On Wednesday, March 13, patriots and dog lovers alike can join together in saluting our nation's four-legged heroes for National K9 Veterans Day.
This year's holiday will commemorate the 77th anniversary of dogs officially becoming a part of the U.S. Armed Forces. According to Military.com, it was on March 13, 1942, that the Army first began training for its new War Dog Program, known also as the "K-9 Corps."
The United States Postal Service is among those paying tribute, having recently announced a new booklet of 20 stamps that "honors the nation's brave and loyal military working dogs."
According to the USPS, each block of four stamps features one stamp each of the four breeds chosen for inclusion in the booklet: German shepherd, Labrador retriever, Belgian Malinois and Dutch shepherd.
The patriotic stamps were designed by art director Greg Breeding, and created by the Los Angeles-based DKNG Studios. The stylized digital images feature red, white, blue and gold coloring, along with illustrations of dogs wearing tactical service vests. In the background of each stamp is the detail of a white star. A full white star on a gold background also appears on the center of each block.
Though an official release date for the military dog stamps has not yet been revealed, the Postal Service did promise that more details on dates and locations for the first-day-of-issue ceremonies would be forthcoming.
A distinguished breed of service
Though the K-9 Corps dates back to WWII, military dogs have been serving in the U.S. military since World War I. The most famous canine veteran of the Great War was a Staffordshire terrier mix named Stubby, who saved many sleeping soldiers by barking and waking them during a German mustard gas attack. According to History.com, Stubby went on to serve in 17 battles and survive at least two major injuries, including shrapnel in his chest and leg, before becoming the first dog to be given the rank of Sergeant in the U.S. Armed Forces.
When Sergeant Stubby died in his sleep at the age of 10 in 1926, his remains were gifted to the Smithsonian Institution where they continue to be displayed today.
Examples of canine heroism can be found in more recent conflicts, as well. Just this past November, an Army Ranger dog named Maiko was killed in action during a skirmish in Afghanistan, according to Stars and Stripes. The 7-year-old military working dog was leading Rangers into a compound when he was fired upon by a militant, revealing the militant's position and saving the lives of other soldiers, who then targeted that position.
There is a memorial in Holmdel, New Jersey, that recognizes such sacrifices. Although the War Dog Memorial was originally built to remember only those dogs that served in Vietnam, it now honors all dogs that have served in the United States military.
Today an estimated 2,300 military working dogs serve on U.S. bases worldwide, performing dangerous tasks alongside their human counterparts. These canine warriors often use their noses and smaller sizes to engage in search and rescue missions that more traditional service members are less equipped to complete.
"These military dogs, and search-and-rescue dogs, are putting themselves on the line. They're out in the front lines," Diane Whetsel, head of the Sage Foundation that works to help fund medical services for military dogs, told CNN.
While it may be true that "all dogs go to heaven," surely a special place there is reserved for all of the pups that we remember and pay tribute to on National K9 Veterans Day.