Friday, May 22, 2009

War Dog Cemetery

There is a War Dog Cemetery at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro! How wonderful. And it's about to be rededicated, Saturday May 23 at 1 pm. The ceremony--which will include a working dog demo and bagpipes--will be at the Fort MacArthur Museum, 3601 S. Gaffey St. (Angels Gate Park)

Now for the history. Cecelia Rasmussen of the Los Angeles Times wrote about the cemetery in 2003 and the article is reprinted here. According to her, a Sgt. Robert H. Pearce established the "war dog" platoon on September 9, 1941, right at Ft. MacArthur. These dogs were different from other K9 divisions that trained dogs to sniff out explosives. The Fort MacArthur dogs--big and muscular--were trained to be used as weapons themselves.

One of the trainers was Carl Spitz, who trained Toto for The Wizard of Oz. And one of the trainees was a grandson of Rin Tin Tin. They were sent to military bases all over...but no one's sure where. The records are spotty (so were some of the dogs). Whether these macho dogs (Rasmussen called them "canine gladiators" and I think that fits) actually got to do any killing is not well documented. Until the end of WW2, the whole program was kept secret.

During the Cold War, the dogs were used to guard sites where nuclear weapons were kept, and they patrolled their bases ("Nike Sites") with armed handlers. When that duty ended...this is the sad part...the dogs were put to death. They had no social skills and could not be used in any other capacity.

The Museum launched a fundraising drive to repair the cemetery, because markers had been stolen and graves vandalized. This cemetery map shows how many doggie graves are still unidentified.

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