Photo by Milton Morris
CAREER: Served with 39th Scout Dog Platoon, 173rd Airborne Brigade, U.S. Army, Vietnam, 1969–71; retired from U.S. Postal Service
MISSION: Securing recognition for the contributions of military working dogs
MEDIA: Authored Buck’s Heroes (wardogwall.com), in which fallen war dogs tell their stories; appeared in Saving Private K-9 and Oliver North’s War Stories TV shows and in National Geographic's video “Remembering the Vietnam War’s Combat Dogs”
Second day, second mission. That’s when a 20-year-old Johnny Mayo lost his best friend in Vietnam. It is still, 45 years later, an emotional memory.
“A dog handler and his dog—those are two living beings in as close a relationship as there is, dropped in the enemy’s backyard,” Mayo says of “walking point” ahead of his infantry platoon with Tiger-9A34, his German shepherd scout dog.
In October 1970, Tiger triggered an enemy trip wire in Bong Son and died from shrapnel injuries. Mayo and his fellow soldiers survived the blast. Soon after, Mayo was assigned another canine partner, Kelly-819A, who would save him during an enemy mortar attack.
Many soldiers returned from Vietnam wanting only to forget. But dog handlers fondly remembered their buddies who served as scouts, trackers and sentries, alerting troops to hidden dangers. So it came as a terrible shock to Mayo and other “dog men” when a 1999 TV documentary revealed that thousands of scout dogs never came home when the U.S. left Vietnam in 1973. Designated “surplus equipment,” they were given to the South Vietnamese or, worse, euthanized.
More than 4,000 military working dogs served in Vietnam; only 204 survived and returned home.
Mayo launched a crusade to ensure that war dogs were not forgotten. He traveled the country, displaying his “tribute wall” covered in names of canine warriors. His work on a committee to erect a national war dog memorial led to an invitation to place a monument in downtown Columbia’s Memorial Park. On Veterans Day 2015, that statue—a handler in full gear, kneeling beside his German shepherd on full alert—will be dedicated to war dogs and their partners.
“That memory of that dog is as close as any family member,” Mayo says. “There’s not many family members you go to war with.”
The dedication ceremony for the S.C. War Dogs Monument will be Veterans Day, Nov. 11, at 3 p.m. at Memorial Park, 700 Hampton St., Columbia. To learn more, visit Facebook. To make a tax-deductible donation, visit wardogmemorialfund.com.