BOOKS: Loyal Forces—The American Animals of World War II
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May/June 2013:
Loyal Forces: The American Animals of World War II by Toni M. Kiser & Lindsey F. Barnes Louisiana State University Press (3990 W. Lakeshore Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70808), 2013. 192 pages, hardcover. $35.00.
Loyal Forces: The American Animals of World War II honors the many animals who helped the U.S. military during the war. The informal use of dogs for military purposes in previous wars was made official in 1942 by the creation of a U.S. Army program called Dogs for Defense. The program debuted by soliciting donations of German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, collies, and mixes of their configuration who might have the intelligence, disposition, and ability to obey the commands that they had to learn to do guard work and to carry messages. Contrary to the claims of pit bull enthusiasts today, bully breeds were not used, and are not shown among the 157 dogs depicted in Loyal Forces. Skeptics, including leaders of the humane community, suspected that Dogs for Defense was a propaganda ploy meant to increase public feelings of involvement in the war, at the dogs’ expense. The Army responded by testing donated dogs at regional offices. Dogs who not meet the criteria to receive specialized training were sent home, with letters of appreciation. Most of the dogs who were kept spent the war guarding military installations and defense plants within the U.S., but a celebrated elite were sent overseas to work with the Signal Corps. Their main job was to carry messages, often behind enemy lines, in times and places where radio communication was either impossible or too risky to attempt. “They often traveled through dense jungles, sometimes under fire, and over considerable distances,” say author Toni M. Kiser and Lindsey F. Barnes. A photo on page two shows a messenger dog named Prince, working with the Marines on Iwo Jima. Dogs also detected mines, a task at which they excelled, and continue to perform for the U.S. military today. Some dogs patrolled with scouts, a role reprised during the Vietnam War. After World War II, the U.S. military allowed interested soldiers to adopt dogs. Others underwent retraining to be returned to their homes. Some were euthanized, but there was apparently a good faith effort by both the military and Congress to re-home any war dogs who were physically and psychologically healthy, unlike after the Vietnam War, when hundreds of dogs were either killed as “surplus” or just abandoned when the U.S. withdrew. Mules also served, as in every U.S. war before Vietnam, and in the Afghanistan conflict. The U.S. used mules mainly in North Africa, Italy, and in the China-Burma-India theater. The latter “was a place where mules proved themselves even more versatile than the jeep,” say Kiser and Barnes. Amid steep mountains with narrow trails instead of roads, mules were often the only practicable transportation. A photo on page 39 shows a mule carrying a wounded soldier out of the jungle. Homing pigeons, used by Noah in the Biblical Book of Genesis, were probably the most celebrated military animals during World War II, enduring bad weather, evading attack by other birds, and dodging flak from enemy soldiers to bring urgent messages back to command posts. Pigeons were used in all theatres, especially in Europe, North Africa, and in the China-Burma-India mountain passes, and were also used by civilian war correspondents. The Reuters news service had actually begun in 1849 as a pigeon messaging service, flying financial correspondence between Aachen and Brussels, Belgium. Kiser and Barnes profile the pigeon Jungle Joe, 1944-1954, one of three pigeons who were honored in 1946 by the War Department. According to his official military record, now accessible online, “In 1944 Jungle Joe was parachuted with agents behind Japanese lines in Burma, and was their only means of communication with Army headquarters. He flew an urgent message 225 miles over highest mountains in Burma when only four months of age.” Thousands of troops and many civilians survived World War II because of the animals who are remembered in Loyal Forces, many of whom were killed in service. Jungle Joe, however, nearly outlived the use of pigeons by the Signal Corps, whose pigeon unit, formed in 1918, was demobilized in 1957. ––Debra J. White