Memorial Day: Remembering the ultimate sacrifice

Handler and military working dog stand before MWD memorial on Guam.
For Memorial Day: “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

At church this morning, the pastor said, “Stand up and say Happy Memorial Day to the people around you.” I bristled, and my mind traveled 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.

Military Working Dogs, Memorial Day and the June 2014 National Geographic Issue – a personal journey

Vietnam Veteran and MWD handler Johnny Mayo with a military working dog

Back in the late 1990’s I became introduced to Vietnam dog handlers. As new memorials were unveiled in 2000 to honor their dogs – one at Riverside, California and one at Fort Benning, Ga. – I witnessed first hand how the dog handlers from Vietnam honored their partners. It is as if the last 15 years they have tried very hard to remember what they tried so hard to forget the previous 30 years.

Their dogs were abandoned by their government, but never by the men who worked with them. People like, Johnny Mayo, photographed above, have spent hundreds of hours working to ensure that Military Working Dogs are recognized and given their appropriate place in our history and our hearts. Our June issue of Kennel Talk newsletter will feature links to the National Geographic video interview with Johnny.

It’s also true of our own organization, MWDTSA. It was co-founded by one Vietnam era Lt.Col and currently has two Vietnam dog handler veterans on our Board of Directors. What we have as our core driving point is that never again will one generation of dog handlers be abandoned by another.

Having met hundreds of dogs and dog handlers over the course of my now 15 years associated with MWDs, I can truly say these folks are a special breed all of their own. None more special than the lady below. When the Twin Towers came down in NY on September 11th, this young woman got in fighting shape and joined the military. She is probably one of the finest dog handlers I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. So devoted to caring and training her dogs, that her home kennel recently was awarded the Kennel of the Year award.

Female handler and MWD

Donald T. Tabb
Donald T. Tabb
John Douangdara and MWD Bart
John Douangdara and MWD Bart

There have been loses, too. And, this weekend is hard for many people. Over the course of the next day, I will be placing photos on our Facebook page to honor the handlers who have been KIA during Operation Enduring Freedom an Operation Iraqi Freedom. One of the most respected of them all was Donald T. Tabb, the young man shown below.

Another death that was very hard to accept was the downing of the helicopter in August of 2011 with many members of Seal Team Six aboard. Included in that crash, was the dog handler, John Douangdara, and his dog Bart. His sister and family continue to honor him through memorials and support for military working dogs.

We ask that as you go about your weekend, you take time to pause and remember all of those who have been lost in service to this country.

A Memorial to Joshua R. Ashley

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

A Memorial to Keaton G. Coffey

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.

A Memorial to Zaniah C. Creamer

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.

A Memorial to Lance Cpl. William Crouse IV

Lance Cpl. William H. Crouse IV and his detection dog Cane.

Lance Cpl. William H. Crouse IV, 22, was killed in action Dec. 21, 2010, along with his detection dog Cane by an IED in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was from Woodruff, S.C., attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Regiment from Camp Lejeune, N.C. Reports were that even as he lay dying, Lance Cpl. Crouse demanded that his wounded dog be put into the Medevac helicopter with him. They were evacuated together, but both died.

Thanks to Dennis Herrick for sharing his memorial with MWDTSA.

A Memorial to Colton Rusk

Marine PFS Colton Rusk & MWD Eli

Marine Pfc. Colton Rusk, 20, was shot on Dec. 6, 2010, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, I Marine Expeditionary Force based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, he was only six weeks into his first deployment. His dog, Eli, a black Laborador retriever, was not injured. Eli had crawled on top of Pfc. Rusk’s body during the firefight to shield him. The Defense Department allowed Pfc. Rusk’s family to adopt Eli.

Rest in peace, young Marine.

Thanks to Dennis Herrick for sharing his memorial information.

A Memorial to James Ide

Staff Sgt. James Ide and Ddaphine

Staff Sgt. James R. Ide V, 32, was killed Aug. 29, 2010, near Hyderabad, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when his unit was attacked with small-arms fire. He was a specialized dog handler with the 230th Military Police Company, based in Sembach, Germany. He was a native of Festus, Mo. Sgt. Ide left a wife and two children. His dog Ddaphine was a 4-year-old Belgian malinois, which was wounded but survived. Staff Sgt. Ide was a veteran of two tours in Iraq and a tour of duty in South Korea.

Many thanks to Dennis Herrick for allowing me to borrow this memorial.

A Memorial to Jeffrey Standfest

Cpl Jeffrey Steadfast

Cpl. Jeffrey R. Standfest, 23, was killed in action June 16, 2010, in an IED explosion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Cpl. Standfest was a dog handler with the 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force. Cpl. Standfest had recently suffered a concussion in an IED explosion that killed his first dog. He had returned to duty with a new dog looking for more IEDs when he and that dog were killed. He was a native of St. Clair, Mich.

Thanks to Dennis Herrick of the VDHA for sharing this memorial.

A Memorial to Jason L. Norton

Jason L. Norton

Sgt. Jason L. Norton, 32, was killed in action Jan. 22, 2006, in Taji, Iraq, when his armored Humvee was struck by an IED. He was a patrol and dog-unit NCO assigned to 3rd Security Forces Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. Sgt. Norton, a patrol and K-9 officer, had been stationed in Alaska in 2002-2004. Sgt. Norton was a native of Miami, Okla., and left a wife and two children.

This is the second of several memorials that I will be placing on the Blog. I’ve personally always had trouble writing about our Handlers and Dogs who have died because I feel it can be very intrusive on the families and we certainly want to show them respect. Fortunately for me, Dennis Herrick, the editor of DOGMAN, with whom I have have shared some of my articles, did me the courtesy of sharing a gracious and respectful set of memorials with me. They will be posted on the Blog one at a time. With each posting, I hope you will remember the team, the handler’s family and friends who still mourn and the military family left to mourn a loss of their own.

With deep respect,