Westchester County plans to establish a war dog memorial at one of its parks. The announcement came Wednesday, on National K-9 Veterans Day.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer says more than $30,000 has been raised to erect a memorial statue dedicated to hero dogs in the military. The statue, a life-sized sculpture based on a World War II War dog named “Chips,” is planned for the Trail of Honor at Lasdon Park in Katonah, the site of the county’s veteran’s museum.
“This famous dog in World War II served as a sentry dog for the U.S. Army, was in the Third Infantry Division across North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany and was awarded the distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart,” says Latimer.
Friends of Lasdon Park & Arboretum raised money for the statue to honor the family of Edward Wren of Pleasantville, in Westchester County, who brought Chips home after the war. John Conley is a Vietnam and Afghanistan War veteran. His service dog Nero, who you hear chiming in, also served.
“Nero was a Navy working dog who would serve two tours in Iraq and was on his last operation, was wounded by an IED,” Conley says. “From there he went to Landstuhl, Germany, just like a regular GI, and they did rehabilitation with him. They found he had a bulged disk. They did some other tests on him and found that he also had degenerative myeloma, which is a, it’s like Lou Gherig’s disease in dogs.”
The aggressive nature of the dog did not bode well for his future, but Conley’s son had worked with Nero and his handlers. Conley ended up adopting the German Shepard, who uses a wheelchair for mobility. Military service dogs often are tasked with detecting bombs, drugs and weaponry. Director of the Westchester County Department of Consumer Protection Jim Maisano says he has supported bringing a war dog memorial to Westchester for some time.
“Actually, when I served in the Marine Corps, I actually did work with dogs. I was in a unit called Landing Support Specialists. Bob might remember us, back in his day we were known at Shore Party. We always said there’s no party like Shore Party,” Maisano says. “Yeah, the Red Patchers in the Marines. But the reason we had dogs attached to our unit, so Landing Support Specialists is the unit in the Marine Corps in charge of invading a beach. And the dogs would come in with us in organizing the beach before an invasion to sniff for land mines. That was their role, and they were attached to us, and they would come with us on operations. And I have to tell you, they, not only were they heroes but they really made the whole unit really happy to have them as guests. We loved having the dogs with us, and they’re such incredible heroes.”
Director of Westchester County Veterans Affairs Ron Tocci:
“World War I was the first time that they actually recognized canines in war service in this country. And there was a dog by the name of Stubby that was picked up by a dough boy on his way to being deployed to France. And he happened to be a dog person and a really good trainer, and that dog became the mascot of his unit, and distinguished himself to the point where he was the first canine ever commissioned a sergeant in the United States military. He was in the Army,” Tocci says. “And after World War I, when he came back, he was awarded the opportunity to lead the home, welcome home parade.”
“And whoever walks into this park in the years to come, long after all of us are gone, they’ll see something that reminds them that this country recognizes sacrifice when it sees it,” Latimer says.
The sculpture will pay tribute to the thousands of service dogs who have fought to protect the nation’s soldiers in war zones. Artist Lena Toritch, whose pieces have been installed throughout the country for military and police personnel, has been tapped to create the statute. It’s expected to be unveiled June 22 at Lasdon Park.