Museum erects memorial for animals who ‘served’ in war

By KEVIN DOUGHERTY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 13, 2009

THIMISTER-CLERMONT, Belgium — Many war monuments grace the Belgian landscape. In cities and small villages, near border points and sleepy country crossroads, they mostly honor the successes and sacrifices of World War II.

Another monument was unveiled the other day, and this one doesn’t commemorate a great battle or an opportunistic unit. Instead, it pays tribute to what some people believe is an often overlooked war asset — animals.

“Animals saved a lot of lives during the war,” said Frederic Thomson, who sculptured the memorial for the Remember Museum in Thimister-Clermont in southeastern Belgium.

The dedication Friday was one of several events marking the area’s liberation 65 years ago by the 1st Infantry Division. A U.S. Army honor guard and brass quintet provided polish and atmosphere, and a military observance and flyover were held at nearby Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery.

Mathilde and Marcel Schmetz founded the privately run Remember Museum. They believe their monument, set near the museum entrance, is the second in Europe dedicated to the wider contributions of animals in wartime. The relief sculpture that Thomson created depicts a horse and a dog shouldering the weight of the world, carved to miniature form, while a carrier pigeon sits atop the orb, poised to deliver a message of peace.

The forerunner to it is the Animals in War Memorial near Hyde Park in London. The memorial claims that in addition to Thomson’s trio, mules and donkeys, elephants, camels, oxen, bulls, cats, canaries and even glow worms were enlisted in the war effort.

Not everyone is so quick to lap up the idea. Even some of the Schmetzes’ friends wondered if it was appropriate.

“They didn’t think it was the right thing to do,” Mathilde Schmetz said.

But in her speech, Schmetz estimated that upward of 30 million animals “served” during World War II. Homing pigeons, particularly in World War I, delivered vital messages, she said. Meanwhile, horses provided strength to move equipment and dogs were used to attack and serve as guards. The U.S. trained about 40,000 dogs for use during the war, the Germans about 200,000, she said.

“If it wasn’t for the efforts of the animals, we may not have achieved the results that we did,” said Staff Sgt. James Martinez, a member of the Army honor guard.

As Schmetz spoke at the ceremony, an orange cat slinked to the front and paused, as if to pay its respects. The gesture sent an amused stir through the audience. Neither the two police horses on duty nor Kasper, the Belgian rescue dog attending the ceremony with his handler, budged much, which was remarkable, considering the interloper.

The relief sculpture includes a horse, homing pigeon and dog, foreground. About 150 people attended the event, including members of the U.S. Army Europe band and an honor guard from the 1st Infantry Division.

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