This is the story of a Vietnam War dog named Major.
In 1970, I had the honor to serve with Major, when he was attached to our unit of the 23rd Infantry Division.
In my opinion dogs are the most valuable and useful animals to human beings. Dogs can be trained to sniff out bombs, drugs, tell when people are going to have a seizure, guide the blind and even detect cancer in people. If you are sick for any reason, they know it. It is just a talent they are born with.
Major was one of these well-trained dogs. He was, as you can see from his picture, a beautiful, loving German Shepherd.
He was trained by the U.S. Army, just like we were, only his training was different than ours. Major could detect trip wires with explosives and punji-stick traps. He was also trained to drive the Viet Cong out of the tunnels they were hiding in. Major could detect the VC when they were close. Maybe it was because they ate different foods than American soldiers, so their sweat had a different odor, I don't know for sure. Major just knew if something didn’t belong in his environment.
If a VC stepped on a twig Major would hear it. Major was a soldier just like we were. We treated him just like anybody else in the unit. When we were on firebases we would pet him and he would play with his ball that he loved to chase. On the firebases he was a normal fun loving dog, but in the jungle he was a soldier.
On day in 1970 Major came running to me and another soldier; he had been shot in the side. Part of his liver was hanging out of the bullet hole. Of course we didn’t know what to do for him. We were all just kids, 18, 19 and some 20 years old.
We pushed his liver back inside him and held it in. We petted him to comfort him the best we could, until someone backed a jeep up to us. We gently laid Major in the back of the jeep, telling him he would be okay, we would get him to a medic. He raised his head up and looked at us with those sad eyes, just like he knew what was coming. We watched the jeep as it drove away.
I don’t know for sure how long it was, but we got word later that day that Major had died from his gunshot wound. A lot of us cried that day. I don’t remember, but I’m sure I did too. Even now as I write this story about Major 49 years later, I still get a lump in my throat and my eyes get misty.
Major was a real hero for his bravery during his combat missions during his short career as an American soldier. He was a true "Hero Dog." It is such a shame that he had to die, along with the thousands of other soldiers who gave their lives for their country. Although I came close a few times, I consider myself very lucky I was not one of them.
When people find out you were in Vietnam they always ask you a lot of questions you don’t want to answer. Two of the most common are, what was it like in Vietnam and why don’t you ever talk about it?
This story about Major is one of the reasons I don’t talk about it. That and seeing wounded soldiers being brought in to a firebase by helicopter. It’s just too emotional. As for what it was like, trust me when I tell you, you really don’t want to know.
Some of the guys who came back had nightmares that never went away. So they turned to drugs or booze to forget, and some even killed themselves. I again was lucky. After a while my dreams stopped and I was able to sleep without dreaming the VC was still trying to kill me. When that happens we get on with our lives. We get married, buy houses, have families and become normal productive citizens again. Although you try every day to forget, you know in the back of your mind, that you never will. Every time I hear a helicopter fly over, Vietnam is my first thought.
It took 49 years to tell Major’s story and I’m glad it was me who told it, even if only to the people who will read this article. At least it’s a few more people who know about him, than knew about him yesterday.
I think being in the military is an experience that has helped to shape me into the man I am today. Even to this day when I get shaved and ready to go someplace, I always make sure my shoes are shined, my shirt is tucked in and my gig line is straight.
I didn’t know back then what I know now. But now I believe I can take comfort in knowing that somewhere in heaven, Major is still running around chasing and playing with that ball, because I believe a special place in heaven has been set aside for this magnificent dog. Because God knows Major deserves it.
Editor's note: Donald L. Rost, of the Hastings Farms subdivision in Queen Creek, served in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War.