SC War Dog

       Veterans War Dog monument honoring military working dog teams to be built at Veterans Memorial Park  


By Johnny Mayo


J.D. and Luke with the model of the proposed War Dog monument  
War Dog monument model by artist Renee Bemis


J.D. and Luke with the model of the proposed War Dog monument.


 Dogs are everywhere in our popular culture these days. Dogs are our housemates, our soul mates, and even our surrogate children. Yet, some human/canine relationships reflect back to ancient callings cultivated thousands of years ago when early man and the ancestors of Canis lupus familiaris first crossed paths. Whether these interactions were initiated by hunters who befriended wolves to track prey or by animals that approached flickering campfires seeking warmth and food in exchange for protection, these two species forged a lasting partnership grounded in trust and loyalty.

While all working dogs and their human companions are proof of this special bond, perhaps nowhere else is the ancient covenant better exemplified than between soldiers and their K-9 partners.


When Japan dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the entire United States military possessed just fifty sled dogs, Siberian Huskies and their offspring left over from the second Antarctic expedition of Richard Byrd that took place between 1933-35.

 War Dog monument model by artist Renee Bemis In early 1942, Dogs for Defense was launched to persuade the Army to inaugurate an ambitious working dog program. Between 1942 to 1945 civilians donated over 40,000 dogs in a patriotic response to the military’s request for four-legged recruits. More than 18,000 were accepted from this group, with over 10,000 of them receiving advanced training. The dogs saw service worldwide with particular distinction as scout dogs in battles that took place on the islands of the Pacific Ocean. By the end of 1943, the term “K9 Corps” became the unofficial phrase coined by Americans for any military activity involving the use of dogs.


In our current wars on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s Military Working Dogs have again taken an important role protecting troops, guarding the perimeters of military bases and checkpoints, and seeking out the enemy much like their ancestors had done in our nations wars and conflicts around the world since WWII.

One of the recent national news reports in May, 2011 was about a MWD Belgian Malinois named Cairo, who with inserted into Bin Laden’s compound on the famous Seal raid that ended with the death of Bin Laden. Cairo was outfitted with ear pieces to hear commands from his handler and a special harness with camera and night vision goggles. Cairo’s duty was to seek and find Bin Laden if he had escaped.

Today’s inventory is approximately 1,700 Military Working Dogs stationed around the world. During the years of war after September 11, over 700 hundred military working dogs served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of the conflicts with eleven dog handlers and eight war dogs killed in action serving in the two war zones.

The Vietnam War - the use of dogs in Vietnam was the most extensive use of military working dogs in our nations history. With the jungle warfare tactics in the Vietnam War, the dog was in his element to serve and protect his handler and the infantrymen that followed in his footsteps.

The Air Force used the aggressive Sentry Dog to guard perimeters of every air base in Vietnam and bases supporting the war. Much like the scout dog teams used in the South Pacific during WWII, the Army and Marines again put the scout dog on point in the dense triple canopy jungles of Vietnam.

My name is Johnny Mayo, drafted into the US Army in 1969 and proudly served as an infantry point man, a scout dog handler, with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. I walked point with war dogs Tiger and Kelly. Tiger was killed in action in his fourth day on point when he walked through a booby-trap. Mourning for your K9 partner has to be short lived as the war goes on. Scout dog Kelly was Tiger’s replacement and we were back to the jungle as a new dog team. Dogs are much like people in that we all cannot do the same things equally well. Kelly was amazing in his abilities to hunt the enemy and detection… saving lives of myself and the infantrymen following in our footsteps. I was wounded in February 1971, but came home alive because of a dog’s abilities to save lives.

A Discovery Channel documentary in 1999 attributed the War Dogs with saving over 10,000 American lives in the Vietnam War.

Over 4,000 War Dogs served in Vietnam… nearly 300 War Dogs and 267 Dog Handlers were Killed in Action in Vietnam…

As the Vietnam War started ending and it took a number of years to end… and as our infantry units came home and the military bases transferred to the South Vietnamese, sadly the war dogs were considered surplus equipment by the military and euthenized, over 2,000 destroyed as surplus equipment.

Over 4,000 War Dogs served in Vietnam… only 204 survived. They will never be forgotten.

The Veterans War Dog Monument to be located at the beautiful Veterans Memorial Park in Columbia will honor our nation’s military working dogs—WWII to present with a beautiful granite pedestal—bronze handler and his faithful G.S. War Dog alert on point. Phase II will add bronze statues of the Doberman, Labrador Retriever, and Belgian Malinois to complete the memorial tribute to the four primary K9 breeds serving America since WWII. The War Dog Monument strategically placed on the plaza near the park’s Vietnam Memorial will put the spirit of the military working dogs “on point” once again. Artist Renee Bemis has been commissioned to sculpt the dog handler and military working dogs. Bruns Monument Company of Columbia will provide granite stone base.

War Dog Memorial By artist Renee Bemis

When creating this design, different emotions encompassed me, but mostly pride. I am honored and humbled to be the sculptor of this memorial.

My first job was to research all I could about the War Dogs, in order to be able to capture their spirit. It was important to speak with former dog handlers to hear their heartfelt stories, and each had a unique but similar experience. My initial thought was, “this is an incredible responsibility to create a Memorial that would pay tribute to our fallen four legged soldiers“. The dog’s stories played in my head, and I could only hope to capture the magnitude of the unconditional sacrifice these courageous soldiers performed.

A handler needed to be a part of the sculpture, as they are a team; however my design portrays the handler and the dog as equally important. The concept is to capture that “moment in time” while on patrol, when the dog has become alerted. The handler drops down on one knee, next to his attentive German shepherd, looking down the space between the dog’s ears, seeking , searching and focusing on what has his dog alarmed.

Veterans War Dog Monument Honoring Military Working Dog Teams, Past to Present will be located at Veterans Memorial Park. The monument will be placed in center of plaza, in front of the S.C. Vietnam Memorial

Project cost summary

Phase 1: Granite Base and Bronze Handler and German Shepherd

Granite base: $49,500 with $25,000.00 needed to start work. Quote includes production, shipment, and placement. Time frame for granite ready to ship is approximately four months.

Bronze Handler and GS Dog: $75,000-$80,000 with $5,000 needed to start.

Time frame for artist Renee Bemis is six to nine months to produce larger than life Handler and German Shepherd. Quote is the artist and foundry’s production cost. The foundry’s production time for bronze work is six to nine months. So with production time possibly up to one and a half years for the handler and dog, will allow time for fundraising for the bronze. Total Phase 1: $140,000.

Phase 2: Three Bronze Dogs, $20,000 each (Doberman, Lab, and Belgian Mal). Total Phase 2: $60,000.

Total estimate for phase 1 and 2: $200,000.

For questions, please contack Johnny Mayo by phone at 803-767-6756, email K9heroes@att.net, or Allen Marshall, Memorial Park Architect at 803-252-6636.

All contributions are tax deductible. Donations made to the War Dog Memorial Fund (sub account of SC Memorial Park Fund) should be made to SC Memorial Park Fund, “War Dog Memorial Fund,” c/o Smith Barney, PO Box 7277, Columbia, SC 29202.