Guam has been an American territory since the United States took it from Spain in 1898, with only one interruption -- the brutal three-year occupation by the Japanese Empire during World War II.
Liberating Guam required the United States Marine Corps to call in a couple of platoons filled with special operators: jungle-fighting dogs of war. They were the Devil Dogs' devil dogs. But the island would become the final resting place for many of them.
To honor their sacrifice, the U.S. military established the National War Dog Cemetery there, where it is to this day.
Not long after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese assaulted American forces on Guam, taking the island in just two days. They would hold it until it could be recaptured by U.S. Marines in 1944.
When the Marine Corps returned to the island after three years of brutal Japanese occupation, they brought with them the 2nd and 3rd War Dog Platoons. These uniquely trained dogs, mostly Doberman Pinschers, countered Japanese defense tactics, which wreaked havoc on the Marines assaulting them.
Dogs were used to sniff out land mines obscured by the jungle floor. They warned Marines of ambushes in caves and woods, found booby traps and snipers and kept watch over their troops at night, when the Japanese liked to sneak up on sleeping positions.
Hundreds, maybe thousands of Marines owe their lives to their four-legged scouts. The memorial itself features the names of 25 war dogs that landed on Guam and gave their lives protecting U.S. troops from harm.
Their service to the Marines was so effective on Guam that every Marine division in the Pacific was assigned a war dog platoon.
After the island was secured, the 25 dead dogs were buried at the initial landing area. Their remains were eventually moved to the Marine cemetery on the island, and white headstones were added to the cemetery.
In the 1980s, retired veterinarian William W. Putney traveled to Guam. He had helped train the dogs as a Marine captain and served as the commanding officer of both platoons during their heroic effort to retake Guam from the Japanese.
What Putney found was disheartening for their old skipper and trainer. The graves were unkept and overgrown with weeds and other plants. The sacrifices of these canine Marines who paved the way for dogs to serve in every conflict since World War II seemed completely forgotten.
Putney raised funds to restore the National War Dog Cemetery and build a monument to all military working dogs -- past, present and future.
The main monument features a Doberman Pinscher named Kurt, who saved the lives of 250 Marines on Guam by warning them of a Japanese ambush in the jungle. On the monument, Kurt's ears are upright as he maintains his watch over his resting fellows. The base of the monument is inscribed with the names of the 25 dogs that lost their lives in the battle to retake Guam.
Read more about the Marine Corps War Dogs of World War II in Putney's 2001 book, "Always Faithful: A Memoir of the Marine Dogs of WWII."
-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at email@example.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.
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