Military Working Dog Teams National Monument

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The U.S. Working Dog Teams National Monument will honor every dog that has served in combat since World War II. Some cities, cemeteries and military bases across the country already have such memorials. But none has been elevated to national monument level, where it will be in the company of the Statue of Liberty, Yosemite National Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

In 2000, John Burnam, a 65-year-old veteran military dog handler, wrote a book called “Dog Tags of Courage.” This created a driving interest to research the history of America’s use of dogs in war and ultimately launched the idea for the National Monument project. John has met hundreds of dog handlers and their dogs and maintains a keen interest and connection to the training, veterinary care and the deployment of today’s military working dog teams.

Burnam also designed the monument, which depicts the modern military handler and four dogs – a Doberman, German shepherd, Labrador retriever and Belgian Malinois, all breeds used in wars. The silicon bronze handler stands more than 9 feet tall and weighs 1,500 pounds. Each dog is about 5 feet tall and weighs 550 pounds.

In 2007, U.S. Representative Walter B. Jones introduced legislation authorizing establishment of the monument. Passed unanimously by Congress, it was signed the next year by President George W. Bush, then amended and signed by President Barack Obama.

Larry P. Chilcoat, a retired Air Force dog handler, joined the project in 2008. He was paired with his dog Geisha, in Vietnam for a year, but still keeps a picture of her in his wallet. Larry had developed a friendship with Joe Bonsall, the tenor in the legendary country music group “The Oak Ridge Boys”. When he contacted Joe and told him about the project, the music group became the first celebrities to publicly endorse the monument.

The sculptor, Paula Slater, said that when John related to her the story of all the military working dogs that were left behind in Vietnam, her heart broke. She wanted to bring all the emotion and skill she has as a sculptor to this project.

The money for the monument came slowly. Burnam made one of many fundraising pitches on the reality TV show “Who Let the Dogs Out,” featuring Tillman, the skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding bulldog. The president of Natural Balance Pet Foods Inc., the company that Tillman represents, attended the show taping and volunteered to pitch in more than $1 million.

The bronze monument will go on tour as it heads to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. The location was chosen as the site for the monument because that’s where most of the nation’s military’s dogs are trained.

Stay tuned to the official website, or sign up for the newsletter by emailing: jbmf.newsletter@gmail.com to keep up with the progress of this exciting tribute to our Military Working Dog Teams.

Jodi G. Thomson was born and raised in Seattle WA, she and her husband relocated to Houston TX in 2010. She enjoys writing and spending time with her husband and their pets.

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