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Archive for August, 2014

“Walking Point with London” By Kylee Sekosy

Just as servicemen and women often befriend one another, war dogs and their handlers often share a deep bond from their experiences in combat. James Hooker, a Wisconsin veteran of the United States Marine Corps, spent three full tours of service in Vietnam. A young man “tired of school” and “brainwashed by John Wayne movies,” Hooker enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1966, hoping to join in the war. While at Camp Lejeune completing additional training, Hooker volunteered for training as a scout dog handler at Fort Benning, Georgia. After sixteen weeks of training, ten handlers and their dogs, including Hooker and his scout, London, volunteered to go to Vietnam.

London, a German shepherd, worked with Hooker as the “point-man.” In a tactical formation, the “point man” holds the most vulnerable position. Hooker would walk with London and, using silent signals, the dog alerted his handler to enemy movement, booby traps, mines, base camps, and underground tunnel complexes and supplies.

In an oral history interview Hooker described an instance in which London came through in the face of doubt and serious danger. Click the image below to hear Hooker’s telling of the intense experience:

 

My dog alerting on an enemy bunker complex about a thousand yards away from the bunker complex, gave us plenty of warning, and that was only because the wind was blowing just right, and the dog picked up the scent of all the enemy up on the ridge line and…the officer that was with us kept saying that that dog isn’t good, that dog isn’t good, and when we got up near the ridge and he found out that the whole ridge line was covered with Vietcong, North Vietnamese bunkers, he wanted to hug my dog. I wouldn’t let him do it. The only one that got to hug my dog was me.

(James Hooker, WVM Oral History Interview, 2003)

Instances like this are why scout dogs and their handlers are credited with saving 10,000 lives during the Vietnam War. However, when US troops left Vietnam in 1975, the heroic war dogs stayed behind. Deemed “equipment” the scout, tracking, and guard dogs were left in the possession of the South Vietnamese Army. 4,000 dogs served in Vietnam and only 200 returned home to the United States. Many of those left behind were euthanized.

In order to prevent such an event from happening again, veterans have advocated for the legal adoption of war dogs. Dr. William Putney, a World War II Marine veteran, war dog platoon leader and veterinarian, along with Congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland successfully passed legislature dubbed “Robby’s Law” in 2000, allowing war dogs like London to be adopted after service.

When asked what he did for good luck while in Vietnam, Hooker replied, “Actually, the only thing I did was take my dog by his jowls and just scratch under his ears. That was my good luck thing.”

Written by Kylee Sekosky, Oral History Intern Summer 2014.  Learn more about the WVM Oral History program at http://bit.ly/1rxiCb7

World War WHERE? by Russ Horton

Letter on Fort Clayton Letterhead.  Louis Wayne Tyler Collection, WVM Mss 934

Letter home from Fort Clayton. Louis Wayne Tyler Collection, WVM Mss 934

When Janesville native Louis Wayne Tyler was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II, he probably imagined eventually being deployed to the European or Pacific Theaters. He might have considered the possibility of going to North Africa or the China-Burma-India Theater. He may have even heard stories of other Wisconsin men and women serving in places like the Aleutian Islands and the Persian Gulf. But in all likelihood, he never would have guessed his two major duty stations: Panama and Brazil.

Newspaper clipping describing life in Panama.  Louis Wayne Tyler Collection, WVM Mss 934

Newspaper clipping describing life in Panama. Louis Wayne Tyler Collection, WVM Mss 934

Tyler, who went by his middle name Wayne, had a master’s degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was teaching at the University of Maryland when he entered the Army. His collection at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum includes dozens of highly articulate letters written to his mother that contain the impressions of a young Wisconsin man on the food, scenery, and local culture in these two unusual World War II outposts. The United States placed great importance on protecting the Panama Canal during World War II, sending thousands of troops to the Central American country to defend it. Tyler, who trained at Camp Wolters, Texas, arrived in country in late January 1942 and served there for over three years, first at Fort Clayton near the city of Balboa with Headquarters Company, 150th Infantry Regiment and later at Fort Kobbe near the canal with the 83rd Coastal Artillery.

His letters from Panama described the exotic local flora—“The poinsettias are in bloom and are very beautiful. There are gladioli in bloom and fine red lilies. There is a kind of wild gardenia, very small and white, but without any scent.”—and fauna—“Iguanas are the most repulsive looking animals imaginable, all scales, with a long powerful tail. Imagine a medieval dragon reduced to from two to three feet in length and you have an iguana.” Tyler also quickly connected with J.C. Ward, a former colleague at Maryland who was teaching at the local university in Balboa, and Ward helped explain local culture and customs that Tyler related in the letters to his mother. Tyler left Panama to attend courses at the Adjutant General’s School at Camp Lee, Virginia in the summer of 1945. Soon after, he received an assignment to the Joint Brazil United States Military Commission in Rio de Janeiro in August and he remained there through December. The Commission sought to strengthen the bonds between the two nations and improve the defense capabilities of Brazil. Living in a small apartment two blocks from Copacabana beach, Tyler wrote to his mother describing the fantastic food (steaks, avocados, and strawberries & cream), the rich culture, and the incredible architecture and style of the city.

Christmas card from Panama.  Louis Wayne Tyler Collection, WVM Mss 934

Christmas card from Panama. Louis Wayne Tyler Collection, WVM Mss 934

He also observed a national election and commented on methods of campaigning: “Sometime during the night the parties paint signs everywhere and change each other’s signs. If someone writes VOTE DUTRA on a wall, someone else adds NAO in front of it.” Days later, he wrote his mother that he received orders to remain in his apartment for several days. He learned that it was due to a military coup that removed President Getulio Vargas from power and paved the way for the election of Eurico Gaspar Dutra. Tyler returned to the United States at the end of 1945 and was honorably discharged on March 7, 1946. He used the GI Bill to receive his doctorate in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and after a brief stint at the University of Akron he joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He taught English there for twenty years and upon his retirement was granted emeritus status. He passed away on September 9, 1995. The story of his service in a war that was truly global lives on at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

Interested in more of these stories?  “World War WHERE?” is featured in the Fall 2014 edition of The Bugle, the quarterly newsletter from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and an exclusive benefit of WVM membership. Learn more at http://bit.ly/1sS8d9U.

A War By Invention by Kevin Hampton

Commonly referred to at the time as the “War to End All Wars,” World War I was in fact not a “last” but a “first.” Innovations in technology, tactics, and equipment ushered in a new era of warfare that defined how wars were fought for the next one hundred years.

While most people associate World War I with the start of trench warfare, it was by no means a new strategy or idea. Employed at great lengths during the American Civil War, trench warfare was a siege tactic that had been around for centuries. So what then was “new” about World War I and how did it shape warfare in the 20th Century?

Trench photo

An American soldier poses with a German machine gun. (WVM Mss 15)

In terms of military tools and equipment, World War I saw the first use of aircraft carriers, flamethrowers, chemical weapons, tanks, and airplanes. Battlefield medicine also evolved with the introduction of guide dogs, x-ray machines to treat battlefield casualties, and established blood banks. Though there are many more “firsts” that were introduced during World War I, with the centennial commemorations of the outbreak of the war in July of this year, now is a great time to reflect on some of the more recognizable innovations.


Machine Guns

Employed for the first time en masse, machine guns ruled the battlefield and in many ways were one of the primary causes of the stalemate of trench warfare. By the end of 1914, with each side realizing the devastating combination of massed infantry assaults against fortified machine gun emplacements, the Allied and Central Powers both dug in for a long war. Despite knowing the lethality of this new battlefield technology, the European powers still stuck to their strategies of massed infantry assaults, leading to some of the most costly battles in military history.

Airplanes

In 1903, the Wright brothers made the first controlled, manned flight, staying aloft for 59 seconds. Ten years later, this new technology was being adapted for warfare. Daring pilots were almost more at risk learning to fly than they were in the dogfights in the skies of Europe. In the case of the famed Sopwith Camel, 413 pilots are documented as having been killed in action while 385 died in training accidents. As the war progressed, aerial dogfights took the war from a stalemate on the ground, to a highly maneuverable battle above the trenches.

Mask

Masks like this one protected WWI tank drivers from metal shards and fragments while they peered through narrow, unprotected view slits in their tanks. (K1971.505)

Tanks

Developed to break the stalemate of trench warfare, the “tank” was an incredibly influential innovation of World War I. Initially these slow, metal behemoths were mobile pillboxes that could advance and provide direct heavy fire support for an infantry assault. By the end of the war, the Allies had produced over six thousand tanks, while Germany had produced only about twenty. The lessons learned about the effectiveness of mobile warfare with this new piece of equipment were not lost on the Germans who would use it to introduce a new style of warfare twenty years later.


Ironically, these innovations developed to break the stalemate, and end “The War to End All Wars” were, in fact, the catalysts for a whole new modern era of warfare.

Many World War I battlefield innovations have defined new tactics that are still used today. Machine guns remain a staple on battlefields. Tanks have become the workhorse of ground troops. Airplanes, manned and unmanned, are now the primary strike force of any military operation.

So as we observe the 100th anniversary of World War I, let’s remember the modern innovations brought about by the Great War, as well as the brave Wisconsin men and women who played witness to an era of battlefield inventions.  Learn more about Wisconsin in World War I at http://bit.ly/1qVppuT

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