War Dogs Memorial Provides Resting Place for Valiant Canines
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 27, 2017)
Lyon Township, MI – Though dogs are often known as man’s best friend, they can also be some of the strongest tools for staying safe in battles, discovering bombs and drugs, leading the blind, comforting the ill and many other functions that help them earn their kibble. But it wasn’t until 2010 that a happenstance discovery of an abandoned pet cemetery led Phil Weitlauf and his wife Barbara on a mission to truly honor the dogs that have served humans and saved lives. They wanted to create a place where service animals could be buried with honors.
The property, on the corner of 11 Mile and Milford Road, had been owned by a development company. The brush was so thick no one would have guessed there was a cemetery there. Barely sticking out from the tall grass was a stone monument in honor of War Dogs.
The Weitlaufs and friends worked tirelessly to clean the lot up. They also worked with the developer to deed the land over to the Township, who in turn is trusting the War Dogs group with its care.
The dozens of animals buried there, dating back to the 1930s and 40s, remain with their headstones as cleaned up as possible. Any new plots, however, are reserved for service and military dogs.
On Aug. 18 there was an internment service for Murphy, a Bernese Mountain Dog that passed away at the age of eight due to a stomach problem. Connie and Richard Young of New Hudson used to take Murphy to hospitals, including a VA hospital, so he could cheer up sick patients.
Connie recalled her most touching memory of Murphy. “I’d taken him to a hospital in Green Bay and we walked into a room we were assigned and in the chair was a very frail, elderly woman being propped up by pillows and blankets. And we walked in and this smile came across her face. Her face was so tiny and it was a big Julia Roberts smile that covered her whole face. Murphy walked up, put his head down. She’s petting him and I look across the room and her daughters are there, crying. They came up to me and I said “I’m so sorry, did we do something wrong?” And they both said ‘No, we just never thought we would see mom smile again. And for me that’s what Murphy did.”
Burials at the War Dogs Memorial come with pomp and circumstance, including a procession of flags, the playing of Taps on a bugle, kind words by a chaplain, and an on-command howl by a line of well-trained dogs to say farewell to their fellow canine’s spirit.
This weekend it was Cena the War Dog from Muskegon who was laid to rest with full military honors. The dog had served alongside Marine Corporal Jeffery DeYoung in Afghanistan. Cena died of bone cancer last month.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the War Dog Memorial is the large granite wall with the names of thousands of dogs who did not return home from the Vietnam War.
“When the US pulled out of Vietnam, some bureaucrat in Washington decided that the canines who’d been serving the military forces would not be allowed to come home. They were worried about diseases and stuff. So their handlers were given a choice, they could turn their dogs over to the South Vietnamese, or they could put them to sleep. Those guys weren’t about to let any Vietnamese touch their dogs, so one by one they’d go into a tent. You’d hear the loud bang. And they’d come out holding just the collar.”
Over 4,000 War Dogs were sent to Vietnam. About a thousand of them were killed in the line of duty or died or health issues while still on duty. The remaining 3,000 were left behind, shot by their handlers, or given a lethal injection. In World War II and Korea, dogs were permitted to come home with their handlers. In 2000 President Bill Clinton signed a bill that said no military dogs would be left behind.
“Vietnam was the only time the handlers were not allowed to bring their dogs back. It just wasn’t right. Those dogs saved lives. They deserved better,” Weitlauf said.
Volunteers raised money for the Vietnam War Dog wall which was dedicated in June 2017. They are currently raising money for lights to shine on the American flags that line the walkway.
Learn more about the War Dog Memorial a http://www.mwdm.org.