National monument to military working dogs dedicated at Lackland
For Larry Chilcoat, Monday's dedication of the Military Working Dog Teams national monument at Lackland Air Force Base was long overdue.
"These incredible warriors have saved countless American lives since they were first officially recognized by the U.S. military in World War II," said Chilcoat, an Air Force veteran who partnered with a German shepherd named Geisha during the Vietnam War.
"Since then they have continued to go fearlessly in to combat with our troops and guard America's freedom.
"They do it all for food, water, a toy and the loving touch of their handler."
Chilcoat and Geisha were stationed at Cam Rahn Bay Air Base in Vietnam.
"She had my back for the year I was there," he said. They worked the perimeter of the largest military facility in Vietnam from dusk to dawn.
"The rules of engagement were specific: Any unusual sight or sound and/or alert by your dog outside the boundary, you call it in and engage.
"Many times we were outside radio range and had to put up a flare to get help, we had to hold our ground until help arrived.
"Air Force bases in Vietnam were secure because military working dog teams were the first line of defense."
Lackland is home to the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Program and is where the U.S. Armed Forces has been training its military working dog teams since 1958, according to a news release from the memorial foundation.
It is the world's largest training center for military dogs and handlers and home to the largest veterinary hospital for military working dogs.
The founder and inspiration for the national monument is John C. Burnam, a highly decorated Vietnam infantry veteran scout dog handler. Burnam is the author of "Dog Tags of Courage" and "A Soldier's Best Friend."
Chilcoat said he has championed a monument to military working dogs for more than 20 years. In 2001, Texas representative Geanie Morrison introduced a resolution recognizing the heroism of the war dogs and supporting a national monument.
Chilcoat was named to the board of directors of the military dog memorial in 2008 and serves as its treasurer.
Chilcoat still carries a photograph of Geisha in his wallet.
"When folks ask me what my dog in Vietnam meant to me, I pull out the picture of Geisha that I have carried for 43 years," he said.
"The look in my eyes tells more than I could ever say."