HAMPTONVILLE — Each year veterans gather together to honor 29 North Carolina dogs who served in Vietnam with the United States Marine Corps.
A memorial placed on private land lovingly tended by President of the Vietnam Dog Handler Association Perry Money represents these brave animals who remain in Vietnam.
According to Money, these mine and booby trap sniffing dogs were the beginning of the handling program used by current law enforcement to detect explosives. “This was the first group specifically trained for [detecting explosives] in the United States,” claimed Money, who was in Okinawa, Japan, when he was given the opportunity to serve in this unique unit.
“We went first,” stated Money. “That’s what the dogs were trained to do. That’s what we were trained to do.”
Money discussed the training, sharing that some people theorize it is not the chemicals that dogs hit on but the collection of human cells that are dropped as a person stands in one place for any length of time such as they might do to dig a hole for an explosive. “If the dog says there is an explosive, trust the dog,” professed Money.
Although it is difficult to come up with such figures, Money estimated that at least 20,000 servicemen did not die because of service dogs. “Not a single saboteur got through the lines [after the dogs were implemented],” claimed Money.
Unfortunately not a single one of those dogs was returned to the United States.
Each of the 29 NC service dogs were honored as their names were called with the ring of a bell while a rose was placed at the granite marker bearing those names.
Although this ceremony started in 2004 for the surviving handlers, “over the years we have expanded our invitation list to include other dog handlers and other veterans,” explained Money.
Among those was Amy Ester who gave up a full ride to Florida State when she decided to join the Army. “I was getting ready to pack up and move,” described Ester, “but I thought there was something more I should be doing.
“I was in the process of joining when September 11 happened,” stated Ester, who was sworn in two weeks later. “It made me more determined. There was a greater calling.”
That calling came in the form of serving as an x-ray technician. “I like to take care of people, and in the medical field I could be useful,” explained Ester, whose husband is serving in the military in an undisclosed location after having served two tours in Afghanistan as well as on the President’s Salute Battery.
Retired Military Col. Alex Snyder, who served the last six years of his military career as the head of the Department of Medicine at West Point, stated he was, “impressed beyond belief,” at the solemn ceremony where all four major branches of the United States Armed Forces were represented.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.