This framed photo shows Homer Finley at Front Royal, Virginia with an unnamed Saint Bernard.

This framed photo shows Homer Finley at Front Royal, Virginia with an unnamed Saint Bernard.

My heart dropped when I received word recently that Homer Finley had died.

As the last surviving member of the 1st Marine War Dog Platoon, he was a living link to the earliest days of our nation’s military working dog program. At the time he served, he was part of an experimental, unproven initiative.

“Many of the Marine troops doubted that dogs could be put to any practical use in combat and grumbled that they would just get in the way.” (War Animals by Robin Hutton, page 62)

Joining the war effort

News of Pearl Harbor traveled like wildfire through Southside High School in Elmira, New York, where Homer Finley attended. Many 12th-graders were old enough to enlist right away and abruptly left school to join the war effort. Sixteen-year-old Finley and his 11th-grade buddies eyed the seniors with envy. He wanted to enlist, too, but he was underage.

Finley and his best friend begged their parents to sign permission forms allowing them to enlist at 17. Finley’s dad finally acquiesced, but his best friend’s parents said no.

The first weeks

Attracted by the blue uniform and stories of Marine fighting tactics, Finley chose to enlist as a Marine. After a 10-week boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina, he reported for duty at Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida. His first night involved a 12-to-4 watch, patrolling inside an administrative building. He walked around with a gun that had no ammunition.

Other responsibilities included working Main Gate security to ensure service members weren’t sneaking in alcohol or other contraband.

Monitoring office buildings wasn’t quite the job he had envisioned. So, when he heard an announcement seeking volunteers for a “job involving dogs,” he raised his hand.

Learning the ropes

When he arrived at Front Royal, Virginia, he beheld acres of dog houses.

At the time, the military did not have its own dog procurement or breeding programs. Instead, the fledgling war dog effort relied on donations. Breeders offered stock from their kennels. Civilians donated their personal pets.

“Everyday Americans making animal donations were proud of making profoundly personal sacrifices. They were giving up cherished pets freely and unconditionally, receiving in turn neither compensation nor any guarantee their dogs would return safely at the end of the war. Donating their dogs was a patriotic act and a way for Americans to become personally invested in the war effort.” (Hutton, 9)

At Front Royal, “we started obedience training with dogs we thought would be useful,” recalled Finley. The training involved quite a bit of trial and error, since the military had not yet developed formal training protocols.

One exercise involved hide-and-seek. The instructor asked one group of handlers and their dogs to hide and camouflage themselves in the landscape so the other dogs couldn’t find them. (Editor’s note: This cracked me up, because clearly they were underestimating dogs’ noses.)

Mr. Finley and a Beagle mix crawled into some brush. As they waited to be found, Mr. Finley inadvertently dozed off in the warm sunshine. The mutt barked sharply as “finders” approached, giving away their position.

Back to Jacksonville

At the end of the training program, Mr. Finley returned to NAS-Jacksonville with three sentry dogs and instructions to train two Navy sailors in how to handle them. The three handlers lived away from the main base activity, tending to the dogs and their kennels.

Not long after, Mr. Finley received orders to report to Camp Lejeune, where USMC had established its own dog training facility. That’s where he began preparing for his eventual deployment with the 1st Marine War Dog Platoon.

Patriotism

What struck me when talking with Mr. Finley is how many individual acts of patriotism were involved in creating the U.S. War Dog program:

  • 17-year-old Finley wanted to enlist to help his country.
  • His parents said yes, knowing their son could be injured or killed.
  • Families—and even children—donated their personal pets.
  • A Hollywood dog trainer helped the 1st Marine War Dog platoon prepare for deployment.

…and the list goes on. It was a collective effort, involving citizens from all over the United States.

“’Pop, if Jack can save lives, I want him to go in,’ declared 11-year-old Bobby Verhaeghe through tears.” (Hutton, 75; Jack was one of the dogs Homer Finley worked with.)

Chance

The other thing that struck me…Several things happened along the way that could have delayed or prevented Mr. Finley’s deployment. For example, the 1st Marine War Dog platoon traveled by train from Camp Lejeune to Camp Pendleton for the next stage of their training. The journey took five days, and the dogs traveled by boxcar in crates. At every stop, the handlers got off the train to exercise the dogs.

At one spot in Texas, the conductor announced an extended stop. Several Marines, including Homer Finley, decided to run into town to buy a case of beer. As they were returning, the train whistle blew. They double-timed it, barely making the train before it pulled away. What if they had missed their ride?

Another example: During training in California, Mr. Finley and a couple of his comrades had a day of leave. They went to Laguna Beach, where they happened to meet some girls who lived in Hollywood. One of the Marines managed to get a phone number, and all three applied for leave so they could see these gals again. Their CO approved the leave but said, “You can’t go into L.A. because of the Zoot Suit Riots.” The group went anyway, rationalizing that Hollywood was not the same as L.A.

When the Lieutenant in charge of the 1st Marine War Dog Platoon found out the group had gone to the city against orders, Mr. Finley thought this might be the end of his military career. The Gunnery Sergeant said, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to throw the book at you.” Finley breathed a sigh of relief at the punishment: “restricted to barracks for one week.”

Preparing for deployment

At Camp Pendleton, Finley’s platoon trained in small boats. “There was lots of upchucking,” he said. “Even some of the dogs got seasick.”

“Hollywood dog trainer Carl Spitz had pioneered the use of hand signals to direct animals from beyond camera range. He trained the terrier that played Toto in the Wizard of Oz… At Pendleton, the dogs and men of the 1st Platoon received accelerated training from Spitz.” (Hutton, 9, 61)

They eventually found their sea legs.

“On October 4, 1943, the regiment set sail for Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands. It would be the first time the dogs and their handlers would be under hostile fire.” (Hutton, 63)

Homer Finley in Bougainville

The 1st Marine War Dog Platoon included 24 dogs. Three of those were messenger dogs—Caesar, Jack and Thor. Homer Finley was one of six messenger dog handlers.

“The messenger dog was a lifeline between units—a reliable conveyor of communication in dense jungles where telephone wires had been cut or had never existed.” These dogs “posed a difficult target for the enemy. He could find his way in daylight or darkness, through any kind of weather or terrain, and he was especially effective in the jungle.”

“Every messenger required two handlers; the dog ran from one master to the other.” (Hutton, 28, 29)

War Animals describes the Bougainville campaign in detail. It’s a great read. Bottom line: the dogs and their handlers quickly proved their worth.

“The dogs became the eyes and ears of the Marines.” (Hutton, 63)

Recollections

“I loved working with the dogs,” said Finley. “It was rewarding that the program worked. The dogs saved lives.”

Shortly after Finley got to Bougainville, the Marines reassigned him to the Raider regiment and gave him a crash course in demolitions. From that point on, he traveled with interpreters who tried to talk enemy combatants out of pillboxes and caves. Finley’s job: to sling charges into openings to seal up hiding spots.

A subsequent injury in Guam resulted in medical evacuation to Hawaii. Once recovered, he returned to the mainland U.S. to finish out his four-year military service commitment.

MWDTSA remembrance

I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to meet a WWII handler, particularly one in my county.

One day, many months ago, I was staffing a MWDTSA information table at Chuck and Don’s Pet Food and Supplies in Longmont, Colorado. Hosting educational events is one of my favorite parts of volunteering with MWDTSA. Occasionally, veterans or family/friends of active-duty handlers will stop by to introduce themselves. That particular day, a customer said, “You’ve got to meet my neighbor Homer Finley. He handled dogs in World War II and even knew Caesar!”

My first meeting with Mr. Finley took place in late summer 2019. When I think of 94-year-olds, I envision canes, walkers or wheelchairs. Mr. Finley used none of these. Still ambulatory, he shook my hand firmly and spoke with the steady voice of someone decades younger.

This photo shows Homer Finley at his writing desk with a pen.

Above: Homer Finley sits at his writing desk, September 16, 2019.

Notebook and pen in hand, I took copious notes as he shared about his time in the service and with the dogs. Humble and down-to-earth, he remarked, “Really, I’m just a regular guy. All of us wanted to help in WWII. I don’t know why people are making such a big deal about my service. You know, you are the third person to interview me recently.”

The first was Robin Hutton, who included Mr. Finley’s account in her book War Animals. The second was a researcher from University of Colorado-Boulder, who hoped Mr. Finley might have insights about Bougainville. And then me.

What Mr. Finley described is a level of patriotism that I have not seen in my lifetime. The U.S. rallied together after Pearl Harbor. Everyone wanted to do their part.

Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Finley celebrated his 95th birthday. He was still walking unassisted. He completely redefined for me what it means to age with grace. His zest for life and sense of humor will continue to inspire me for the rest of my years.

Featured image at top: This 1943 photo shows Homer Finley at Front Royal with an unnamed Saint Bernard. In World War II, the military utilized the Saint Bernard breed for hauling ammunition. Photographer unknown.

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Ryan Warner of Colorado Public Radio captured Mr. Finley’s voice in this recent interview: https://www.cpr.org/show-segment/remembering-marine-private-first-class-homer-finley-of-longmont/

 

This is a 2019 photo of Military Working Dogs National Monument at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. A bronze sculpture of a handler stands with his gun ready. Arrayed before him are bronze sculptures of four military working dogs representing the four main breeds used by the military. MWDTSA provided a memorial wreath, displayed on the monument. MWDTSA is providing a wreath for Memorial Day 2020, as well.

This is a 2019 photo of Military Working Dogs National Monument at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. A bronze sculpture of a handler stands with his gun ready. Arrayed before him are bronze sculptures of four military working dogs representing the four main breeds used by the military. MWDTSA provided a memorial wreath, displayed on the monument. MWDTSA is providing a wreath for Memorial Day 2020, as well.

On this Memorial Day Weekend 2020, the Military Working Dog Team Support Association is grateful to all U.S. military working dog handlers and K9s, past and present, who work tirelessly to protect our troops and our freedom. These teams often serve in front of the front lines, checking for hidden dangers such as improvised explosive devices and ambushes. They save lives.

The following military working dog handlers have died since September 11, 2001.

This list also includes some handlers from coalition forces. We thank you all for your service and sacrifice.

On Memorial Day 2020, please join us in reflecting on each name below:

Sgt Joshua Ashley, USMC, KIA 19 July 2012

Sgt Aaron J. Blasjo, US Army, KIA 29 May 2011

MA2 Sean Brazas, US Navy, KIA 30 May 2012

MA2 Michael Brodsky, US Navy, WIA/died 21 July 2012

Sgt Adam L. Cann, USMC, KIA 5 January 2006

SSgt Brian M. Carragher, US Air Force, killed 18 September 2010

LCpl Peter J. Clore, USMC, KIA 28 May 2011

Cpl Keaton G. Coffey, USMC, KIA 24 May 2012

OSSN Tyler Connely, US Navy, died 16 January 2002

Sgt Zainah C. Creamer, US Army, KIA 12 January 2011

LCpl William H. Crouse I and MWD Cane, USMC, KIA 21 December 2010

SSgt Christopher Diaz, USMC, KIA 28 September 2011

Cpl Max W. Donahue, USMC, KIA 6 August 2010

MA1 John Douangdara and MPC Bart, US Navy, KIA 6 August 2011

SSgt Raphael A. Futrell, US Army, died 25 March 2009

LtCol Daniel E. Holland, DVM, US Army, KIA 18 May 2006

SSgt James R. Ide V, US Army, KIA 29 August 2010

SrA Martin Kristiansen, Royal Danish Air Force, KIA 13 June 2010

Spc Robert W. Jones, US Army, died 6 January 2018

Sgt Dick A. Lee Jr., US Army, KIA 26 April 2012

Cpl Dustin J. Lee, USMC, KIA 21 March 2007

SSgt John Mariana, US Army, died 28 November 2012

TSgt Jason L. Norton, US Air Force, KIA 22 January 2006

Sgt Mycal L. Prince, US Army, KIA 15 September 2011

SFC Gregory A. Rodriguez, US Army, KIA 2 September 2008

LCpl Kenneth M. Rowe, Royal Army UK, KIA 24 July 2008

MA2 Christopher L. Roybal, US Navy, killed 1 October 2017

PFC Colton W. Rusk, USMC, KIA 6 December 2010

Sapper Darren Smith, Royal Australian Army, KIA 7 June 2010

Cpl David M. Sonka, USMC, KIA 4 May 2013

Cpl Jeffrey R. Standfest, USMC, KIA 16 June 2010

Spc Brandon K. Steffy, US Army, KIA 25 October 2009

SSgt Donald T. Tabb, US Army, KIA 5 February 2008

LCpl Abraham Tarwoe, USMC, KIA 12 April 2012

LCpl Liam R. Tasker, Royal Army UK, KIA 1 March 2011

Cpl Kory D. Wiens, US Army, KIA 6 July 2007

Sgt Jorden Williams, US Army, died 02 January 2019

Sgt Christopher M. Wrinkle, USMC, died 31 July 2011

 

Photo credit: Heidi C. Rose-Fiscus

 

This photo shows RMWD Aura before her health deteriorated. She is modeling with a FIFTY/FIFTY water bottle, etched with MWDTSA's logo.

This photo shows RMWD Aura before her health deteriorated. She is modeling with a FIFTY/FIFTY water bottle, etched with MWDTSA's logo.RMWD Aura N679 was one of us—a MWDTSA volunteer. She and her humans represented MWDTSA at educational events, a movie premiere, and more. So, her death on February 7, 2020, touched us all. Below are two tributes: the first by her mom Jesca Daniels and the second by Kayla Miller of Negative Image Photography, LLC. RMWD Aura N679, thank you for your service to our nation and to MWDTSA. Rest easy.

From Jesca Daniels

We just said goodbye to Aura and our hearts are broken.

Most of you know that Mark was Aura’s first and only handler in the Marine Corps. She came into our life in 2010. Mark had been a handler for six years at the time, but she was his first Malinois. And boy was she everything a Malinois should be—smart, energetic, loyal, energetic, determined, energetic…did I mention energetic?

She gave him a run for his money, but in the end she made him a better handler. They were a beautiful team to see in action. I first fell in love with her love for him. Little did I know I would go on to fall in love with her love for the girls and me.

An IED blast creates a new family

In 2013, they deployed to Afghanistan. Three months in, I got the call that both of them and six other Marines had been injured in an IED blast. I didn’t know it then, but we gained seven family members that day. I am forever grateful that they all survived, and I love each and every one of them.

Mark rehabilitated and eventually went back to full duty. After months of rehabilitating MWD Aura in-country, she and Mark reunited. In that moment, I knew that one day she would be ours. She already was. A few months later, Aura tore her cruciate ligament and had to have surgery to correct it. After the first surgery, she would go on to tear the other and require more procedures. This ultimately lead to her retirement. It was final; she was coming home.

This photo shows RMWD Aura's military vest, which includes a Guardians of the Night patch.

RMWD Aura sports her tactical vest harness with “Retired Guardians of the Night” patch. (Photo by Kayla Miller, Negative Image Photography, LLC)

On May 22, 2015, Aura came home to the girls and me while Mark was serving a year in Japan. I remember being so nervous about how she was going to do without him that I visited her at the kennels every week until it was time for her to come home.

I recall the exact moment she became my dog. I don’t say that to take away from the bond that she and Mark shared. I just mean that by the time she came home, I did not feel like I was taking care of his dog. She was part of the family. RMWD Aura put all of her heart into loving the girls and me, just as she had into loving and protecting her Dad. You guys know what happened next because you have loved us enough to follow her journey these past few years.

Beginning of the end

A little over a year ago, Aura started to not act like herself. It began with licking to a point she would lose control of her bladder, and being a bit off balance. As she progressed, she became unable to open her mouth very well to eat. RMWD Aura lost muscle tone all over her body and eventually was unable to get up or lay down without assistance. She would fall when she walked, and she genuinely seemed frightened of the world around her.

My spunky, energetic Velcro dog got to the point where instead of following me to every room, she would lift her head and sigh, but remain where she was. She lost interest in her KONG, which if you were lucky enough to have met her, you know was a big deal.

It got to the point where we were no longer looking for signs that it was time to let go, but rather we were trying to find a reason not to. After consulting several vets and specialists—and given her diagnoses—we knew that it was time to make the hard choice. RMWD Aura had MMM, DM, masses on her adrenal glands and spleen, and her quality of life was just not there.

The best last day

So, on February 7, 2020, we set out to give her the best last day ever. She had pizza, a donut, and Starbucks, her favorite things, and she got love from all of her people. As hard as it was, it was the best day she has had in a while. I think she knew we were going to let her be at peace.

With her family's help, RMWD Aura consumes one last Starbuck's Puppuccino.

RMWD Aura enjoys a final Starbuck’s Puppuccino. (Photo by Kayla Miller, Negative Image Photography, LLC)

She had a bit of her twinkle back, and I think, I hope, she felt covered with love. In the end, we decided we would all be with her. The girls didn’t want to be in the waiting area. They wanted RMWD Aura to know that we were all there, so we were. We all told her how much she was loved, and we held her and loved her until the end. It was one of the hardest moments of all of our lives, but it is a moment I am glad we all shared. We all got that closure, and she had us all there.

This heart-wrenching image shows Mark Daniels giving RMWD Aura a final embrace.

Family members embrace RMWD Aura in her final hour. (Photo by Kayla Miller, Negative Image Photography, LLC)

For the full album, showing RMWD Aura’s best last day, visit: https://www.facebook.com/AuraN679/

Gratitude

There are so many people we need to thank. First and foremost, Mission K9 Rescue. They provided vet care for Aura through all of this. And more than that, they have been a rock in our life as far as friendship and support. If it weren’t for them, we would not have had the time with her we did. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And Negative Image Photography, LLC, for capturing the final moments for us. I honestly didn’t think I wanted pictures, but now I am so grateful that we have them. We will absolutely cherish them forever. Thank you for making yourself available and for being a part of her last day. I know it couldn’t have been easy on you and I will never be able to thank you enough for the gift you gave us.

Military Working Dog Team Support Association, Inc. and Rocky Mountain Dawgs Project: you guys have literally become our family. Our lives are better because you are in them. And to everyone who has loved us, followed us, cheered for us, and cried with us, we are truly grateful for your presence in our life.

And finally, Aura, thank you for being my best friend. Thank you for always loving me and the girls no matter what we went through. Thank you for healing parts of me I didn’t even know were broken. You were the best girl and I hope that we brought you half the joy you gave to us. I love you forever and I will count every star until I see you again… Goodbye Love.

 

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From Kayla Miller

As a photographer, I’m often hired to capture some of the happiest moments in people’s lives. Weddings, births, families playing… you know, LOVE in its happiest form. I’ve never been hired to capture love in its saddest form, until today.

Meet Aura, a retired United States Marine MWD. Aura and her handler (daddy) Mark met in 2010. They instantly shared a bond that all the instructors said was incredible, one of the best teams to ever come through their training.

A bond that heals

In March 2013, they were stationed in Afghanistan together. One day on their way back from patrol, they were both injured in an IED blast. Mark and Aura were thrown from their seats. He sustained a TBI with bleeding and bruising on the brain, along with back and neck injuries. Aura sustained a collapsed lung and heart arrhythmia. She was very anxious and couldn’t sleep.

They took her to the hospital to see Mark before he was flown stateside for medical care. When she saw he was ok, she climbed in his bed and slept for the first time since the accident. Aura had to stay in Afghanistan for treatment until they could have someone fly her back.

Mark’s wife says that finally being able to see Aura again motivated him through his rehabilitation. After he recovered, Mark went on to receive The Purple Heart medal. In 2015, Aura retired and went to live out the rest, best days, of her life with Mark and his family. Most of that time was just with Mark’s wife and daughters as he was deployed again.

They joined in on the bond and loved Aura so deeply. She was loved to the fullest and catered to until the very end. She had the best, last day a US Marine could ever dream of.

Reflections on RMWD Aura N679

Thank you isn’t enough to express my gratitude for your service. RIP Aura N679—End of Watch 2/7/2020.

This has been by far the hardest project I have ever taken on. I can’t say I did it with a smile on my face the whole time because that’s not true. While I did greet Aura and her family with smiles and warm wishes, I am still human and have emotions. It took everything I had in me to stay strong and not break down with them. I wasn’t strong enough and did in fact quietly break down. I become invested in the people whose lives I capture, fully invested. No matter the form of love I capture, just know I feel it, too.

As civilians, we have no idea what our soldiers go through to protect our country, so we can go where we want, when we want…so we can post on Facebook, have the jobs we want and have the things we want. Our soldiers sometimes aren’t always people. They are animals. Willing, able and brave enough to go where man cannot.

God Bless ALL of our soldiers.

This photo shows handlers and their dogs, along with Security Forces Museum Director Ken Neal, standing in front of Nemo's Memorial at Lackland Air Force Base. In the background is a wreath donated by MWDTSA in honor of Vietnam veteran dog handler Bob Throneburg.
This photo shows handlers and their dogs, along with Security Forces Museum Director Ken Neal, standing in front of Nemo's Memorial at Lackland Air Force Base. In the background is a wreath donated by MWDTSA in honor of Vietnam veteran dog handler Bob Throneburg.Pictured here: MWDTSA is humbled to provide a wreath to honor the memory of Bob Throneburg. Handlers and MWDs from the 802nd SFS K9 Section—along with Ken Neal, Security Forces Museum Foundation—installed the wreath at Nemo’s Memorial on Friday, February 7, 2020, Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. (Photo credit: TSgt Joseph Williams, NCOIC, Security Forces Museum)

On February 5, 2020, Vietnam veteran dog handler Bob Throneburg passed away at his South Carolina home. His obituary contains details on the memorial service.

The news spread quickly through the military working dog community, along with a 2017 article from Duke Energy’s Illumination. Duke Energy has graciously granted us permission to reprint this piece below.

As you reflect on Bob Throneburg’s life and legacy, we invite you to share memories and thoughts in the Comment section below. Rest easy and thank you for inspiring our nation’s MWD program.

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A soldier and the dog that saved his life

Nemo saved airman Bob Throneburg’s life during the Vietnam War and became a symbol of heroism

by Elizabeth Leland

Waiting until the cover of darkness, in the suffocating heat of Vietnam, Air Force airman Bob Throneburg started out on patrol with his war dog, Nemo. It was December 4, 1966. Sixty Viet Cong had infiltrated Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Air Base the night before with a brutal mortar attack, and enemy stragglers remained hidden.

Nemo’s charge was to find them. He was trained to be a killer.

On Veterans Day, November 11, he is celebrated as one of the most heroic of the U.S. K9 Corps, which formed in 1942 and deployed more than 4,000 dogs during the Vietnam War.

That night in Vietnam, the German shepherd’s ears shot up. His body stiffened, hackles raised, tail rigid. He sensed the intruder before Throneburg saw him. The guerrilla tried to flee, but Throneburg fired his M16.

It was the first time in combat for Throneburg, 22, from Albemarle, N.C., who had arrived in Vietnam five months earlier. He couldn’t stop to dwell on the deadly encounter. He and Nemo, alongside another soldier and his dog, continued on their mission.

“The last thing I remember, it was 3 a.m. and I was hiding behind a bulldozer,” Throneburg said.

For a second time, Nemo’s ears shot up, alerting Throneburg to an intruder.

Throneburg turned Nemo loose.

The Viet Cong fired several shots from his AK-47. Throneburg took a hit in his left shoulder, knocking him to the ground. Nemo took one on his nose and lost his right eye. Nemo continued fighting, giving Throneburg time to call for backup.

The other U.S. soldier pulled Throneburg to safety.

“Then I started fading away,” Throneburg said. “Nemo came back and crawled on top of me.”

And there Nemo lay, guarding his handler the way he was taught, refusing to budge. “On a good day, he was just a normal laid-back sentry dog, easygoing,” Throneburg said. But when you got him mad, “he was about as mean as a brokeback snake.”

It took a former handler to finally pry Nemo off.

In a 1967 article in Air Force News, the base veterinarian was quoted as saying: “He was in pretty bad shape. I had to do skin grafts on his face and perform a tracheotomy to help him breathe. His right eye had to be removed, but even this didn’t lessen his ability. It only made his other senses – hearing and smell – more sensitive.”

Throneburg and Nemo were reunited one last time at the base hospital. In a photo taken that day, Nemo leans in toward a smiling Throneburg as the handler scratches his companion’s neck. They never saw each other again.

Left: Nemo (date unknown), Right: Bob Throneburg in 2017

Throneburg was airlifted to a hospital in Japan and underwent five surgeries over seven months to repair his shoulder. “It hurts every day of my life,” he said. “Every day. It never goes away. It always hurts. I’m starting to lose quite a bit of mobility.”

Nemo recuperated at Tan Son Nhut before retiring from active duty. He became the face of the K9 Corps, used to help recruit thousands of dogs into the service. He died in 1972 at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where his kennel stands as a memorial.

Bob Throneburg received two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star medal.

Back in North Carolina, he earned a degree in architectural drafting and took a job in 1976 in the drafting department at McGuire Nuclear Station. Bob retired from Duke Energy in 1999 but returned in 2001 and works as a contractor in the planning department at the Catawba Nuclear Station in South Carolina. He is 73.

He and his wife, Patricia, live in Gaffney, S.C., with their 4-year-old great-granddaughter, Elizabeth Jade – and two rescue Portuguese water dogs, Maggie and Bessie. Over the years, they’ve kept other dogs and they plan to have more. But for Throneburg, none can ever compare with Nemo, the dog who saved his life.

“Your sentry dogs become a part of you, a part of your being,” he said. “You work with them so closely and you depend on them and they depend on you. That’s why they call them dog teams.”

An inscription Throneburg wrote for a war dog memorial in Tampa, Fla., reflects the depth of his feelings:

Brave beyond words.

Ferocious without self-regard.

Bonds never broken.

Loyal till death.

Defender of the night.

He was a war dog.

Stay back, handler down!

 

About Nemo

Nemo, serial No. A534 of the 377th Security Police K-9, was returned to the United States and spent his retirement at the Department of Defense Dog Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. He died there in December 1972.

Handler and military working dog stand before MWD memorial on Guam.
“25 Marine War Dogs gave their lives liberating Guam in 1944. They served as sentries, messengers, and scouts. They explored caves, and detected mines and booby traps.” U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class John F. Looney [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Emails, Facebook posts, and retail store signs exclaim, “Happy Memorial Day!” At each one, I bristle and my mind travels back to a 1983 conversation with Moshe, a 15-year-old Israeli exchange student.

Moshe’s stay in the U.S. included the Memorial Day weekend, and he passionately spoke out against the celebratory atmosphere. “This is wrong,” he said. “Memorial Day isn’t about partying and shopping. It’s about remembering the sacrifice of those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. It is supposed to be a solemn occasion. You don’t say, ‘Happy Memorial Day.’ You say, ‘Thank you.’”

Moshe’s words continue to resonate with me today. Ads announcing big Memorial Day blowout sales compete with media coverage of commemorative activities and veterans’ stories. Low-price promises and beer fests distract us from the meaning and intent of the day.

We, the volunteers of MWDTSA, encourage you to take time this weekend to reflect on the sacrifices of our nation’s two- and four-legged heroes. Visit a cemetery, study the grave markers, and place flags or flowers to say thank you. Watch a documentary, begin a biography, or read news articles about a fallen service member.

MWDTSA thanks handlers and MWDs, past and present, for your dedication to preserving our nation’s freedoms and protecting the United States of America. We feel enormous gratitude for your service.

Sgt. William (Billy) Soutra and his Specialized Search Dog, Posha F738

In July of 2010, the Helmund River valley near Nahr-e Saraj, Afghanistan, was an immensely volatile Taliban stronghold. One Special Forces Operator reported casualties in 18 of the 19 missions run by his unit. This was where Sgt. William (Billy) Soutra and his Specialized Search Dog, Posha F738, along with other members of their Special Forces Team, were inserted via helicopter to begin a mission to capture an insurgent bomb factory and clear out a Taliban command post.

Once Posha was on the ground, his nose immediately honed in on certain odors, finding two pressure plate bombs; Posha then began sniffing for booby traps around a weapons cache. As Posha and Soutra began this search, the Taliban exploded into a ferocious ambush; the fighting lasted two days. During those 48 hours, Soutra and Posha exhibited exquisite Marine heroism and resourcefulness, resulting in the awarding of a Navy Cross for dog handler Soutra and three Silver Stars for other members of his unit. The Navy Cross, presented December 2012, is the second highest award for combat valor and the highest ever awarded a dog handler who was secured to his dog during the action for which he received the commendation.

The official Department of Defense news release uses phrases such as “moving exposed down the line,” “rushed into the kill zone,” “pinned down,” “flurries of insurgent machine gun and mortar fire” and noted that in the end, “they had destroyed the bomb factory, and had killed approximately 50 enemy fighters.”

Soutra’s version talks more about his partner, Posha. The Marine states clearly that half of the Navy Cross belongs to his best friend, a solid black male German shepherd dog with wonky ears, an affable personality and a brilliance and steadfastness that are hallmarks of this splendid breed. “Posha made me the Marine I am today.”

Billy could not give enough accolades to his dog. “During all of the gunfire, as we moved into the firefight, he didn’t hesitate, he didn’t cower, he did everything exactly when and how I did it for two straight days. If he had faltered or balked at any point, it could have been different.” He added, “He always reacted the same way. He saved my life.”

On a previous deployment to Iraq in 2009, Soutra and Posha’s teamwork was so precise and seamless that, in a rare event, the Marines meritoriously promoted Soutra to Sergeant and by extension, Posha to SSgt.

While Posha made it through the second combat deployment, he later succumbed to cancer and was euthanized in 2011. His loss was particularly difficult for his handler. “It’s been a year now, but it still hurts when I think about how he got cancer and had to be put down.”

Posha’s ashes rest in an urn in a place of honor at Soutra’s bedside. If Soutra has his way, his German shepherd hero who is now buried in his heart will one day be buried with him. “That way, we will always be together.”

Dog handler Soutra wrote the following memorial to his K9 partner, after Posha’s death.

“I wish I could tell you that it’s going to be okay, but the truth is you’ve always been the one to pave the way.

You were always two steps ahead making sure that the paths we traveled were safe.

And although you’ve done enough already, I ask that you still watch over me, making sure the roads I travel without you are safe.”

MWDTSA is honored to have supported this team.

Sergeant William “Billy” Soutra was awarded the Navy Cross at Camp Pendleton, CA on December 3, 2012. Click play, below, to listen to the audio portion of his DOD interview. The full (public domain) video interview can be viewed at http://www.dvidshub.net/video/192339/interviews-with-secretary-navy-and-silver-star-recipient#.Uc3abZxZ7Kc .

 

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Corporal Joshua R. Ashley, United States Marine Corps, 23, of Rancho Cucamonga, California, died July 19, 2012, while conducting combat operations near Zombalay, in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

He was assigned to 2nd Law Enforcement Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

John Ashley, Joshua’s father, said his son was killed by hostile enemy action — the victim of an improvised explosive device. Corporal Ashley was with his military dog Sirius, a 4-year-old female German Shepherd, when he was killed. MWD Sirius is accounted for and survived the incident.

Thank you to the VDHA for sharing this Memorial information.

“Freedom is not free, but the U.S. Marine Corps will pay most of your share. ”
– Ned Dolan

Sgt. Keaton Coffee and his kanine partner Denny

Cpl. Keaton G. Coffey, 22, of Boring, Ore., was killed on May 24 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province. He only had three weeks left on his tour during his second deployment to Afghanistan when he was killed. He was scheduled to return back to his base, Camp Pendleton.

Coffey’s dog, Denny, survived.Keaton G. Coffey was an only child and was engaged to be married July 14 to Brittany Dygert, whom he met through his mother.

He  was assigned to 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, 1st Marine Headquarters Group, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

Fellow Marines spoke of Coffey’s kindness, passion for his work, commitment and the natural abilities that helped him excel as a dog handler with his canine partner, Denny.

His former principal at the Damascus Christian School described Coffey as “every parent’s dream.”

He was the student body president during his senior year.  A former teacher said that Coffey planned eventually to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a firefighter. His father spent more than 35 years at Portland Fire and Rescue.

MWDTSA was supporting this unit in Afghanistan when we learned of his loss though our Point of Contact.  This was devastating for all of his fellow Marines as they had already been through so much together.  Our hearts go out to his fiancee, family, friends and the entire K9 community.

Rest in Peace, young Marine.

Many thanks to our friends at the VDHA for their help on the photo and this memorial info.

Profile picture of Sgt. Dick Lee of Orange Park, Florida

Sgt. Dick A. Lee Jr., 31, of Orange Park, Fla., died April 26 in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, from injuries when an IED destroyed his vehicle. He was on his fourth tour of duty, having served previously in both Iraq and Afghanistan. His dog, Fibi, was also killed in the explosion, as was another soldier.

Dick A. Lee Jr.’s commanding officer remembers him as a great soldier and dog handler. “Always quick with a smile and laugh, he was the kind of person you always wanted to be around,” noted Col. Brian Bisacre.

“Sgt. Lee was a consummate professional. He attacked every mission with passion and strived to be the best at everything he was asked to do. Sgt. Lee lived and breathed the Army and was a dedicated father, husband, son and soldier. He will never be forgotten.”

He is survived by his wife Katherine G. Lee and sons, David and Joshua.

Thank you to the VDHA for your information.  While we never had the chance to meet this amazing handler, we do know many people who reflected the light of his life.  He sounds like he was simply a great guy.

May you rest in eternal peace.

Something Beautiful Remains

The tide recedes but leaves behind
bright seashells on the sand.
The sun goes down, but gentle
warmth still lingers on the land.
The music stops, and yet it echoes
on in sweet refrains…..
For every joy that passes,
something beautiful remains.
Author Unknown

Zeniah Cramer

Sgt. Zainah C. Creamer, 28, is the first female dog handler to be killed in action since the U.S. Army started training women as handlers in 1973. She was killed by an IED on Jan. 12, 2011, in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. She was a handler with the 212th Military Police Detachment. A native of Texarkana, Texas, she had served two tours in Iraq. Her dog Jofa was not injured.

Rest in Peace, young Soldier.

Thanks to Dennis Herrick for sharing his DogMan Memorials.