13 Feb 2011

New novel about abandoned war dogs is capturing hearts around the world

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– ‘forgotten’ dogs still an open wound for scores of Vietnam veterans

A controversial new novel, entitled Finding Jack, (St Martin’s Press, New York, February 2011) offers a fictional account of what a soldier endures after learning that the dog which served his platoon with such distinction in Vietnam, has been classified as “surplus military equipment” by the U.S. Government at the end of the conflict, and is ordered to be left behind. Although Finding Jack is a work of fiction, it is based on actual events at the end of the Vietnam War and was written to highlight the little-known plight of the Vietnam War Dogs.

The facts

It’s widely held that as U.S. and allied forces began to count the cost of their withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973, a decision was made to declare many of their war assets (including defunct armaments, transport equipment, military installations etc) as “surplus military equipment”. Tragically, for the many Vietnam dog handlers, the declaration included hundreds of scout, tracker and combat dogs. It was seemingly proving too expensive to transport them home and repatriate them, given the potential diseases the Government believed they might be carrying.

The website, www.war-dogs.com, which is dedicated to the contribution of dog soldiers in combat, estimates that the some 4000 War Dogs that served in Vietnam saved the lives of approximately 10 000 U.S. and allied Soldiers, yet only some 200 of them ever made it home.

The website carries a number of harrowing stories from dog handlers as they remember and pay tribute to their dogs. Many of the handlers have still not come to terms with what happened. Almost all the stories recount how their dogs saved many lives.

It’s believed that some of the dogs were euthanased or handed to the South Vietnamese, while others were simply abandoned. Certain of the dogs would have succumbed naturally to the climate of South East Asia, while others are thought to have been captured by villagers for food. A portion would certainly have starved to death.

Not a criticism of US policy

Author of the book, South African Gareth Crocker, is at pains to point out that Finding Jack is not intended to be a criticism of U.S. policy on the issue, but rather a moving tribute to the War Dogs’ invaluable contribution.

“For me, I’m not particularly interested in judging the politics behind the decision that was taken to leave the dogs behind. All I’m dealing with is the fact that these dogs were
abandoned after saving the lives of so many soldiers, and that, is a great tragedy,” says Crocker.

Crocker stumbled across the story of the Vietnam War dogs while visiting the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington several years ago.

“I was standing next to a Vietnam veteran, dressed in full military gear, when I noticed he had come to place a dog harness at the foot of the wall. Recognising this was a profoundly personal moment for the man, I stood quietly beside him for a few minutes, before politely enquiring about the harness. He replied that he was forced to leave his German Shepherd behind in Vietnam at the end of the war, despite the fact that his dog had saved his platoon from trip wires linked to mines on three separate occasions,” Crocker explains.

“He then took me through the basic story of the Vietnam War Dogs and when he was done, he wept openly. He cried like a man who had just lost his child. And this, almost 30 years after the incident. I remember being extremely moved by the man’s utter despair at the loss of his dog and resolved then that I would write a book as a tribute to the dogs.”

A well kept secret

The plight of the Vietnam War Dogs remains relatively unknown, particularly outside of the United States.

“My hope is that Finding Jack will endure as one of those great animal stories that people will remember for many years and hopefully pass on to their children. Because if they can remember Jack, then they can remember all the Vietnam dogs and what happened to them. And that, at least, is something,” says Crocker. “After all, as the famous saying goes, if we do not learn from our history then we are doomed to repeat it.”

“He latched onto my hand. He gave me a friendly nip and looked at me. Wolf absolutely would not let me go by him. I looked straight ahead and not more than two feet away was a tripwire. I would have died right there with him if Wolf hadn’t found that wire.”
– Charlie Cargo, Vietnam dog handler (source: www.war-dogs.com).
“There would be a whole lot more names on the Vietnam Wall without these dogs … and I don’t think the average American even knows the role these dogs played.”
– Dr. John Kubisz, a veterinarian who served with the 764th Veterinary Detachment in Vietnam (source: www.war-dogs.com).

For more information on Finding Jack, contact info@garethcrocker.com

2 Responses to “New novel about abandoned war dogs is capturing hearts around the world”

  1. Juanita Laskowski says:

    I loved your book. There’s been very little time that our family has not had dogs. I sincerely hope that “Finding Jack” is made into a movie. I’m looking forward to starting your next book. Please keep writing. You have a wonderful gift.

  2. gcrocker says:

    Hi Juanita,

    Forgive me, I’ve only just seen your comment now. Thank you for your kindness, it is much appreciated. If you enjoyed Finding Jack, I think you will love King when it releases in October.

    Best wishes,
    Gareth.

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