There are few ways that a visitor to Guam can avoid realizing the direct impact of past wars on the island. In addition to the historic military bases that have played a role in every conflict since the Americans arrived in 1898, there are streets named for branches of service, generals, admirals and enlisted heroes as well as countless memorials on military and civilian land. Sites of massacres of local civilians during the brutal World War II Japanese occupation are well known and highlighted during annual, solemn ceremonies.
But there are war stories that live largely in the memories of a vanishing contingent of war fighters who came ashore on Guam in July 1944 under heavy Japanese fire. They were lucky enough to have some companions who would save hundreds of their lives during the retaking of the island.
The animals of the 3rd War Dog Platoon played a major role, given that thousands of armed Japanese remained in the Guam jungles well after the initial invasion was over, exacting a bloody toll on the Americans who hunted them during daily patrols.
The dogs, mostly Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds, received lengthy training to do their work. They searched out hidden enemy with their keen sense of smell, detected mines and booby traps, carried messages, ammunition and medical supplies. They also guarded dug-in, sleeping troops, protecting them from sneak attacks.
They also died in combat.
Not being able to tell their own story, the dogs were lucky enough to have their own Boswell to tell the tale. William Putney, both a veterinarian and a Marine Corps line officer was with the war dogs throughout their training to when they hit Asan Beach. Like the Marines under his command, Captain Putney bonded with the dogs and was disheartened when they died.
“I looked over at Bliss, who could read my expression and knew that Hobo had just died… Bliss came over and put his hand on Hobo’s head: ‘Just like Gunny Holdren said, nobody ever got by you.’ He began to sob and turned away.
This was the first time the Japanese had shot one of our dogs while scouting in front of a handler, and it would become standard procedure. The Japanese seemed to have the mistaken idea that if they shot the dog, the dog would not discover their hiding place. In fact, the reverse was true. The Japanese did not always succeed in wounding or killing our dogs, but by firing their rifles, they always gave away their position.”
How to give these dead Marines the same honors as their two legged counterparts? Their handlers who knew them best insisted, but war time circumstances made this difficult and—the war over—the Marines and surviving dogs eventually went home.
According to local historian Dave Lotz, the first war dog cemetery was at the site of the later Asan ballfield and was then moved to Dededo off Route 1 in a section of military land across Route 1 from Andersen South, which was then called Marbo.
At both sites, jungle growth eventually engulfed the dog memorials. But they hadn’t been forgotten by Dr. Putney and other long retired handlers. For years they campaigned for a more appropriate memorial and finally carried the day, giving the dogs a permanent home and recognition at Naval Base Guam.
[Tightened entry restrictions at “Big Navy” make it hard to visit the War Dog Memorial, for those lacking base access. Contact: Theresa Merto Cepeda, U.S. Naval Base Guam Public Affairs Officer. Office: (671) 339-2663; Cell: (671) 486-8315. firstname.lastname@example.org]