Raritan students remember Vietnam War dogs, handlers

by Veronica Slaght/For The Star-Ledger
Monday May 18, 2009, 8:58 PM

When students in Evelyn Van Nuys’ seventh grade history class were studying the Vietnam War, they learned that thousands of dogs served in the military, attacking enemy soldiers and sniffing out explosives. They also learned that many of these “war dogs” were abandoned and forgotten after the war.

The J.P. Case Middle School students decided the heroic canines and their handlers should be remembered, so they joined with their teacher to create a memorial at the Raritan Township school.

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Veronica Slaght/For The Star-Ledger
Students at the J.P. Case Middle School in Raritan
Township decided a memorial to the dogs lost in the Vietnam War.

The memorial to war dogs and their handlers was dedicated at a ceremony this afternoon.

The black granite slab was donated by Rich Kulinski, and the students raised $4,000 to have it etched. It bears a Terry Waldron sketch of a war dog named “Fluffy” and his handler, and a poem called “The Soldier Dog,” written by Vietnam veteran Joe Ferrara. It also lists the nine New Jersey military dog handlers who were killed in action in Vietnam.

Today’s event drew local veterans’ organizations, politicians and members of the public to honor “courage at both ends of the leash.” Veterans’ organizations included Hunterdon County Bulldogs Chapter 957, Military Order of Purple Hearts Chapter 27, Vietnam Vets of America Chapter 452 and American Legion Post 159.

The attendees were joined by about 500 students.

During the ceremony, students and veterans placed flowers in front of the memorial for the dog handlers who died in Vietnam. The program also featured a student choir singing “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” Lebanon Mayor Mark Paradis and Dan Schultz performing Echo Taps, and Rose Holden singing “America the Beautiful.”

According to Van Nuys, dogs were considered military equipment and left in Vietnam at the end of the war. The Gifted and Talented and seventh grade students attended a special assembly featuring veterans in the community and John C. Burnam, military dog handler and founder of the National War Dog Memorial in Washington D.C.

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Veronica Slaght/For The Star-Ledger
Senior airman Rodreques Boyd, from McGuire Airforce Base, with Cici, a German shepherd who has been to Iraq twice. The two have been training together and will start their first joint tour of in September.

In addition to inspiring her students to honor war dogs, Van Nuys also inspired Flemington resident J.T. Gabriel. Gabriel formed the nonprofit organization K9 Soldiers to collect and donate necessary goods to the K9 teams at Fort Drum, Lakehurst Naval Air Station, McGuire Air Force Base and Bolling Air Force Base.

To make a donation to K9 Soldiers call at (908) 284-0284 or visit k9soldiers.org.

Gabriel also arranged to have representatives from these bases attend the dedication, which was performed with full military honors.

Senior airman Rodreques Boyd came to the event from McGuire Airforce Base with Cici, a German shepherd who has been to Iraq twice. The two have been training together and will start their first joint tour of duty in September. Boyd, originally from Atlanta, said he thought the memorial was “awesome.”

Peter Abramchak, who goes by “Pittstown Pete,” said he is glad the school did this. Abramchak served in Vietnam and is a member of the Marine Corps League. He said some military dogs are trained to attack, while others are used to sniff out bombs.

“The dogs deserve to be remembered,” he said.

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