War Dog Memorial dedication Sat.: ‘The unsung heroes’

Wilmington native Bob Biss will forever remember King, the German Shepherd who protected him during three tours in Vietnam between 1968 and 1970. (Submitted photo)

Wilmington native Bob Biss will forever remember King, the German Shepherd who protected him during three tours in Vietnam between 1968 and 1970. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Bob Biss wanted to be an intelligence officer until he saw that photo in Look Magazine.

He had already been accepted into the program in the 1960s when he came across it at the library one Sunday afternoon.

He turned the page and there was a picture of a Marine standing beside a German shepherd.

“I thought…the military has dogs and they use German shepherds?” said Mr. Biss, a Wilmington native.

“I wonder if the Army does.”

He had wanted a German shepherd all his life, “the most phenomenal dog on the face of the earth.”

When Mr. Biss asked, his recruiting sergeant had good news and bad news.

Yes, the U.S. Army had Germand shepherds. But the bad news was that working with a dog was strictly voluntary — and Mr. Biss couldn’t volunteer until he went to military police school.

Right then, Mr. Biss changed his plans and decided to become a military police officer.

Mr. Biss, now the keynote speaker for the Saturday dedication of the War Dog Memorial at the Kent County Memorial Park in Dover, can speak about war dogs from experience.

He will always remember the German shepherd who protected him during three tours in Vietnam between 1968 and 1970.

Dogs were so effective in Vietnam, Mr. Biss said, that there was a bounty for them from the North Vietnamese and VietCong.

“The dogs are the unsung heroes of every single war that they were used in,” he said.

When he first arrived at MP school, Mr. Biss became “obnoxiously obvious” about his plans; everywhere he went, he asked how he could volunteer to become a dog handler.

Finally, on the day when the program was taking applicants, he was stuck on KP duty, working in the dining hall.

The platoon sergeant came to find him, calling his name; he asked him if he wanted to be a dog handler. When Mr. Biss said yes, the sergeant said tough luck.

There was a short pause. For Mr. Biss, it lasted a lifetime.

Then the platoon sergeant said that — if he could get to the orderly room in a hurry — there was a quarter of an inch left on the paper for one more name.

That’s how Mr. Biss became a dog handler and met his German shepherd, King.

“I had the most beautiful German shepherd in the history of military warfare,” he said.

“I am, perhaps, biased.”

When he pulled up at the training school, King was sitting on the dog house — the first dog he saw. Mr. Biss told the driver without hesitation that that was the dog he wanted. He just knew it.

The driver reminded him that dogs are assigned, not chosen, but the universe was smiling on him, Mr. Biss said. “I got the dog on top of the dog house.”

The pair spent long nights together on patrol, when they served with the Army’s 212th Military Police Sentry Dog Company in Long Binh and Vinh Long. Dogs have fine-tuned tenses, he said, and he learned to detect the dog’s warning signals.

“My dog saved my life and the lives of other soldiers many times,” Mr. Biss said, “to quantify that is impossible to do.”

“It gave all of us a tremendous sense of security knowing that we were able to detect in advance of an attack, or a sneak attack of the enemy,” he said.

Because of their important place in the military, the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 850 planned a War Dog Memorial for Kent County Memorial Park.

Dogs have a long history in warfare, trained as scouts, sentries and trackers.

The memorial will feature the image of active duty Air Force dog handler SSgt. Jason Spangenberg and Rico, a German shepherd. SSgt Spangenberg and Rico served in Afghanistan and were awarded the Bronze Star for detecting IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.

The granite memorial will have the following inscription: “They protected and watched over us at home and on the field of battle. We are forever grateful for their undying loyalty, devotion, and faithful service. They are not forgotten.”

“They really have a keen sense. It’s amazing. You think sometimes, they understand what you’re saying,” said Paul Davis, the vice president of chapter 850 and state council VVA president.

Mr. Davis himself was a canine handler when he was a policeman.

“You live with them, they’re part of your family,” he said. “You become very, very attached to them.”

He worked with Baron, an intelligent, 110-pound German shepherd.

“They’re very effective. Of course the dog we used for police work…they’re trained a lot differently for the most part as opposed to military dogs,” he said.

“They have quite a psychological effect on people. They know that they will get or the possibility that they will get bit is pretty great if they don’t do what the police officer tells them to,” he said.

Baron eventually got heart worm. It wasn’t caught in time, and Mr. Davis had to put him down.

“I was told to take the dog to the vet to have it euthanized,” he said.

“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.”

He remembered driving his dog to the vet. Mr. Davis was in uniform and Baron turn around one last time to look at him.

“(There were) tears running down my eyes,” he said.

Up until recently, Mr. Biss said, military dogs were classified as equipment; King was left behind when America pulled out of Vietnam.

When he returned, though, as soon Mr. Biss bought a house and he knew the settlement date, he went out and picked out a new dog. His name, too, was King.

The 5-foot black granite stone war dog memorial at Kent County Memorial Park has arrived from India and sits near the Huey Helicopter.

In addition to Dover Air Force Base, the dedication will include Dover Police Department’s Private First Class Joe Bauer and K9 Gunner; New Castle County Police Department’s Officer First Class Cory Best and K9 Diesel; Milford Police Department’s Private First Class Timothy Webb and K9 Henk; Wilmington Police Department’s Officer Robert Steele and K9 Neo, and possibly others.

The dogs and their handlers will stand separately from the audience and be acknowledged.

The ceremony is set for 10 a.m. Saturday at Kent County Memorial Park off South Little Creek Road in Dover.

Contributions for the War Dog memorial are still being accepted at VVA Chapter 850, PO Box 1718, Dover, DE 19904 with “war dog” in the memo section.

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