Menomonee Falls — In 1968, Menomonee Falls native Jerry Witt was deployed in Vietnam as a dog handler for the United States Army, and he and his partner Skip were doing what they did best.
"We would go out on three-day missions in support of infantry using the dogs' senses of smell, sight and hearing to try to pick up a scent of personnel in the area or booby traps," Witt recalled. "Skip was 20 yards ahead of me when it happened. He gave me a look that told me not to come any closer, so I didn't."
That moment could have been what saved Witt's life. He and many other soldiers have been saved by these hard working four-footed soldiers, which spurred him and a small group of others to raise money for the new War Dog Memorial at Village Park. The dedication of the memorial will occur at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 22.
Out of respect for Skip and the hundreds of thousands of war dogs like him, the 30 members who make up the local War Dogs group set out a few years ago to raise funds to erect a War Dog Memorial. Five years later, the 6-foot-tall granite masterpiece has finally made its way into Village Park. The monument features an etched picture of a soldier with his four-legged partner, along with a poem by Roger Robicheau describing the bond that forms between an dog and his handler.
"So many veterans owe their lives to these four-footed soldiers," said Carol Singer. "Our hope is that this memorial remain a steadfast reminder of the lives saved due to the service of these dogs."
In Witt's case, it turned out Skip had gotten into a trip wire and it went off and injured him terribly. Skip died a few days later, and what followed was what Witt described as a "very traumatic time" in his life. While it initially angered him that his superior ordered him to immediately select another dog to team up with, Witt said it made sense later in life.
"I would have been a mess if I'd had any time to really sit down and think about what happened," Witt said. That is one of the reasons why he opted to team up with fellow Menomonee Falls residents Singer, Karen Iding and Claudia Engel in 1999 to form a local War Dogs Group, which recognizes the service and sacrifice that military dogs like Skip have provided throughout the years.
"Dogs are capable of so many things that are useful in combat," said Singer, who is a self-proclaimed Doberman enthusiast. "They can be trained as trackers, scouts, and bomb detection ... they are, in our opinion, the unsung heroes of the American wars."
This has been the case since as early as the Revolutionary War, thanks in part to General and future President George Washington, who was known as a dog lover.
"I've always said dogs are said they are just like humans that can't talk," said Witt, "but working with Skip and (his replacement) Satan really changed how I viewed their role in our lives."
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