In the summer of 2010, Army Veteran Phil Weitlauf went to look for an abandoned war dog monument he had heard about at the corner of Milford Rd. and 11 Mile in Lyon Township, about 11 miles southeast of Brighton. He took his dog Cody, a German Shepherd with him. When they arrived at the corner, Weitlauf only saw a heavily wooded area. After parking the car and going for a walk, he saw a large granite monument with the words “The War Dog.” Behind that were several headstones buried in foliage and brush. The site was in horrible shape.
At the next monthly meeting with the Huron Valley AmVets-Post 2006 in Milford, Weitlauf reported the abandoned site and requested a detail to clean it up. Several members volunteered and several other Veteran Service Organizations, Dog Club members were contacted. A notice was also printed in the local newspaper.
On August 14, 2010 many people came for a common cause, to stop the degradation and restore the site to it’s original grandeur. To understand the origin of this site a committee was formed to investigate. They found through the South Lyon Newspaper and Lyon Twp. archives, the site was set up by the Elkow family in 1936 known as “Happy Hunting Grounds Pet Cemetery.” In 1946 when the news of how many lives were saved by War Dogs during WWII the local residents raised the money to install a monument to show their respect to their heroic K-9’s. In the mid ’80’s, interment had stopped and the maintenance declined and over the next 25 years, nature had taken over. By that time, 2158 pets and two service dogs had been interred at the cemetery. As research continued, they found that there were approximately 36 war dog memorial monuments throughout the United States, however only a few offered interment for these four-legged veterans.
The restoration of the Michigan War Dog Memorial (MWDM) started in 2010. In November of 2011, a dedication ceremony was held and then in 2012, the non-profit organization “The Michigan War Dog Memorial, Inc.” was formed to offer interment for service dogs. Due to Federal rules and regulations, military dogs are not allowed to be buried in our National Cemeteries. It was also found that there are no established memorial cemeteries in the State of Michigan for Police K-9s. The Board of the MWDM wants to give these well trained and loyal K-9’s a final resting place with honors after risking their lives to protect and serve or country and communities. Since 2013, they have buried four Military K-9’s and three Police K-9’s.
The Michigan War Dog Memorial, Inc is a 501(c)4 non-profit all-volunteer organization operated and managed by a band of military veterans and K-9 Supporters. They educate the general public on the heroics and dedication that K-9’s give to serve and protect us through presentations and seminars. Their mission is to continue restoration of this hallowed ground into a park setting and maintain that setting for the purpose of allowing interment of retired Military Working Dogs and retired Service Dogs. The Committee came together to set up procedures to show respect and honor these K-9’s who have protected us. They provide interment, with full honors, at no cost to the handler/owner. The burials consist of a Military/Police Color Guard escort of the urn to the Table of Honor, Invocation by a Chaplain, K-9’s bio, flag presentation to the handler/owner, taps, bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace” and German Shepherds performing a “K-9 salute” in the form of eight dogs doing a semi-circle in front of the table of honor and howling for 30 seconts. An etched headstone is also included at no cost to the handler/owner.
Military War Dogs have been fighting alongside our men and women in uniform in many of our conflicts. In WWI they were called Ambulance Dogs, they were trained to find wounded soldiers in No-Man’s land after a frontal attack. In WWII they were trained in many disciplines; scout, tracker, sentry and messenger. According to Military records War Dogs saved 15,000 lives during this conflict.
In Korea there were only one War Dog platoon deployed consisting of about 28 dogs. Of those 28 dogs on patrol, thousands of ambushes were averted. Thousands of lives were saved. In Vietnam further disciplines were added to their training; explosive detection and booby traps. According to the Military, they saved 10,000 lives during this conflict. In Iraq their main function were detecting IED’s. Their other duties were sentry and road side check points. They continue on duty today in Afghanistan. There are currently 600 teams deployed saving lives every day. Today the War Dog is referred to as Military Working Dog (MWD).
Military War Dog Pito is one of the K-9’s interred at the MDWM. His first duty station was in 2008 as an Explosive Detection dog at the McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. He entered Patrol Training and went on to temporary duty at Andrews Air Force Base to field-certify as a Patrol Dog. His job was to provide safety and security for more than $8.1 billion in resources and protection for more than 44,000 personnel. Pito’s next assignment was with the Secret Service and he traveled across the country providing secure travel accommodations for the President and Vice President of the United States. In 2009, Pito was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2011, he was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freeom and he returned to his home base later that year. In May of 2012, during a regular training exercise, Pito suffered a massive, fatal heart attack at the young age of six years old. His post-mortem indicated that he had a congenital heart defect that had gone undetected during previous exams. The Veterinary Corps determined that Pito should not have survived past puppyhood, but he courageously defied the odds and lived up to the traits of his name – which means “lucky, happy and successful.”
The hard work of maintaining the MWDM for heroic dogs like Pito continues today. Two years ago, Walmart stepped up and assigned their landscaping vendor to maintain all mowing and trimming throughout the summer. MWDM has a goal to develop the site into a park setting and continue improvements including the installation of fencing, visitor walkways, landscaping, a parking lot and monuments for the Military (Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq) and Law Enforcement. Corporate and individual donations will help them achieve their goal. To donate to the Michigan War Dog Memorial, click here.
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