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Memorial Day Dogs

Alabama Military Dog Memorial
Alabama Military Dog Memorial

Before there was Memorial Day, there was Decoration Day, designated in 1868 as the day when the nation would decorate the graves of soldiers killed in the Civil War.  In 1971 Memorial Day was declared a national holiday (although some still refer to it as Decoration Day).  It is a day when we pause to remember the sacrifices of those brave heroes who gave their lives in service to our country.  And many servicemen and women would include America’s military canines among the heroes to be remembered.

     Through the years Military Working Dogs helped to track down wounded soldiers and downed pilots.  Sentry dogs monitored perimeters on alert for intruders.  Scout dogs searched out booby traps, snipers, or enemies waiting to ambush passing troops. 

Today there are more than 2,000 dogs on active duty with American military forces.  They may serve in combat, protection, and search and rescue, but their greatest talent is their ability to sniff out explosives.  No matter how sophisticated a man-made device may be, it cannot out-perform a dog’s nose, which has an average accuracy rate of about 98%.  There are countless members of the U.S. military, past and present, who owe their lives to a dog’s sense of smell.

     In Mobile, Alabama, on the site of the USS Alabama at Battleship Memorial Park, is a marker dedicated to faithful military dogs and their Alabama handlers.  The inscription says, “no stronger love and sacrifice were shared by two of God’s creatures in the line of duty – often in harm’s way – than the men and women listed here who served with their canine compatriots.  Their efforts saved thousands of lives.  They were truly a breed apart.”

     So, as you celebrate Memorial Day, and remember the brave men and women who have given their lives in service to our country, remember, too, the contribution of the faithful canine troops, when you’re speaking of pets.


Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.