News Column

62 flags honor dogs who died in combat at special memorial

May 27, 2014

By Andrew Barksdale, The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.



May 27--In the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, dogs have sniffed out concealed bombs and pointed toward an enemy in hiding.

The animals have sacrificed themselves, saving countless number of people.

In all, 62 dogs used by special operations forces in all four branches of the military have been killed in war zones since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

On Monday, 62 miniature American flags representing the fallen dogs were stuck into the ground around a bronze statue of a Belgian Malinois that was dedicated last July in front of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum.

The sculptured dog -- its ears perked and gaze set on Iron Mike -- is wearing Special Operations combat gear atop a granite pedestal. Set around the statue are pavers with the dogs' names that had died.

Some of the pavers represented dogs used by Australian and United Kingdom forces aiding the Americans.

Chuck Yerry, president of the Special Operations Forces K9 Memorial Foundation, which built the monument, said organizers plan to hold an annual Memorial Day service for the dogs.

"This is where you'll be able to come see them and pay your respects," he told a crowd of about 300 people.

Yerry, a 43-year-old former Special Operations soldier who retired from the Army in December, said the pavers and miniature flags have a special significance.

"For every paver here, that represents -- at a minimum -- one soldier that came home; one Gold Star that is not on somebody's window or car," Yerry said.

Yet, four U.S. troops who handled dogs have been killed in action. Two were soldiers, one was a Marine and another was in the Navy.

On Monday, four large American flags, about 6 feet off the ground, were displayed in memory of the four fallen troops.

Beside them were smaller versions of the U.S. flag, symbolizing their dogs who had been killed.

Paul Galloway, executive director of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum Foundation, said the canine memorial is fitting.

"These dogs are part of our community, and they will be for the rest of our lives," Galloway said.

Organizers unveiled Monday pavers in memory of three more military dogs killed since the $25,000 statue was dedicated.

The dogs -- Flex, Shadow and Jany -- died during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Yerry announced the Special Operations Forces K9 Memorial Foundation has raised $15,000 as a phase two of the project.

The money will be spent on honoring killed military dogs with plaques, paintings or headstones, however their human handlers think is best.

And a third phase is underway: raising more than $20,000 to build an exhibit of a Special Operations soldier with a dog in combat to be housed inside the Airborne & Special Operations Museum.

Yerry said the concept is new and has not yet been approved by museum officials.

After Monday's service, Rusty Kirmse, a sergeant first class in the Army, looked at the pavers and pointed out to his Moore County family some of the dogs he had known during his military service.

"They've saved numerous soldiers' lives, and we've lost them in our place," Kirmse said.

His 16-year-old daughter, Tannre, peered over the dog sculpture and noticed the names on the pavers.

"It definitely makes you feel better that they are recognized, because they don't get enough recognition," Tannre said. "And they definitely should."

Staff writer Andrew Barksdale can be reached at barksdalea@fayobserver.com or 486-3565.

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Source: Fayetteville Observer (NC)