The Best Defense

Rebecca's War Dog of the Week: Remembering Satan, Caesar, Judy, Major, and Smoky – War Dogs of History

By Rebecca Frankel

Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent


 Last week, I wrote a five-part series for National Geographic that featured the stories of five dogs, each with an exceptional story of bravery on the battlefield -- each of them loyal beyond even the most wild expectation of what we might assume a dog would do for a human he loved. Being that this weekend is Memorial Day and it seems fitting to celebrate them again, here.

There was Satan, the French messenger dog who ran through the cratered trenches of World War I -- a gauntlet of German artillery fire -- while French soldiers watched with baited breath, as this dog was their only hope to send word for rescue.

And then, Caesar, the German shepherd dog from Brooklyn (in the photo above) whose family watched their three sons and their dog volunteer for service, was among the first Marine dogs deployed during World War II. Perhaps the most moving detail (to my mind at least) of this dog's harrowing story as it unfolded at its most dramatic point in the jungles of Bougainville, was that after Caesar was injured, the men in his unit -- roughly a dozen, and men who weren't his handlers -- stood at the ready, wanting to be the ones who carried him to safety.

There was Smoky, the tiny Yorkshire terrier, pulled from an abandoned fox hole, adopted and cared for by soldier Bill Wynne who, by happy accident, realized that even a small dog could raise the lowest spirits of the wounded men recovering in the field hospitals during World War II.

On his last day in Vietnam, handler Steve Reichenbach decided he would be the one to volunteer for another patrol so he could have one more mission with his dog Major. And when the mission went terribly wrong, Major, the mellow dog who never barked, did something Reichenbach had never seen him do before.

And last, there was Judy, who may have one of the most incredible documented stories of any war dog in history. Originally a British Navy mascot, she is the only dog ever officially classified as a POW and she risked her life daily in those camps as she couldn't bear to look on and watch any of them take a beating.

But Frank Williams, the man who took her in and looked after her in the POW camp, said there was one thing Judy did for him that was loomed larger than any other heroic measure she performed during their time together -- acts that included guiding men in the water to safety after a ship sank, or finding spring water for marooned men to drink. In the end, Williams believed, it was this more than anything else that saved his life:

Williams said that every day in the prison camp he thanked God for Judy because she gave him a reason to keep living. "All I had to do was look at her and into those weary, bloodshot eyes," he said, "and I would ask myself: 'What would happen to her if I died?'''

Rebecca Frankel is senior editor, special projects at Foreign Policy. Her forthcoming book War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love comes out on Oct. 14 from Palgrave Macmillan

Official U.S. Marine Corps Photo

The Best Defense

Bensahel blasts back: What Tom doesn’t understand about defense technology

Here is Nora Bensahel's response to my comment the other day that her paper on the state of the defense establishment, while generally good, was off track on defense technology. I agree with her point about the defense acquisition process, and wonder if we simply should shutter it.

"We actually agree more than we disagree about the importance of maintaining U.S. technological superiority in the future.  You rightly point out that explosive growth of advanced technology is coming primarily from the civilian sector and not the defense sector - which I should have emphasized more clearly.  And I completely agree that maintaining technological superiority will require the U.S. military and defense industry to focus on adapting civilian technologies for military use whenever and wherever possible.

However, I see three big challenges ahead.

First, the current acquisition process would need to be completely overhauled in order to rapidly incorporate cutting-edge technologies.  Apple releases a new version of the iPhone every year, while even the speediest acquisition programs take years. Plenty of ink has already been spilled about how to reform the acquisition process (including a report that I co-authored last year).  Fundamentally, this is a whole lot easier said than done. 

Second, innovative civilian technologies are being developed around the world, not just in the United States, and that trend will only grow in the future.  DOD will continue to have some understandable security concerns about relying on technologies developed outside the United States, even if those technologies provide the best capabilities.

Finally, some defense technologies simply cannot and will not be produced by the civilian sector.  Companies that are motivated primarily by market share and profits will never produce everything that the U.S. military needs.  That's why I argued that DOD still needs to invest in its own research and development - but only in those areas where civilian technologies cannot provide a solution. 

What I have in mind is very different from an approach "rooted in the industrial approach used in the Cold War."  Hopefully, this discussion will help make that much more clear."

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