“They protected us on the field of battle.
They watch over our eternal rest.
We are grateful.”
— on the War Dog Memorial, Ft. Benning, Georgia
Dominating the city of Edinburgh, Scotland is magnificent Edinburgh Castle. Built on the highest mountain crag in the region, the castle is the most-visited sight in all of Scotland. At the very top of this great structure is the Scottish National War Memorial with its scrolls of names of the thousands of Scottish men and women who made the supreme sacrifice on behalf of their nation. On the mountain top as well, there is humble little St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh. It had been seven years since I’ve visited the castle, but even after all of this time, as I write this article on a cold, but brilliantly sunny November morning, I still vividly remember the reverent awe I felt as I stood upon that truly ancient and hollowed ground.
When looking over the walls from St. Margaret’s Chapel, visitors can see just below it a small well-manicured grassy plot. This little patch of priceless castle real estate is the final resting place of several of Scotland’s decorated war dogs and regimental mascots. Maybe it’s the fact that the British peoples are somewhat more martial in their heritage, or maybe it’s just the fact that they aren’t as uptight in their attitudes towards all life in general, but I couldn’t help thinking as I looked out over that patch of ground what a wonderfully generous thing to do with these fallen warriors. As I was researching the the subject of War Dogs for a story I that I could incorporate into a Veterans Day article, I came across something called The Dicken Medal.
But before I begin, as a proud (very proud!) American, it pains me somewhat that we—as a nation—have not been a little more forward in at least recognizing and acknowledging the monumental accomplishments of these little known and unsung heroes collectively known as “War Dogs.” My original plan was to tell the inspiring stories of a few of the more famous American ones, but even though their conduct under fire was exemplarily, their later “disposals” after the bombs stopped falling and the bullets stopped flying was—for lack of a better term—quite reprehensible, especially for our Vietnam War dogs. I’ll close this paragraph by ironically pointing out that Bugs Bunny has his own postal stamp; our government has denied (so far) this honor to these great dogs. Which brings me back again to the Dicken Medal. I’m grateful to the Wikipedia for this information. Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dickin_Medal.
The Dicken Medal was founded in 1943 to honor outstanding individual animals who served the British Commonwealth with great gallantly and sacrifice during their nation’s wars. As of February, 2008, it has been awarded 62 times. Some of the more famous awardees are:
-1943: William of Orange, a messenger pigeon whose service saved the lives of over 2000 British soldiers during the Battle of Arnhem.
-1945: Rex, a rescue dog who officially helped save 65 people during the London bomb blitz.
-1947: Olga, Upstart, and Regal. Three horses who distinguished themselves during the World War II incendiary bombing campaigns of British cities.
-1949: Simon, the ship’s cat on HMS Amethyst, for surviving a shelling, raising moral, and killing off a rat infestation, despite being severely wounded. He was subsequently raised to the honorable rank of “Able Seacat” and was awarded a campaign medal. (A Side Note: A World War II War Dog named Chip was officially awarded by a grateful U.S. Army both the Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his unbelievable heroism during the Italian Campaign. The medals were subsequently revoked by the government. However, his Army unit—who, in my opinion, should have had the final say in the matter, and not some political creep in Washington— unofficially awarded Chip the European Theater Ribbon with eight stars, one for each of his battle campaigns.)
-2003: Sam, while serving in the Royal Veterinary Corp disarmed a gunman and held back a hostile mob in Bosnia until Canadian reinforcements could arrive.
-2007: Sadie, a black Labrador serving in Afghanistan who discovered a bomb outside the UN headquarters in Kabul.
In closing, and on a more personal note, as I write this humble article in the safety of my Trumansburg home, in bosom the greatest nation that has ever graced this earth, let us all remember the dedicated service and brave sacrifices of our nation’s past present, and future veterans who’ve made it all possible.