In March 1965*, military working dogs were approved for
use in Vietnam. By July 17th, forty teams had been deployed
to three bases - Tan Son Nhut, Ben Hoa and DaNang. This was only the beginning,
by the end of the year there were 99 dogs in the country. By September
1966 more than 500 dog teams were deployed to ten bases. In the seventeen
months between July 1965 and December 1966 not a single Viet Cong sapper
team penetrated a base guarded by sentry dogs.
WAR DOG MEMORIAL, Village of Streamwood,
NEMO, THE FIRST HERO Of His Kind...
He was the first hero of his kind to return from the Vietnam
War. The welcoming committee watched him walk down the ramp of the plane
that had just landed at Kelly Air Force Base. He was wounded, his right
eye was missing and a scar ran from below his right eye socket to his
mouth. But his wounds weren't what made him different from other returning
Vietnam veterans... it was because he was a dog.
Of the many dogs that served this country in Vietnam, Nemo is probably
the most famous.
Nemo, was whelped October 1962, and was procured by the Air Force in the
summer of '64, from a sergeant, for sentry dog training, when he was 1
1/2 years old.
After completing an eight-week training course at Lackland's Sentry Dog
Training School, in San Antonio, Texas; the 85 pound, black and tan German
Shepherd, and his new handler, Airman Bryant were assigned to Fairchild
AB, Washington for duty with Strategic Air Command.
In January 1966, Nemo and handler, Airman Leonard Bryant
Jr., were transferred to the Republic of South Vietnam with a large group
of other dog teams, and was assigned to the 377th Security Police Squadron,
stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base.
Six month later, in July, Nemo's original handler rotated back to the
States. The dog was then paired with 22 year old Airman 2nd Class Robert
It's here that we begin our story, on how and why Nemo was to be become
Nemo - No. A534, 377th Security
Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam.
Tan Son Nhut: The story took a tragic turn on December
4, 1966. During the early morning hours a group of 60 Viet Cong emerged
from the jungle. Several sentry dog teams stationed on preventive perimeter
posts gave the initial alert and warning almost simultaneously.
Immediately, Rebel, a sentry dog on patrol, was released. The response
was a hail of bullets that killed the dog.
Forty-five minutes later the group was detected by sentry dog Cubby. Cubby
was released with the same results. It was clear that the VC had learned
to handle the attack dog.
Another dog, Toby, was killed and several handlers wounded before the
attackers were finally driven off.
As a result of this early warning, security forces of the
377th Air Police Squadron successfully repelled the attack, minimizing
damage to aircraft and facilities. Although wounded, one dog handler maintained
contact with the enemy and notified Central Security Control of their
location and direction of travel.
Two security policemen in a machine gun bunker were ready and waiting
as the Viet Cong approached the main aircraft parking ramp. In a few seconds
they stopped the enemy, killing all 13 of the attackers.
Security forces rapidly deployed around the perimeter and prevented the
infiltrators from escaping, forcing them to hide. Three airmen and their
dogs had died in the fighting. By day break, the search patrols believed
that all of the remaining Viet Cong were killed or captured. Unfortunately
supervisors did not include dog teams in those daylight patrols.
Airman 2nd Class Bob Thorneburg and his dog Nemo were to become legends
later that night.
The sentry dog teams that climbed into the back of the army truck that
night were quieter than usual. Many of the handlers were thinking about
the events of the previous night. They were saddened by the loss of their
fellow K-9s. They were also anxious about what awaited them on their patrols.
There was a good chance that stragglers from the previous night's attack
could still be out there. That night, Thorneburg and Nemo were assign
duty near an old Vietnemese graveyard about a quarter mile from the air
base's runways. No sooner had they started their patrol... Nemo alerted
on something in the cemetery. But before Thorneburg could radio the CSC,
that "something" opened fire. Thorneburg released his dog and
then charged firing into the enemy. Nemo was shot and wounded, the bullet
entering under his right eye and exited through his mouth. Thorneburg
killed one VC before he too was shot in the shoulder and knocked to the
That might of been the sad end of the story. But Nemo refused to give
in without a fight. Ignoring his serious head wound, the 85 pound dog
threw himself at the Vietcong guerrillas who had opened fire. Nemo's ferocious
attack brought Thorneburg the time he needed to call in backup forces.
A Quick Reaction Team arrived and swept the area but found no other Viet
Cong. However, security forces, using additional sentry dog teams, located
and killed four more Viet Cong. A second sweep with the dog teams resulted
in discover of four more Viet Cong who were hiding underground. They,
too, were killed.
Although severely wounded, Nemo crawled to his master and covered him
with his body. Even after help arrived Nemo would not allow anyone to
touch Thorneburg. Finally separated, both were taken back to the base
for medical attention. Thorneburg was wounded a second time on the return
to the base.
Lt. Raymond T. Hutson, the base vet, worked diligently to save Nemo's
life. It required many skin grafts to restore the animal's appearance.
Nemo was blinded in one eye, After the veterinarian felt Nemo was well
enough, the dog was put back on perimeter duty. But it turned out his
wounds needed further treatment.
On June 23, 1967, Air Force Headquarters directed that Nemo be returned
to the United States with honors, as the first sentry dog to be officially
retired from active service.
Thorneburg had to be evacuated to the hospital at Tachikawa Air Base in
Japan to recuperate. The handler and the dog who saved his life said their
final goodbyes. Airman Thorneburg fully recovered from his wounds and
also returned home with honors.
Nemo flew halfway around the world accompanied by returning
airman Melvin W. Bryant. The plane touched down in Japan, Hawaii and California.
At each stop, Air Force vets would examine the brave dog for signs of
discomfort, stress and fatigue...after all he was a War Hero!
Finally, the C-124 Globemaster touched down at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas,
on July 22, 1967. Captain Robert M. Sullivan, was the officer in charge
of the sentry dog training program at Lackland, and was the head of Nemo's
welome home committee.
"I have to keep from getting involved with individual dogs in this
program," Sullivan said, "but I can't help feeling a little
emotional about this dog. He shows how valuable a dog is to his handler
in staying alive."
After settling in Nemo and Captain Sullivan made a number
of cross country tours and television appearances, as part of the Air
Force's recruitment drive for more war dog candidates, until the US involvement
in Vietnam started to wind down.
Nemo then spent the rest of his retirement at the Department of Defense
Dog Center, Lackland AFB, Texas. He was given a permanent kennel near
the veterinary facility. A sign with his name, serial number, and details
of his Vietnam heroic exploit designated his freshly painted home.
Nemo died December 1972 at Lackland AFB, shortly before the Christmas
holiday; after an failed attempt to preserve his remains, the Vietnam
War hero was lain to rest on March 15, 1973, at the DoD Dog Center, at
the age of 11. Until then, his presence at Lackland reminded students
just how important a dog is to his handler - and to the entire unit.
WAR DOG MEMORIAL, UNIV. TENN.