Between 1964 and 1973 around 4,000 war dogs and 10,000 handlers were deployed to defend South Vietnam from an invasion from North Vietnam. The success of the war dogs and handlers helped reduce the enemy’s capacity for suprise attacks. This result was the enemy placed a price tag on the heads of the war dog teams.
The German Shepherd was the only breed trained as scout dogs.They led combat patrols and provided an early, silent warning of danger. The German Shepherd was also used as sentry and patrol dogs. They were deployed as the first line of defense guarding American base camps day and night.
The Labrador Retriever was the only breed trained for tracking. Their role was to track the enemy’s scent throughout South Vietnam. Labs were friendly, handled the heat well and had a natural instinct for tracking.
In 1973, the US ceased ground combat operations and withdrew from South Vietnam. Since the dogs were considered military equipment they were no longer needed. Several thousand were either transferred to the South Vietnam Army or euthanized.This decision to leave the war dogs behind after the war remains the saddest chapter in America’s military working dog history. Only about 200 dogs were reassigned to other US military bases.
After the Vietnam War, military policy was changed to allow war dogs to come home. WWII Marine War Dog Platoon Leader/Veterinarian, Dr. William Putney made this adoption law happen with the help of U.S. Congressman, Rosscoe Barlett of Maryland. This policy is known as No Military Working Dog Left Behind.
William Allen White award winning book, Cracker, is based on historical facts during the Vietnam War. Cracker is a German Shepherd trained to sniff out bombs, traps and the enemy. Entire platoons rests on her keen sense of smell. The story is told in part from the viewpoint of Cracker.