Vietnam Vet Seeks Memorial To Honor Dogs Of War

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Military working dogs have a long rich history protecting service members, and their numbers are growing. Texas Public Radio’s Terry Gildea has a profile of one man dedicated to honoring these highly trained dogs, who sniff out bombs and are the additional eyes and ears of many who've fought in war.


From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

From walking the perimeter to rooting out bombs, military working dogs have a long rich history protecting American service members. Now, Texas Public Radio's Terry Gildea introduces us to one man dedicated to honoring these dogs of war.

TERRY GILDEA: Of all the photographs in Larry Chilcoat's possession, the picture he's most fond of is one of Geisha sitting on his porch with his miniature poodle Taylor in South Texas overlooking the Gulf of Mexico on a cool spring day. He shows me the tattered snapshot of his old-time companion.

Mr. LARRY CHILCOAT: Geisha was just about as cool and smooth as you could imagine a dog of - a vet, in nature, being. She was a German shepherd, about 75 pounds and worked entirely on command.

GILDEA: Back in the late '60s, Chilcoat dropped out of college and listed in the Air Force as the war in Vietnam was escalating. He trained as a security officer and was assigned to Cameron Air Base. There he met Geisha, the military working dog he would be with for the next year. The two patrolled the base perimeter together and she had a few more handlers before being retired. Chilcoat says having Geisha by his side helped him get through the war.

CHILCOAT: I didn't have to do it alone. While I was out protecting, I was in fact being protected along with everyone else who was kind of behind our line of defense.

GILDEA: Of the 4,000 dogs deployed in Vietnam, the most of any conflict up until that point in U.S. history, 281 were killed in action. Their role has become larger in Iraq and Afghanistan as more dogs are trained to sniff out explosives, but there is still no physical memorial dedicated to military working dogs and their handlers. Larry Chilcoat wants to change that. He's joined two fellow handler veterans with the National War Dogs Monument project.

Mr. CHILCOAT: I, in a way, sometimes still feel very close. It means something to me to be a part of honoring those dogs because I know what they do to protect our troops.

GILDEA: The group has gotten approval from the Defense Department and Congress to build a memorial at the Army's Fort Belvoir in Virginia and is now trying to raise the money to realize their dream. They have just a little more than $25,000 collected so far. Even though that's just a fraction of the total cost of the project, Chilcoat remains optimistic. He and his fellow vets hope to have the monument complete by Memorial Day 2012.

For NPR News, I'm Terry Gildea.

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