As America’s service men and women are being recognized across the country as part of Veteran’s Day today, a special — often forgotten — soldier is getting special recognition, as well.
A monument to war dogs and their handlers will be dedicated during an afternoon ceremony in Columbia, South Carolina, today, reports The State newspaper.
The $130,000 bronze statue depicts a soldier and his military dog; the kneeling soldier is about 7 feet tall and the dog stands 4 feet tall. Together, the piece weighs 1,700 pounds.
Vietnam veteran and handler Johnny Mayo has been working for four years to see this monument come to fruition.
“I can see the light at the end of tunnel of a journey that started on March 12, 2011,” Mayo told the paper Monday as the statue was being put into place in S.C. Memorial Park in Columbia.
But his relationship with his own military working dog, Tiger, started much earlier.
Mayo’s mission began Oct. 16, 1970, in the jungles of Vietnam. Reportedly, he and the German Shepherd scout dog were leading a foot patrol in the central highlands of South Vietnam, searching for anything that could harm the other soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which followed behind them. Tiger was off leash ahead of Mayo when the dog hit a trip wire.
Although Mayo’s life was saved, Tiger died from shrapnel embedded in his abdomen.
Tiger reportedly was one of 4,000 scout dogs that served in Vietnam; of that, nearly 800 died of wounds or disease and 2,000 were euthanized at war’s end. This was all before handlers were allowed to adopt their service dogs — when dogs were considered “surplus military equipment” and killed, The State reports.
Dennis Lewis of Goldsboro, North Carolina, volunteered to drive the sculpture the 923 miles from Oregon, Illinois, where artist Renee Bemis created it. He said many Vietnam handlers showed up at events along the route to pay their respect to those men, women and dogs that served.
“The men are very humbled and upset about what happened to their dogs,” Lewis told the paper. “We want people to know that story.”
To date, Mayo reportedly has raised $105,000 for the $130,000 statue. Online donations can be made at wardogmemorialfund.com or through the War Dog Memorial Fund at Morgan Stanley Bank, 1320 Main St., Suite 800, Columbia, SC, 29201.
Other memorials that pay tribute to the dogs who served are located in Mobile, Alabama; Bristol Township, Pennsylvania; Holmdel, New Jersey; Peoria, Illinois; Hartsdale, New York; Fort Benning, Georgia; March Air Force Base in Riverside, California; Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Florida; and Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington.
To read more about the life of a war dog, click here.