the dog and setting the camera focus at three feet. I signaled the handler to release the dog to ‘attack’ me. The canine bounded toward me with alarming speed, barking ferociously and baring its fangs. Through my lens, all I could see was mouth. He hit the end of the chain, way too close for comfort.
KT: Your dad, also named Dick Durrance, was a famous ski racer. What was his relation to the 10th Mountain Division?
Durrance: When Minnie Dole was selling the idea of creating the 10th Mountain Division, the military had one question. Would it be better to train marksmen how to ski, or teach skiers how to shoot? The military said to my dad, “We want to send you a company of soldiers who don’t ski and see if you can train them to ski.” They were a test case. Could top skiers in Alta, Utah train neophytes to ski in a reasonable amount of time?
The answer was a resounding NO. After about three months, roughly a third of the skiers had broken their legs. At the time, there were no quick-release bindings. Those had not been invented yet. This failed experiment led the military to conclude they needed to recruit seasoned skiers and teach them how to shoot.
For anyone who’s interested, there’s a chapter about my dad’s Alta experience in his memoir, The Man on the Medal.
KT: On Veterans Day 2017, you gave a TedXMileHigh Talk, and then subsequently took part in an interview with Colorado Public Radio about your time in Vietnam. Here are some of the pearls you shared…
Going through basic training, you asked yourself, “Am I ready for this? I’m about to be melted down and recast as a warrior and handed to the President to do with as he wishes.”
“If you saw someone as a mother’s son or a little boy’s father, could you pull the trigger?”
As you photographed your first firefight, you felt “startled by how loud it was. The roar of the tanks. The boom of the big guns. The rat-tat-tat of machine guns. Deafening and disorienting.”
Grappling with what you had just witnessed, you realized you were “going to have to suck it up and somehow come to terms with the fear that comes from fighting.”
You noted, “I did it for a day and I was rattled. Those guys did it for a year. What did that do to their minds?”
“One of the riflemen in the unit said to me, ‘Dick, there is no more hellish dilemma that we face than taking aim at somebody and not knowing whether they are a friend or a foe. Do you pull the trigger or not? And if you are wrong, how do you deal with that?’”
Durrance: It’s hard to convey what combat is like. Through sharing my photos, I hope to give people a fuller sense of what soldiers go through and how it affects them.
If we are to appreciate what the men and women who are out there fighting right now are doing for us, we have to understand how profound their combat experience is. They risk their lives, face terror, and lose buddies. And when they come home, they somehow have to square what they had to do as warriors to survive with what they are expected to do now. It is not easy.
“I was walking in Carbondale, Colorado, when suddenly, I noticed square eyes peering at me from the pavement. It was only an access lid to a street sewer, but I felt I was staring into my psyche,” recalls Durrance. (Photo by Dick Durrance)
Even 49 years after returning from Southeast Asia, I will see something random, such as the handle of a manhole cover, which jogs a memory from Vietnam. It will remind me of the guilt I felt when I pushed civilian values aside.
I encourage people to think of every day as Veteran’s Day. Put a couple minutes aside to appreciate what our service members are doing for us every day. Try to understand what they are going through and how it’s affecting them. And what I hope you never forget is that when war goes into a service member’s mind and heart, it never leaves.
KT: As we aim to support today’s service members, what are your thoughts about letters and care packages?
Durrance: At basic training, I remember how lonely I felt being unplugged from family and friends. Mail call was a chance to touch base with loved ones. It was a connection to an outside world that was seeming further and further away. At the same time, we knew our family and friends had no idea of the military world. They were remembering us as we were, having no idea of what we were becoming.
“Mail call in basic training and throughout our tours of duty was a vital link to our lives back home,” says Durrance. (Photo by Dick Durrance)
It’s important to take the time to reach out. It’s also important to try to step into the shoes of these servicemen and women in an effort to understand their world.
Many thanks to Dick Durrance for sharing his experiences and insights with Kennel Talk.
MWDTSA supports military working dog teams (dog plus handler) deployed in global combat zones. To donate toward a care package for these intrepid teams, visit https://www.mwdtsa.org/donations/.
To order a copy of Dick Durrance’s 1988 book, Where War Lives: A Photographic Journal of Vietnam, send a check for $20 to Dick Durrance, Post Office Box 1268, Carbondale, CO 81623. Make sure to include your mailing address, email address, and phone number when placing your order. Also, he has copies of his father’s memoir, The Man on the Medal, available for $45 each (the price includes postage).
https://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/WWL.Basic_.Mail_.2.16x9-2.jpg10801920Leigh Steerehttps://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-website_headerlogo-01-2020-300x138.pngLeigh Steere2018-01-29 12:08:552020-06-26 16:16:46Photographer Dick Durrance encourages support of active duty troops
For the first time in its eleven-year history, MWDTSA will be assembling its quarterly care packages in Colorado, for shipment to dogs and handlers in conflict zones around the world. Each quarter, we decide a theme and build the boxes around that motif. Pirates, ice hockey, superheroes, and football are a few recent examples. Our Q1 packing team brainstormed various Colorado themes. Snow sports, mining, mountains, or simply “With Love from Colorado.” In the end, though, we landed on “Dogs with Altitude: 75 years of faithful service.” We’re honoring the 75th anniversary of the nation’s formal MWD program and Colorado’s role in the earliest MWD training efforts.
U.S. military dogs before 1942
Dogs have helped soldiers around the world, dating back millennia. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and other groups utilized canines for defense and more. There are stories of American dogs in the Civil War and World War I. However, there was no formal U.S. war dog program until 75 years ago.
Starting in the late 1930s, enthusiastic civilian breeders and dog lovers volunteered to train and supply canines for U.S. military use. In The Quiet Americans, author Tracy English writes, “One of the most famous groups was ‘Dogs for Defense.’ They came into being immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Along with help from the American Kennel Club, the group aimed…to develop a large trained canine force for use in civilian plants and in the Army if the call ever came.”
Army pulls the war dog program in-house
The military’s need for canines, however, quickly outpaced Dogs for Defense’s ability to deliver. The problem involved more than inability to meet a numeric quota. According to uswardogs.org, “an Army inspection in June (1942), three months after the program began, revealed that the dogs in training had made little progress. This was due largely to the fact that available instructors generally were inexperienced in teaching sentry dogs. They were unfamiliar with military conditions. Most of them specialized in preparing animals for routine obedience tests or field trail work. Another striking weakness of the program was the failure to teach men to handle the dogs. This defect was due primarily to the fact that the Army did not make enlisted personnel available for this purpose.”
As a result of this inspection, “the Army transferred control of the procurement and training of dogs to the Remount Branch, Service Installations Division in June 1942,” explains English. “Previously, the Remount Branch had responsibility for procuring horses and mules for military service. So, they were in good condition to switch up their procedures to procure dogs. The first large request for dogs came from Camp Hale in Colorado. They wanted over 100 dogs for use as messenger, sledge and scout dogs.”
Dogs with the 10th Mountain Division
With the transfer of the dog program to the Remount Branch, the Army embarked on developing a new canine training program during the summer of 1942. The dogs at Camp Hale and their soldier-handlers were among the first MWD teams to take part in the new training, in field conditions.
At 9,200-feet in elevation, with surrounding areas climbing to over 12,000-feet, the Army built Camp Hale to prepare soldiers for wintry, high-altitude combat in Europe. According to ColoradoEncyclopedia.org, “the U.S. Army’s first and only Mountain Infantry Division took shape at Camp Hale over the winter of 1942–43. All the troops arrived at Camp Hale by January 1943. The valley buzzed with the activity of thousands of soldiers training for war. At its height, the camp had more than 1,000 buildings and housed about 15,000 troops.”
Fully equipped mountain trooper and dog, circa 1943-1944. WWII soldiers did not have the benefit of today’s technical fabrics, so staying warm was a greater challenge. Credit: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection, call number TMD351-2017-255.
Man’s best friends boost morale
The encyclopedia entry goes on to say, “enlisted men learned how to survive in winter conditions and fight in the mountains. They practiced skiing, snowshoeing, and technical mountain climbing. Training was hard, requiring marches and maneuvers with heavy packs at high altitude. Soldiers often suffered from altitude sickness, frostbite, and low morale worsened by a lack of nearby entertainment options.”
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the dogs serving at Camp Hale did more than just their day-to-day work. They provided a much-needed morale boost and occasional comic relief amidst the harsh training conditions.
Our Q1-2018 care packages will commemorate these early teams and Colorado’s MWD heritage. MWDTSA is honored to celebrate the legacy of these intrepid handlers and dogs—75 years strong.
If you would like to contribute items for the care packages or donate toward postage, visit MWDTSA.org for more information on how you can help.
(A version of this piece originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Kennel Talk.)
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