By Priyanka Dayal
Photo: Worcester Police Officer Stephen Cortis leans in to photograph the stone memorial at the dedication ceremony yesterday at Green Hill Park. (T&G Staff/CHRISTINE PETERSON)
WORCESTER — After the long, bloody Vietnam War, the servicemen — those who survived — came home.
Their faithful companions didn’t.
Some 4,000 military dogs served in the war, but only about 200 came back to the United States when their time of service ended. Many were transferred to South Vietnamese forces. Many were killed in action or succumbed to illness. The others were euthanized.
Now, like the men and women honored for their service, the dogs will be honored, too. A monument dedicated to war dogs was unveiled yesterday at the Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Green Hill Park. The granite monument is engraved with passages and pictures of a dog with his handler.
In a symbolic measure, the granite used to make the dog monument came from the same shipment of Vermont granite used for the rest of the war memorial. The memorial includes the names of more than 1,500 service members from Massachusetts who died in the Vietnam War. It was dedicated in 2002.
At a dedication ceremony for the War Dogs Monument yesterday, war dogs were remembered as brave and loyal servants that provided companionship and saved lives.
“They’re more than dogs,” said Laurence White of Springfield, a Vietnam veteran who wrote a poem honoring war dogs. “They were comrades, they were soldiers, they were heroes.”
Police dogs from several departments attended the ceremony with their handlers. While speakers took the microphone, the dogs sat or stood in the background, barking a little and fidgeting a lot.
Another dog in attendance was a civilian named Porkchop, a white and brown Australian shepherd. Porkchop was one of 300 dogs that helped find people — alive and dead — in the wreckage of the World Trade Center attacks in New York 10 years ago. It was an emotionally and physically taxing job.
“It was very difficult,” said Porkchop’s handler, Eric Robertson of Auburn. But, Mr. Robertson added, “I know he brought a lot of closure to a lot of families.”
Military dogs have been used for decades in various roles. In Vietnam, many dogs were used as scouts, while others were sentries. The military still uses dogs to sniff for bombs and drugs.
In a major change from the Vietnam War days, military dogs now are offered for adoption when they retire from service.
Michael G. Lemish of Westboro, a military dog historian and the owner of a retired military dog, said dog handlers in Vietnam sometimes released their sentries onto enemy fighters. The dogs gave the handlers the precious few seconds they needed to radio for help.
The War Dogs Monument was built with $4,000 in private money. It is the first monument to dogs to be erected at a state war memorial site, according to Lester W. Paquin, secretary to the board of directors of the Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee.
The monument sits to the side of the main memorial, facing The Place of Words, granite columns engraved with letters written by servicemen who died in Vietnam.
As Robert A. Kollar looked at the war dogs monument, he noticed something. The monument seemed to be standing guard, looking over the rest of the memorial — just as military dogs watched over their handlers in Vietnam.
Mr. Kollar, of Cumberland, R.I., knows these dogs well. When he was a soldier in Vietnam more than 40 years ago, Rebel M421, a German shepherd, was almost always by his side. Rebel was a scout dog. When he sensed danger, he silently alerted his handler.
He was Mr. Kollar’s protector, but also his friend. One Christmas during the war, they shared a pack of dog biscuits. Another time, they shared Mr. Kollar’s lunch, beans and wieners.
When Mr. Kollar returned home from the war, he learned Rebel had died of heat stroke.
“I can still see his big brown eyes looking up at me,” Mr. Kollar recalled yesterday. “God, I loved that dog.”
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