The Dogs of War Laid
Their Lives on the Line for U.S.
Times; Los Angeles, Calif.; May 4, 2003; Cecilia Rasmussen
Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 2003. All rights
Each had just
one name -- Jim, Prince, Ruff, Bear.
Together they are believed to be the first of hundreds of
four- legged soldiers to be trained, and killed, in the line
of duty as part of the U.S. Army's "K-9 Command" program at
Ft. MacArthur in San Pedro. For decades they have lain
buried, along with two dozen other valiant wartime dogs,
behind the base chapel.
These fallen tail-wagging troops were the dogs of war:
muscular Doberman pinschers, German shepherds and, for a
time, some specially bred canines called GI dogs, trained
for sentry duty and attack. "Although the Army used sled
dogs as early as 1913 for transportation" and delivering
messages and supplies, "Ft. MacArthur is believed to be the
first base to use
Sgt Bob Pierce introduces
grandson of the
legendary K9 Actor Rin-Tin-Tin
as weapons," said Steve Nelson, director of
the Ft. MacArthur Museum, the
centerpiece of Angels Gate Park.
On Sept. 9, 1941, Sgt. Robert H. Pearce put together a "war
dog" platoon at Ft. MacArthur. Its original purpose was to
"conserve manpower and strengthen the guard by giving
sentries an added weapon," according to the base newsletter.
The K-9 Commandos would become progenitors of a new kind of
attack dog -- bigger, stronger and smarter canine soldiers.
Unlike other military dogs of the popular and publicized
"Dogs for Defense" program -- in which animals were taught
to sniff out bombs and land mines, carry battlefield
messages and scout trails -- the K-9 Commandos' training to
guard and to kill remained pretty much under wraps until the
end of the war. Records of their Army service are so spotty
that it is uncertain whether they served overseas, and what
they might have done there.
The dogs Pearce selected had to be aggressive, physically
fit, between 1 and 3 years old, responsive to voice
commands, not gun-shy and able to stand their ground without
cowering. Many of them were tested and classified by
Hollywood dog trainer Carl Spitz, who spent 20 years
readying dogs for films and who also trained "Dogs for
Defense." Among his movie-star pupils were Terry, the female
Cairn terrier who played Dorothy's male dog, Toto, in "The
Wizard of Oz"; and Buck, one of the dogs used in the film of
Jack London's "The Call of the Wild."
By January 1942, a month after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor,
newspaper stories and radio announcements were asking
readers and listeners to volunteer their dogs for war duty.
Hundreds of Angelenos showed up at Pershing Square, some
with cocker spaniels and Boston terriers in tow.
Bruno, a 65-pound chow mix, was the first chosen for the K-9
Command program. Five other recruits, including a schnauzer
and a German shepherd named Rin -- grandson of dog star Rin-Tin-Tin -- were commissioned on the spot, loaded in cages,
and taken to Ft. MacArthur for training. One funny-looking
dog, clearly not killer material, still found a home at the
base. His owner, a San Pedro resident, dropped off the
English bulldog at the base with "pedigree papers, fleas and
very little ambition," the base newsletter reported. When he
didn't make the cut, the bulldog was adopted by the Army
staff and named Sgt. Mulligan, because he was always getting
into the stew -- as in Mulligan stew, and that meant
trouble. Eventually he became the base mascot.
From their training camp in San Pedro, the dogs were
assigned to military bases here and possibly overseas. In
1943, the K-9 Command started a stud service for a new
generation of canine gladiators, bred for size, intelligence
and ferocity. Major was the biggest of the litter from a
German shepherd and American pit bull terrier mix. He was as
"tall as a shepherd with a chest as broad as the average
man's," the base newsletter reported.
Major was then bred with an Airedale named Maggie. Their
three pups -- half Airedale, one-quarter German shepherd and
one-quarter American pit bull terrier -- were named GI, OD
and BC. Soon, they were isolated to ensure that they didn't
pick up the habits of the other dogs, and to prevent Army
personnel from petting them. When they were 4 months old,
the three began training to respond to voice commands, to
run obstacle courses, and to stalk and attack the enemy.
After peace came in 1945, the Army's K-9 Command unit went
public. GI, OD and BC, along with another trio, Wolf, Cisco
and Rin - - the one with Rin-Tin-Tin as his ancestor --
showed off their attack skills for an audience at the Ann
Street animal shelter and at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in
During the Cold War, trained dogs were
needed for sentry duty at 16 Nike missile sites that ringed
Orange and Los Angeles counties. Ft. MacArthur was the
headquarters for the bases.
One of the four-footed soldiers was Brutus, a 95-pound
German shepherd with his serial number, 737 alpha, tattooed
in his ear. Brutus was trained at Lackland Air Force Base in
San Antonio and transferred, along with his handler, Army
Pvt. Paul Acosta, to the Malibu Nike missile site in 1970.
Their assignment: to guard 18 nuclear warheads.
At the Malibu compound, a guard armed with a .45-caliber
handgun was stationed at the entrance to the command and
launch areas. Another armed guard and his dog patrolled an
inner defensive perimeter. Brutus, Lothar, Cheetah and Fritz
were known for their fearlessness, skill at finding
trespassers and AWOL soldiers, and ability to discern the
good guys from the bad. But life was not all work and no
play. "I played practical jokes on the security guards all
the time, because the guards were so antagonistic toward
Brutus," Acosta said. "They always threatened to shoot my
dog if I ever let him off his leash. So one night I caught
an off-duty guard sleeping and put a piece of bologna on his
chest. Just to watch his face when he woke up and found
Brutus, teeth bared, was worth a million bucks."
In the mid-1970s, the Nike sites were abandoned and the
canines retired, but they would never know civilian life.
The dogs were taken to Ft. MacArthur and put to death. A
military policy, in effect since 1949, prohibited the dogs'
adoption because they were trained to attack. That policy
was rescinded in 2000, after years of campaigning by
veterinarian William Putney of Woodland Hills. Acosta
testifies to Brutus' good heart.
"Even though these dogs were trained to kill, they were very
affectionate with their handlers," he said. "I could confide
in Brutus things I could never tell my wife. "When I got out
of the Army," he said, "I got another German shepherd and
named him Brutus. But there was really only one Brutus."
Fort MacArthur K9 Cemetery
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Please support Fort MacArthur's
K-9 War Heroes and help us
with the restoration of
This Historic Cemetery
Please Make your checks payable to:
The Fort MacArthur
P.O. Box 268
San Pedro, CA 90731
Contact the museum for more
information about the project or to
find out how you can help.
|A Lonely Bid to Refurbish
The Los Angeles Times; May 4,
By the mid-1970s,
Ft. MacArthur had become part of Angels Gate
Park, and its military dog cemetery had fallen
into disrepair. Graves had been vandalized and
tombstones toppled and broken.
A life-size bronze of a German shepherd guarding
the graveyard had been stolen, as had plaques
with dogs' names and service records.
Concerned over the degradation, a small group of
military historians has waged a lonely, and so
far unsuccessful, campaign to spruce it up.
"There should be enough passion and respect in
this town for a better place for these war
heroes, but all this cemetery gets is vandalized
when it should have national status," said Steve
Nelson, director of the Ft. MacArthur Museum.
Dennis Piotrowski, the museum's archivist,
agreed. "We are very proud of our war dogs, our
K-9 Commandos and sentries who in their own
selfless way helped defend Los Angeles and
America," he said. "This is why the cemetery is
very special, and why we consider this sacred
Few if any of the dogs died in battle. Instead,
they were put to death upon retirement under a
now-ended military policy that refused to place
trained attack dogs in civilian homes.