In March 1965*, military working dogs were approved
for use in Vietnam. By July 17th, forty teams had
been deployed to three bases - Tan Son Nhut, Ben Hoa and DaNang.
This was only the beginning, by the end of the year there were 99
dogs in the country. By September 1966 more than 500 dog teams were
deployed to ten bases. In the seventeen months between July 1965
and December 1966 not a single Viet Cong sapper team penetrated
a base guarded by sentry dogs.
WAR DOG MEMORIAL, Village of
NEMO, THE FIRST HERO Of His Kind...
He was the first hero of his kind to return from
the Vietnam War. The welcoming committee watched him walk down the
ramp of the plane that had just landed at Kelly Air Force Base.
He was wounded, his right eye was missing and a scar ran from below
his right eye socket to his mouth. But his wounds weren't what made
him different from other returning Vietnam veterans... it was because
he was a dog.
Of the many dogs that served this country in Vietnam, Nemo is probably
the most famous.
Nemo, was whelped October 1962, and was procured by the Air Force
in the summer of '64, from a sergeant, for sentry dog training,
when he was 1 1/2 years old.
After completing an eight-week training course at Lackland's Sentry
Dog Training School, in San Antonio, Texas; the 85 pound, black
and tan German Shepherd, and his new handler, Airman Bryant were
assigned to Fairchild AB, Washington for duty with Strategic Air
In January 1966, Nemo and handler, Airman Leonard
Bryant Jr., were transferred to the Republic of South Vietnam with
a large group of other dog teams, and was assigned to the 377th
Security Police Squadron, stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base.
Six month later, in July, Nemo's original handler rotated back to
the States. The dog was then paired with 22 year old Airman 2nd
Class Robert Thorneburg.
It's here that we begin our story, on how and why Nemo was to be
Nemo - No. A534, 377th
Security Police K-9
Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam.
Tan Son Nhut: The story took a tragic turn on December
4, 1966. During the early morning hours a group of 60 Viet Cong
emerged from the jungle. Several sentry dog teams stationed on preventive
perimeter posts gave the initial alert and warning almost simultaneously.
Immediately, Rebel, a sentry dog on patrol, was released. The response
was a hail of bullets that killed the dog.
Forty-five minutes later the group was detected by sentry dog Cubby.
Cubby was released with the same results. It was clear that the
VC had learned to handle the attack dog.
Another dog, Toby, was killed and several handlers wounded before
the attackers were finally driven off.
As a result of this early warning, security forces
of the 377th Air Police Squadron successfully repelled the attack,
minimizing damage to aircraft and facilities. Although wounded,
one dog handler maintained contact with the enemy and notified Central
Security Control of their location and direction of travel.
Two security policemen in a machine gun bunker were ready and waiting
as the Viet Cong approached the main aircraft parking ramp. In a
few seconds they stopped the enemy, killing all 13 of the attackers.
Security forces rapidly deployed around the perimeter and prevented
the infiltrators from escaping, forcing them to hide. Three airmen
and their dogs had died in the fighting. By day break, the search
patrols believed that all of the remaining Viet Cong were killed
or captured. Unfortunately supervisors did not include dog teams
in those daylight patrols.
Airman 2nd Class Bob Thorneburg and his dog Nemo were to become
legends later that night.
The sentry dog teams that climbed into the back of the army truck
that night were quieter than usual. Many of the handlers were thinking
about the events of the previous night. They were saddened by the
loss of their fellow K-9s. They were also anxious about what awaited
them on their patrols. There was a good chance that stragglers from
the previous night's attack could still be out there. That night,
Thorneburg and Nemo were assign duty near an old Vietnemese graveyard
about a quarter mile from the air base's runways. No sooner had
they started their patrol... Nemo alerted on something in the cemetery.
But before Thorneburg could radio the CSC, that "something"
opened fire. Thorneburg released his dog and then charged firing
into the enemy. Nemo was shot and wounded, the bullet entering under
his right eye and exited through his mouth. Thorneburg killed one
VC before he too was shot in the shoulder and knocked to the ground.
That might of been the sad end of the story. But Nemo refused to
give in without a fight. Ignoring his serious head wound, the 85
pound dog threw himself at the Vietcong guerrillas who had opened
fire. Nemo's ferocious attack brought Thorneburg the time he needed
to call in backup forces.
A Quick Reaction Team arrived and swept the area but found no other
Viet Cong. However, security forces, using additional sentry dog
teams, located and killed four more Viet Cong. A second sweep with
the dog teams resulted in discover of four more Viet Cong who were
hiding underground. They, too, were killed.
Although severely wounded, Nemo crawled to his master and covered
him with his body. Even after help arrived Nemo would not allow
anyone to touch Thorneburg. Finally separated, both were taken back
to the base for medical attention. Thorneburg was wounded a second
time on the return to the base.
Lt. Raymond T. Hutson, the base vet, worked diligently to save Nemo's
life. It required many skin grafts to restore the animal's appearance.
Nemo was blinded in one eye, After the veterinarian felt Nemo was
well enough, the dog was put back on perimeter duty. But it turned
out his wounds needed further treatment.
On June 23, 1967, Air Force Headquarters directed that Nemo be returned
to the United States with honors, as the first sentry dog to be
officially retired from active service.
Thorneburg had to be evacuated to the hospital at Tachikawa Air
Base in Japan to recuperate. The handler and the dog who saved his
life said their final goodbyes. Airman Thorneburg fully recovered
from his wounds and also returned home with honors.
Nemo flew halfway around the world accompanied by
returning airman Melvin W. Bryant. The plane touched down in Japan,
Hawaii and California. At each stop, Air Force vets would examine
the brave dog for signs of discomfort, stress and fatigue...after
all he was a War Hero!
Finally, the C-124 Globemaster touched down at Kelly Air Force Base,
Texas, on July 22, 1967. Captain Robert M. Sullivan, was the officer
in charge of the sentry dog training program at Lackland, and was
the head of Nemo's welome home committee.
"I have to keep from getting involved with individual dogs
in this program," Sullivan said, "but I can't help feeling
a little emotional about this dog. He shows how valuable a dog is
to his handler in staying alive."
After settling in Nemo and Captain Sullivan made a
number of cross country tours and television appearances, as part
of the Air Force's recruitment drive for more war dog candidates,
until the US involvement in Vietnam started to wind down.
Nemo then spent the rest of his retirement at the Department of
Defense Dog Center, Lackland AFB, Texas. He was given a permanent
kennel near the veterinary facility. A sign with his name, serial
number, and details of his Vietnam heroic exploit designated his
freshly painted home.
Nemo died December 1972 at Lackland AFB, shortly before the Christmas
holiday; after an failed attempt to preserve his remains, the Vietnam
War hero was lain to rest on March 15, 1973, at the DoD Dog Center,
at the age of 11. Until then, his presence at Lackland reminded
students just how important a dog is to his handler - and to the
WAR DOG MEMORIAL, UNIV. TENN.