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'War dogs' video, brings four-leggedveterans to life

  • ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Brian Taras talked about his activity in Vietnam as a war dog handler.
    ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Brian Taras talked about his activity in Vietnam as a war dog handler.
Published November 29. 2013 10:57AM

A moment of silence to remember those who gave their lives for us during wartime preceded the showing of a video about war dogs. The program was held at the Nov. 11 Palmerton Area Historical Society meeting. The speaker was Brian Taras, Slatington, who was a dog handler in the war. His dog was named Gretel.

Most of the video was about dogs' involved during the Vietnam War, but mention was made of World War II and even World War I, where they could warn of nerve gas. They were invaluable in Vietnam because of their sense of hearing and smell, which let them warn of traps or ambushes.

Taras said things have improved for the war dogs. There are groups helping bring them home.

"I always liked dogs, so I chose to go to Fort Benning, Ga., where they were being trained at that time. Considering how little we give to animals, we get so much back," Taras said.

"Not a day goes by that I don't think of Gretel. No other animal has a bigger impact on people and share their happiness and sorrow. They were not counted until 1968, so there were more than the 4,000 counted. I'm glad I had the opportunity to be a handler. They could smell, hear and see smarter than people," said Taras.

He said he was sorry to see dogs given over to the South Vietnamese because they ate dog meat, and no one had been trained to handle the dogs' unique abilities.

They were taught to be quiet and alert. Sentry dogs in the camps would attack. The dogs that went out on patrol did not. The South Vietnamese were afraid of the dogs.

He spoke about a time when there were 100 United States troops and 100 South Vietnamese in a rice field. Nine hundred feet away was a cache of Claymore mines.

"Gretel pulled me away from that direction, but I heard the South Vietnamese officer tell his men to go in. Many of them were killed. The path was not safe and Gretel took us away from the trail. The South Vietnamese did not have confidence in the dogs. We were safe."

The soldiers were there for a one-year deployment and then the dogs got a new handler.

"A big part of your life was left behind," Taras said.

Tracker dogs were trained in Thailand and picked up a disease that did not affect the German Shepherds, but some breeds just bled out.

The dog handlers walked point and everyone including officers had to listen to that point man.

Now most breeds of dogs are used. They are trained at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

A National War Dogs monument was unveiled in California at the end of October.

The first dog handler to be killed in Vietnam was George Bevich, who also happened to be the first Carbon County man to be killed. It was Dec. 4, 1966. His dog was a sentry dog.

The first record of war dogs was their use by the Corinthians in 431 BC. The Greeks killed 49 of the 50 that gave a warning.

In historical society business:

• President Jane Borbe announced the service at the Little White Church, Dec. 8

• Society banquet will be at Bert's, Dec. 9;

• CACPAC church tour including Little White Church, Dec. 28, tickets are at the Heritage Center for nonperishable personal care items.

• Four acquisitions were received from Bill Smelas.

• Horsehead donated a challenge grant depending on work being done at the Heritage Center.

• Borbe said the society will be sponsoring a Christmas tree in the park in honor of Betsy and Jim Burnhauser and Howard Cyr.

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