My father, a first lieutenant stationed in France in World War II, experienced a different kind of war dog. Dad’s dogs weren’t combatants; they were victims. Frightened and hungry, these often abandoned family pets wanted the same things our soldiers wanted: a full stomach and someone to comfort them. A half a world away from their own family and pets, American soldiers shared their rations with starving strays. In return, the dogs offered affection and escape from the horrors of war.
But pets in combat weren’t sanctioned by the military. Even today soldiers conceal the dog or cat who travels with their units. If discovered, orders are often given to shoot the animal, a terrible idea from the morale perspective. More compassionate officers turn a blind eye to the illicit relationships, for the good of the soldiers…and the animals.
Lt. Rainbolt was one of those officers. An avid dog lover, my dad never took notice of the soldiers’ canine companion, or at least never officially.
Dad served in the Signal Corps as a communications scout in France. He commanded a small unit of 30 men. During the course of the war, his men would feed or rescue strays they’d find along the way. These dogs didn’t sniff out the mines or walk sentry. Their job was to lick war weary faces and to offer a comforting snuggle. These devoted mutts fulfilled their mission perfectly.
When they received their orders to return home, one of Dad’s men approached him and asked. “Lieutenant, what do we do with the dogs?”
Dad told him, “Find local families to give them homes. You can’t bring them on the ship.”
The next day when they boarded the troop transport bound for the U.S., Dad said he couldn’t see a dog for miles. He just assumed the locals had a lot of wonderful new pets.
Several hours after weighing anchor, pooches appeared on deck. A few at first. Then more and more. Before long Dad bumped into dogs no matter where he went on the ship. Dad learned that the smugglers had fed their dogs sedatives, stuffed them in their duffle bags, and then carried them onto the ship. Dad’s men weren’t the only ones to disobey the dog abandonment order. Most of the dogs onboard had traveled with combats units. Over 100 French mutts found themselves heading for the United States.
The no-nonsense admiral in charge ordered my dad to have every dog on the ship shot and their bodies thrown overboard.
Dad warned the admiral that wasn’t wise. “These men have been killing Germans for months. The dogs are part of their unit. If you start shooting dogs, there will be a bloodbath. These men won’t hesitate to kill to protect their dogs.”
“How would they carry out this mutiny?” the admiral wanted to know. “All of the weapons have been stowed in the bowels of the ship.”
Only the U.S.-issued weapons were locked up. The same duffle bags that smuggled in contraband dogs, also (legally) toted captured guns, ammos and knives. (Even Dad came home with eight captured German bayonets.) Before the admiral could enforce his dog destruction order, he’d have to take up the captured weapons. Each piece would have to be logged in, labeled and stored it so it could be returned to the men before they left the ship. The confiscation process would continue well past mid-voyage, at which time they would have to start returning arms to the soldiers. After all, with an immediate turnaround, they couldn’t waste valuable dock time messing with souvenirs. The admiral conceded, and both mutts and men openly strolled the ship.
These dogs may not have carried messages or located mines, but they certainly helped maintain the spirits and morale of exhausted soldiers a long way from home. In their own canine way these scared and lonely dogs did as much to fight the war as the highly trained tactical dogs.
Dad no longer recalls the details. The admiral and the ship’s names have been lost to time. And while these dogs saved the hearts and souls of his men, Dad just returned the favor. And for a few days at the end of World War II, Dad “had over 100 dogs.” That made Lt. Rainbolt the happiest dog lover in the world.
For more information visit the K9 Veterans Day website.
About the Author (Author Profile)
There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.