Sculptor Salutes War Dogs
Sculptor Salutes War Dogs

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Since dogs were domesticated some 14,000 years ago, they have shared our homes, our food and our wars. An estimated 100,000 dogs have served in the United States military over the past century. They have been trained to carry out a variety of assignments, from recognizing mines and booby traps, to serving as sentries, messengers and scouts. The heroic stories of war dogs have inspired artist Susan Bahary, who created several sculptures honoring them.  

Dogs and other animals have always inspired Bahary

"They are very loving to us, very giving," Bahary says. "They have tremendous talents to help us. In addition to that I've always been very proud of my country and having learned more about the war dogs and the incredible sacrifices that were made by them and their handlers I've only become that much more patriotic," she adds.

Kurt is cast in bronze 'Always Faithful' statue

In the early 1990s, Bahary had the opportunity to translate her fascination and passion into a work of art, when she was chosen to create a war dog memorial on the Pacific island of Guam, the site of fierce fighting during World War Two. The hero behind the sculpture is a Doberman pinscher named Kurt, part of a war dog platoon that served in the South Pacific. The dogs were trained to detect enemy soldiers and protect the U.S. marines from being ambushed. Twenty-five of the dogs were killed during the battle for Guam.

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"When the first dog was lost," Bahary explains, "he was hit by a piece of shrapnel - Dr. William Putney, a veterinarian, worked on him, tried to save him, but he wasn't able to. Finally, he was so exhausted, he put his head down on Kurt and fell asleep. He was awakened by his commander. Dr. Putney said, 'what should I do with this dog?' He said, 'put him in the cemetery with the other marines down the beach. He was a marine just like the rest of them. He deserves a place of honor.' That was the beginning of the war dog cemetery in Guam."

Bahary says that when Dr. Putney visited the cemetery 40 years later, he was appalled at its condition.

"He found it to be a disgrace and a dishonor," she says. "It was overrun with weeds and in disrepair. He said, 'before I go to my grave, I want to make sure these dogs have a place of honor they deserve.

That's how the idea of creating a war dog memorial was born. Bahary's sculpture, dedicated in 1994, features a life-size bronze Doberman on a granite base, engraved with the names of the 25 dogs killed in action. It's called Always Faithful.

"We wanted to have the Doberman dog who was the official breed of the marine corps in WWII, in upright reclining position on the base," she says. "The idea was to have his leg raised to show that these dogs are always ready and always on alert and loyal. When I found out that the motto of the Marine Corps was 'Semper Fidelis,' 'Always Faithful,' I said, 'Wow, that's the name I was looking for this monument.

Smoky, a tiny hero, had a towering spirit to serve

Half a world away, in the U.S. state of Ohio, is a monument honoring Smoky, another brave dog who served in World War II. The tiny Yorkshire terrier was found in a foxhole in a New Guinea jungle. She accompanied soldiers on 12 combat missions and was awarded eight battle stars. She survived 150 air raids. Bahary says Smoky even helped engineers build an airbase in the Philippines.

"She was able to pull a telegraph wire," Bahary says. "They attached it to her. She went through a 70 foot long [drain] pipe that was only 8 inches tall and pulled this under an air strip, which saved days of labor and safeguarded 40 warplanes at the time."

The sculpture Bahary created in the memory of this brave dog was dedicated on Veterans Day, in 2005.

Bill Wynne was the soldier who trained Smokey more than 60 years ago.

"It's a beautiful sculpture that Susan made, he says.  "It's 'Smoky' [sitting] in a helmet, a GI helmet. It's a life size bronze [sculpture]. I wanted it kept to the size of the dog so that people see really how tiny she was. She was only 7 inches at the shoulder and she weighed 4 pounds."

Wynne says he is proud that Smoky went on to become the first therapy dog.

"I trained her in obedience trials, which is about a six to 10 week course," he recalls. "In two days the dog was doing everything [he was] supposed to be doing after weeks, which is remarkable. I continued through the whole campaign as we were moving from New Guinea, Biak Island, Luzon, Okinawa and Korea. By the time I finished, two years later, the dog could do well over 200 tricks. In fact she could do a 45 minute show without using any equipment. She could spell her name out of letters and roll a drum. She also learned how to play dead and sing," Wynne says.

Jacco detects bombs in Iraq

Dogs are playing an increasingly important role in the military today, says former Staff Sgt. Ricky Hooker. She served as an Air Force dog handler for six years with Jacco, a Belgian Malinois.  

"While deployed overseas, his job would be to guard airbase whatever base we were at," she says. "For me, it was Kirkuk in Iraq.

Jacco was trained to find hidden explosives and weapons.

"Jacco is a bomb and apprehension dog," he says. "He did both. While in Iraq he was in 175 rocket attacks, six 'I.D.' explosions on his convoys and numerous gun fights. He found numerous weapons, a car bomb and received an Army Achievement Medal. He slept in the room with me, so he got to relax a little bit. But, he is the best partner in the world. As you put your life on the line, he is going to protect you. It's unbelievable the relationship you have with him," Hooker says.

It's that close bond between soldiers and their brave, faithful dogs that artist Susan Bahary has sought to capture and honor in her monuments to America's canine battle heroes.