New Jersey to Get War Dog Memorial
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2006 Man's best friend has contributed to U.S. war efforts for many years, so it is only fitting to have an official war dog memorial to honor the service of these canine companions.
Sculptor Bruce Lindsay's clay rendering of a military dog and handler. A bronzed version will be cast for the U.S. War Dog Memorial in Holmdel, N.J. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
"Military canines make contributions every day while they serve in our military. They are hard working and do a great job of saving the lives of their handlers and the troops who walk in their footsteps," Ron Aiello, president of the United States War Dogs Association and a former Marine scout dog handler who served in Vietnam said.
The nonprofit association is made up of current and former military dog handlers and is committed to educating the public about the invaluable service the dogs provide.
Recently, the association successfully lobbied the state of New Jersey to place an official war dog memorial alongside the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Holmdel, N.J. "It will be the first official memorial that honors these dogs," Aiello said.
The association raised most of the funds for the war dog memorial on its own and hired sculptor Bruce Lindsay to design a statue of dog and handler. ART Research, in Lancaster, Pa., will cast the bronze statue in the near future, and the memorial will probably be dedicated in May or June, Aiello said.
"The U.S. War Dog Memorial will honor the nation's war dogs and will show the bond between the canine and handler," he said.
Members of the association would also like to see a national war dog memorial built in Washington, D.C. "That's a long term project though," Aiello said.
The association works in various other ways to honor and aid war dogs. For instance, it has petitioned to have the U.S. Postal Service issue a commemorative stamp for military working dogs and helps find loving homes for retired military and police dogs.
"Today the military has a retirement program for their canines. When a canine is too old to work it is retired and put into the adoption program," Aiello said. "This program was authorized back in November of 2000 by Congress and signed by President Clinton. Since then there have been a number of these magnificent dogs adopted out to loving families throughout the United States."
In addition, President Bush signed a Defense Appropriations Bill in December that enables military working dogs to retire early to be adopted by their handlers following an injury.
Aiello also makes it a point to reach out to today's active-duty military dog handlers. He has sent numerous care packages to dog teams serving in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Iraq.
"I like to mix it up, if I put some beef jerky in the package for the handler, I'll put a chew toy in for the dog," Aiello said.
Aiello said he is sure today's military dog handlers will form the same type of bond that he shared with his dog Stormy while serving in Vietnam.
"Growing up, my family had several dogs that I became attached to. But it was not until I became a Marine scout dog handler that I really understood the bond that can form between a human and a canine," he said. "It is a bond of friendship that lasts a lifetime."