Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dogs in War: Soochow

Ohmygoddess! Earlier today while I was watching "History Detectives" on PBS I saw a doggy mentioned in connection with a story of a U.S. Marine stationed in Shanghai just before the U.S. declared war on Japan on December 7, 1941. From what I recall from the "History Detectives" episode, Soochow was a stray boxer or bulldog mix who started showing up at the Marines' camp around dinner time every day, to chow down on scraps handed out by soft-hearted Marines. Soon, he was adopted as a sort of unofficial mascot of this particular group of "China Marines." When the Marines left Shangai, Soochow left with them. Later, Soochow was captured, along with this group of U.S. Marines, when Corregidor fell to the Japanese during WWII. Soochow went to prison camp along with his Marines. It is amazing to me that the Japanese did not kill him and eat him - not because of any innate cruelty (which I do not discount), but because by all accounts both Japanese personnel and Allied prisoners of war were nearly starving to death during most of WWII. I recall the number of "42 months" mentioned in the "History Detectives" show as the time Soochow and his Marines spent in prinson camp, which would be 3 1/2 years, although the article below mentions "nearly 3 years" in prison camp. Eventually the Marines and Soochow were liberated. Soochow was honorably discharged and given a home for the rest of his life at a Marine barracks in California. The following story mentions Soochow, and other faithful canine companions who took part in WWII, whether in deliberate service or otherwise. Here is a photo I found online of Soochow. He sure was ugly! Why am I crying? From the San Diego Union Tribune, Corps' canines carry on Marine dogs' first service came during World War II By Lillian Cox February 2, 2005 CAMP PENDLETON – Combat canines, the embodiment of the Marine Corps slogan, Semper Fi, or "Always Faithful," are the lesser-known heroes of the war in Iraq. Camp Pendleton is the largest base for Marine dogs in the United States. It is home to all West Coast dogs in the service and those working overseas. Camp Lejeune, N.C., is home base for all East Coast dogs in the Corps. The dogs are part of the Military Police, and are trained to perform patrol and bomb-and drug-detection duties. Each dog is assigned to one handler for a two-year rotation. In Iraq, the dog and handler work and live together. For security reasons, Marine Corps officials declined to say how many dogs are based at Camp Pendleton, but Rex, Jari, Nero, Dingo, Brik and Ama are among those currently in the kennels there. They are scheduled to return to Iraq in March, but could be called up for duty earlier. The official Marine Corps dog originally was the Doberman pinscher, but today the Marines use only German shepherds and a variety of Belgian shepherd called the Belgian Malinois. "The Marine Corps began having problems with Dobermans and Rottweilers," said Sgt. Greg Massey, the kennel master at Camp Pendleton. "They are good attack dogs, but not good at detection." Although Marine dogs are required to be aggressive and protective, that doesn't mean they have to be large, Massey said. The Belgian Malinois is a medium-size dog, weighing 40 to 80 pounds. "Size doesn't mean much. You can have 50 pounds that can leap and grab your chest, arm, back, leg, anything," he said. "If it grabs your hamstring, I don't care if you're (former Miami Dolphins running back) Ricky Williams – you're going down." Massey said he prefers female dogs because they tend to be more loyal than males. [Emphasis added.] Dogs working in all branches of the U.S. military are recruited and trained at the Military Working Dog Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Most are bred in Europe, but some come from local breeders. Lackland also has started its own breeding program. Dogs are selected based on endurance, intelligence, obedience and willingness to work. All dogs receive their names at Lackland and spend two years in training before being transferred to Camp Pendleton. "When the new dogs arrive at (the) fleet, we polish them and get rid of areas of weakness," said Sgt. Vincent Amato, chief trainer at the base. "If they are timid, we make them more aggressive. Like any human, it takes practice and training. "If a dog doesn't want to work, we encourage him with toys and praise. A handler plays a big part if a dog is going to work or not." Marines interested in working as handlers go through a competitive process conducted by the Military Police. "As a trainer, you are critiqued just like a dog," Amato said. "If you are thin-skinned, you will have a hard time." Amato said the Marine Corps goes to great lengths to match the dog's personality with that of the handler. "Dogs learn just like we do," he said. "If the dog's not learning, it's because the handler isn't training the right way. It takes time, practice and patience." Massey said choke chains and pinch collars are only used to give a dog a correction. "If the handler abuses a dog, he's out of here," he said. Army veterinarians care for dogs in all branches of the military, assigning their working weight and establishing their diet. "Working dogs are known to get bloated, probably from playing too soon and too hard after eating," Massey said. "For this reason, they are fed twice a day." The Marine Corps began using dogs as messengers and scouts during World War II, recognizing that they could reduce casualties and find the enemy in hiding places. Dogs were donated by civilians eager to contribute to the war effort. Two organizations, Dogs for Defense and the Doberman Pinscher Club of America, provided many animals. "Some dogs also were obtained from Army training centers, but as soon as they became Marines all the recruits were called 'Devil Dogs,' " James A. Cox wrote in Marine Corps League Magazine in 1989. The Marine War Dog Training Company was based at Marine Barracks New River, N.C., which later became Camp Lejeune. Clyde Henderson, a high school chemistry teacher from Ohio and chairman of the Doberman Pinscher Club's training committee, was recruited to lead the 1st Marine Dog Platoon into combat. "After a five-day cross-country train trip, the 1st Marine Dog Platoon led by Henderson went into temporary quarters at Camp Pendleton," Cox wrote. "With the help of Carl Spitz, owner of a famous Hollywood dog training school, Henderson trained the platoon intensely for a few weeks while awaiting a convoy, making up the rules as he went along, since he had no precedents to guide him." The dog platoon joined up with the 2nd and 3rd Marine Raider Battalions for an assault on Bougainville, an island in the South Pacific, that began Nov. 1, 1943. Six dogs were recognized for heroism on Bougainville. Among them was Caesar, a 3-year-old German shepherd who was donated by his owner in New York City. A messenger dog, Caesar received a promotion to sergeant in recognition of his bravery. On Jan. 23, 1944, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland published this account of his record: "Caesar was wounded on the third day and had to be carried back on a stretcher. While with his company, Caesar made nine official runs between the company and the command post, and on at least two of these runs he was under fire." Caesar also forced a Japanese soldier to drop a hand grenade he was about to hurl at the dog and his handler, the newspaper reported. Other dog platoons saw action on Guam, Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. A retired Marine, Sgt. Major "Iron" Mike Mervosh, worked with animals from the 1st Marine Dog Platoon on Iwo Jima. "The dogs could smell the enemy out," Mervosh said. "If a dog stood still, you were in trouble because you knew the enemy was right there." Soochow was a veteran war dog beloved by many San Diegans. After World War II, he retired at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. On Oct. 29, 1946, a parade was held to honor his ninth birthday. "Soochow started out as the mascot of B Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Regiment, stationed in Shanghai in 1937," said Ellen Guillemette, archivist at the depot's Command Museum. "Soochow hit the foxholes with the other Marines during the siege of Corregidor, and fought alongside his buddies. He was captured when the island surrendered on May 6, 1942. "Soochow spent nearly three years in various prisoner-of-war camps. He and 17 Marines were liberated by American Rangers in February 1945. He held the Philippine Campaign, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign, Good Conduct, World War II Victory and American Defense medals." After a career that typically lasts about 10 years, today's military dogs are rewarded with a variety of retirement options. Many are available for adoption by previous handlers, veterinary technicians and the public. Some are used by law enforcement agencies or returned to Lackland, where they are used to train new handlers. Demonstrations by Marine working dogs are offered at Camp Pendleton. For more information, contact the community relations office at (760) 725-5569. Lillian Cox is a freelance writer who lives in Encinitas.
Soochow is mentioned at this website dedicated to the China Marines: Then in early February (1945), Bilibid Prison was liberated by an advance patrol of the Army's 37th Infantry. The Japanese had left only hours before leaving the prison unguarded and quickly the relief of being liberated began to overwhelm the four hundred POWs as well as a couple hundred civilian prisoners. In this group of liberated prisons was the mascot of the 4th Marines, Soochow. That small mongrel dog from Shanghai made it through the shelling of Corregidor, the disease and starvation of prison camp and now was free with his fellow China Marines. Here is a personal account of Clarence Clough's experiences in WWII that mentions Soochow in passing - and the name of the Marine who allegedly smuggled Soochow out of Shanghai when the China Marines were shipped out: In Shanghai there is a river or creek they call SooChow Creek. Much of our guard duty was at bridges across SooChow Creek. One day a stray dog wandered into our barracks. It was a bull-dog type. We fed him and he stayed and we made him our mascot. We named him SooChow. Somehow when we left Shanghai at the start of World War II, a fellow in our company named Bob Snyder smuggled SooChow onto the ship and he went with us to the Philippines. By some miracle SooChow survived the war and the prison camp and was brought back to America at the end of the war. In Shanghai, as our mascot, he wore a vest with sergeant's stripes. When he got to the United States, the Marine commander promoted him to major, retired him and assigned a man to take care of him until he eventually died.

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