While there are some cities and military cemeteries that already honor our nation’s four-legged service members with statues, plaques, and memorials, there has not yet been a national monument dedicated to U.S. military working dogs — that is, until now.
The U.S. Working Dog Teams National Monument, which honors military dogs that have served since World War II.
The monument is the brainchild of Vietnam War veteran canine handler John C. Burnham. Burnham, now employed as an information technology senior technical writer and editor in Virginia, still continues to feel the impact of his time as the human half of a Military Working Dog team.
The recipient of the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Legion of Merit spent the majority of his time in Vietnam working alongside a German Shepherd named Clipper, a dog that Burnham credits with inspiring him to create the John Burnham Monument Foundation Inc., leading the push for a national monument honoring our canine military heroes.
“He saved my life and saved the lives of others by alerting on ambushes, snipers and booby traps,” Burnham says of Clipper. “I wanted to give something back to these animals that have done so much and asked for so little, except for food and water and the love of their handlers.”
Burnham also provided the design for the monument, which will include a bronze nine-foot-tall military dog handler surrounded by a circle of four five-foot-tall bronze dogs, all breeds commonly trained to serve in the U.S. military: a Doberman Pinscher, a Labrador Retriever, a Belgian Malinois, and, like Clipper, a German Shepherd.
Accomplished sculptor Paula B. Slater has been given the challenging task of bringing Burnham’s vision to life, and she says that she couldn’t be more thrilled to do so.
“When John Burnham contacted me in 2008 about possibly sculpting the U.S. Military Working Dog Teams National Monument project I was greatly enthused because I am an animal lover, especially of dogs,” Slater says on the project’s site. “Then when John related to me the story of all the military working dogs that were left behind in Vietnam, my heart broke. I knew I wanted to bring all the emotion and skill I have as a sculptor to this project.”
Thanks to Burnham’s efforts, and the support of the U.S. government, including Representative Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), President George W. Bush, and President Barack Obama, the memorial has been given national monument status. The special designation means the striking bronze sculpture will be recognized alongside other important and iconic national monuments, such as the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore.
The very first national monument to military canines will be unveiled after the annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., January 1, 2013. A military dog-themed flower float will lead spectators to Victory Park, where the bronze sculpture will make its national debut.
Following the parade, the U.S. Working Dog Teams National Monument will be transported to its permanent location at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, which serves as the country’s military working dog training headquarters. There, the 341st Training Squadron has trained countless handler-canine teams for the United States Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard.
For more information about John C. Burnham and his time working as a canine handler for the U.S. Army Infantry, check out his books, including Dog Tags of Courage: Combat Infantrymen and War Dog Heroes in Vietnam.