Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014. Remembering the people and pets who have served our country.

Jack Russell terrier on the capstan winch of a merchant ship, circa 1940.
My collection.

For over 30,000 years man and animal have taken care of each other. From horses to take us from place to place, to pigeons passing messages, to dogs protecting our homes, and cats eradicating the source of pandemic diseases like the plague, or as a food supplis like eggs, meat, milk, and cheese. Our reliance on animals is undeniable. As life became easier for us our dependency shifted from life saving to companion.

There is no time more pivotal to the role of companion animals as World War II.

As some of you know I spent ten years at sea as a merchant mariner. The life of the backbone of the WWII effort was the merchant mariner, (see Wikipedia's write up on the merchant marine, and USMMA here). Responsible for transporting troops, goods, and machinery, and yes, companion animals needed to protect all of the above. The role of these four legged troops was so paramount to the war effort that the US sent letters to the already strapped and struggling civilians on US soil to send their pets to help the men abroad. Some 125,000 pets were sent based on this request. Many never returned home, and many more saved the lives of our sons. The great war effort of WWII was exhausting on all fronts. With a lack of raw materials, men, and money we turned to the few things we had left, our pets. They were called upon to act as military members, soldiers, guardsmen, and mascots. As with all things we ask of them, they rose to the call. Some were called to detect mines, attack snipers, uncover ambushes, and retrieve injured men. Others were dressed and decorated and displayed as symbolic mascots to join individuals into crews, provide morale, and to be a softer face to the all to prevalent tragic face of war. Many other pets were found along the way in far off palces and brought into the makeshift foreign homes of the troops to provide a tiny piece of home and a gentle side of humanity by just being companions to comfort very homesick men.
Photo from US Army archive, via Flickr.
Dogs may have been called into action to serve as aids and alarms to impending doom, but they also remind us how important loyalty, dedication, and love are. Dissecting these apart has proven to be almost impossible for many of us. Those of us who dedicate our personal and professional lives to this bond need not to explain it to each other. It is the fabric of who we are. It defines us as much as it motivates us. We are inseparable and stronger because of it. Through times of war and peace our companions are with us and helping us to live a happier, healthier and longer life every single day.

What would you do if you received a letter asking for you to give up your pet to serve your country?
It would be an almost impossible decision for me. But, if I knew that my dog might save someone's life I know I would feel compelled to send my beloved dogs. After all of the sacrifices that other families made how could I not?

Would I spend everyday hoping to see them again? Of course. Would I know that they too would come back different beings then they had left? Well, the reports from the Army warned owners that their dogs were being trained to kill and might return that way. Their suggestion "lots of cuddling to retrain them."

The boys room.

After 26 years in the Coast Guard my husband retired to settle down in a less demanding role as the liaison of the engineering department for the shipping company I worked for after graduating from Kings Point. I don't have one picture of him without it being either in uniform, or on a ship. We share a love and affinity for the ocean and its lore. Our home is a reflection of this. The nautical antiques, the remnants of ships we have sailed on, and the appreciation for the history our backgrounds come from is evident in every corner. Of all of the artifacts we have my favorites are the old pet photos.

One of my favorite photos is of "Salty," the official mascot of the USS LST 128.

"Salty" official mascot of the USS LST 128.
Wearing his uniform and medals for;
American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal.
Salty's ship was a tank landing ship built in 1943. She served for three years carrying troops and tanks to the Pacific. She was part of the D-Day Normandy Invasion and earned four The rest of these photos are from various Naval Archives. See references below.
Care of the Evans Museum

On this Memorial Day I say a big Thank-You to all of those who served, sacrificed, and remind us how lucky we are to live in a place where freedom rings and women can vote, work, serve, and be a veterinarian to other people who see their four legged kids as kids. It is a beautiful and precious thing.

Related Articles;
Buddies, Soldiers and Animals in World War II, from the National Archives.

You Won't Believe the Incredible Way Household Dogs Helped World War II, by Bark Post

The United States Merchant Marine Academy, history, by the U.S. Dept Of Transportation.

Information on the USS LST- 128, from the Nav Source Naval Hstory archives.

PetMD's article on the Dogs of World War II

Dedicated to my husband, who served as an Officer in the USCG. He inspires me everyday.

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