Without in any way intending to trivialize, it’s important to take a moment this Memorial Day weekend – days set aside to pay tribute to those who’ve lost their lives in defense of our nation – to reflect on the animals who serve and who have died alongside them. I am reminded of a funeral I attended for a police dog killed in action. (Not wishing to conflate the two, the separate holiday Peace Officers Memorial Day has been celebrated every May 15 since President Kennedy signed the bill back in 1962.)
The dog was shot tackling an armed assailant; his training, bravery and sacrifice allowed officers to subdue the dog’s killer, bringing a dangerous criminal to justice. I was a guest at the ceremony, and stunned by the solemnity and grace of the scene I could not help but stare. Beautiful dogs in a row, each intently focused on her or his officer in uniform, the officers all watching their grieving partner who struggled to hold back his tears, many of the officers’ fingertips just barely embracing the face of their dogs. The extraordinary relationships so many of us enjoy with our dogs were, here, evident at a fundamental level wherein both quite literally depend on the other to survive. So, too, of course must it be with the dogs and other animals who serve in the military.
Flanders Fields are filled with the bodies of fallen soldiers from the First World War, and also of the horses who worked and fought beside them. WWI saw birds outfitted with cameras to take images behind enemy lines, and even glowworms kept in jars allowed soldiers in those dark trenches to read maps and mail from home. Some 20,000 dogs served the U.S. Army, Coast Guard and Marine Corps during WWII. Along with the thousands serving today, the U.S. Military also relies on honeybees trained to smell explosives, dolphins to hunt for underwater mines, mules for resupplying forward Marines. Like it, hate it, or both, animals are vital to our nation’s defense. Remember them today.