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.

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

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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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 Dick A. Lee, Jr.

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

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.