Swabby was a German shepherd and member of the Marine K-9 Corps during WWII. His remains lie in a grave at the slightly dilapidated Pine Knoll Pet Cemetery, in Santa Cruz, California. He was one of several dogs sent to the Pacific Theater. Swabby and his handler Don Sprauge, served in Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. Sprauge and Swabby saw fierce fighting and Swabby is said to have saved his unit more than once.
Swabby was honorably discharged and after the war went through a retraining program in California with Sprauge. Sprauge gave him to his neighbor John Heuvers, who moved to Santa Cruz in 1949. Swabby died in 1952. His story was unearthed by Dan Model who discovered the old grave while exploring at the Pine Knoll Pet Cemetery and was intrigued by the U.S. Marine Corps medal. Model honored Swabby by placing a U.S. flag by his grave last Veterans Day (read the Sentinel article here).
Dogs in the World Wars
The use of dogs in warfare goes back to ancient times. They have typically been used as scouts, sentries and trackers but sometimes were used in battles to attack the enemy. In World War I dogs were used extensively by both the United States (U.S.) and international forces and many were killed in action. After WWI, the U.S. largely abandoned training dogs for military purposes. However, after Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th 1941, the U.S. military started a program called Dogs for Defense which worked with the American Kennel Association to get people to donate their healthy dogs to the U.S. Army.
The War Dog Program, or “K-9 Corps” was established in March of 1942. The program started out taking in over 30 breeds of dogs, but quickly limited the acceptable breeds to only seven: German shepherds, Belgian sheep dogs, Doberman pinschers, collies, Siberian huskies, Malumutes and Eskimo dogs. The dogs were given basic obedience training for 8 to 12 weeks, then were given specialized training as either sentry dogs, scout or patrol dogs, messenger dogs or mine-detection dogs. Scout dogs proved to be essential in combat situations as they alerted patrols to the approaching enemy and prevented sneak attacks.
War Dogs post WWII
After WWII the U.S. military continued the K-9 units. During the Vietnam War 232 dogs and 295 of their human dog handlers were killed, though it’s estimated that the k-9 units saved over 10,000 lives.
K-9 units continue to be incorporated into many different aspects of military operations. One sign of how entrenched dogs are in the military of today can be seen in the U.S. Armies’ on-line ads for positions as Military Working Dog Handler.
Famous War Dogs: Rags (c. 1916 – March 6, 1936)
Rags was a mixed breed terrier who became the U.S. 1st Infantry Division’s dog-mascot in World War I. Rags achieved great fame when he saved many lives in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive by delivering a vital message despite being bombed, gassed and partially blinded.
Sergeant Stubby (1916 or 1917 – March 16, 1926)
Sergeant Stubby was the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry during WWI. Stubby was with the 102nd for 18 months and served in seventeen battles on the Western Front. He alerted his regiment to surprise gas attacks, found wounded soldiers, and once held a German soldier by his pants until the Americans came and found him. Sergeant Stubby made the American newspapers frequently.
Chips was a German shepherd-collie-Siberian husky mix and the most decorated war dog from World War II. Chips and his handler were trapped on a beach by an Italian machine gun unit during the invasion of Sicily. The dog apparently ran into the dugout of the machine gunners, forced them out and they ultimately surrendered to the Americans. After the war, Chips was returned to his original family but after a visit from his war-time handler, the family gave Chips to the handler.
Lex (1999 – March 25, 2012)
Lex and his handler Corporal Dustin J. Lee were stationed in Iraq in 2007. On March 21st, they were hit by a rocket attack and Lee was killed. Lex, though wounded, refused to leave Lee. Lex eventually had to be dragged away to be treated. Lex recovered and was returned to active service. The Lee family, however, wanted to adopt the dog, and with national media attention were able to get the dog retired from active service and adopt him before his official retirement age. The Lee family and Lex continued to give of themselves throughout Lex’s retirement. They frequently took Lex to visit wounded veterans and soldiers and became involved with the Paws 4 Hearts program. Lex died in 2012 from cancer.
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