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Cover image for A soldier's best friend : scout dogs and their handlers in the Vietnam War
A soldier's best friend : scout dogs and their handlers in the Vietnam War
1st Carroll & Graf trade pbk. ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003.
Physical Description:
xxi, 362 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 21 cm
General Note:
Previously published: Dog tags of courage. Fort Bragg : Lost Coast Press, 2000.

Includes index.
Camp Alpha 1 -- Gary Owen 7 -- Ia Drang Valley 17 -- Bong Son 38 -- Wounded in Action 75 -- 106 General Hospital 84 -- Sentry Dog Platoon 93 -- Return to Vietnam 121 -- Dau Tieng Base Camp 127 -- 44th Scout Dog Platoon 136 -- Timber and Ambush 144 -- Clipper 173 -- Death in the Kennel 180 -- Trapped 194 -- Booby Traps 227 -- The Capture 256 -- Life between Missions 262 -- Short-Timer 275 -- TET and Convoy 291 -- Good-bye Clipper 313 -- Leaving Vietnam 318 -- Appendix Gone But Not Forgotten 337.
John Burnam chronicles the experiences he had while serving as a scout dog handler in the 25th Infantry Division's 44th Scout Dog Platoon with his canine partner, Clipper, during the Vietnam War.
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Call Number
959.704 BURNAM
959.7043373 Burnam 2003

On Order



In a Vietnam War memoir unlike any published before, John C. Burnam recalls his service in-country as a scout dog handler in the 25th Infantry Division's 44th Infantry Platoon (Scout Dog) with his canine comrades, Hans, Timber, and Clipper. Like 10,000 other young combat infantrymen, Burnam loved and cared for his dogs, literally carrying their food and water into battle, as they located injured GIs, searched out Vietcong weapons caches and deadly booby traps, and alertly thwarted enemy attacks and ambushes. More than 57,000 Americans lost their lives in Vietnam, and countless others were wounded, taken prisoner, or reported missing in action; thousands more would have fallen victim had it not been for the use of German shepherds for scouting, sentry, and patrolling and Labrador retrievers for tracking. Yet these intrepid animals' service has been largely forgotten. In fact, the nearly 4,000 American war dogs of Vietnam were classified as "equipment" at the war's end. Deemed expendable despite the impassioned pleas of their handlers, thousands were abandoned to unknown fates. Vietnam War Dogs is a stirring war story but one that honors the courage of real men and their real best friends. 8 pages of black-and-white photos enhances this superbly written testimonial to the strength and courage of America's soldiers and the heroics of their dog teams during the Vietnam War. "An authentic and compelling story by a two-tour combat infantry veteran. Read this magnificent book." --Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore (U.S.A., ret.) co-author of We Were Soldiers Once and Young: Ia Drang, The Battle that Changed the War in Vietnam

Author Notes

MSgt John C. Burnam, (U.S.A., Ret.), was a United States Army infantryman and scout dog handler from 1966 to 1968. His service awards include the Legion of Merit medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm Leaf. His story has appeared on the award-winning Discovery Channel documentary, War Dogs, America's Forgotten Heroes. He is the immediate past president of the Vietnam Dog Handler Association and lives in Virginia

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Burnam is a man with a mission: to garner recognition for the 4,000 dogs and their 10,000 or so handlers who served in the Vietnam War. Burnam was one of the latter; his instructive book is a combination war memoir, a history of the use of American war dog teams in Vietnam and a plea for the construction of a National War Dog Memorial in Washington, D.C. A Colorado native, Burnam joined the army soon after graduating from high school, volunteered for jump school and went on to serve two tours in Vietnam. He was an infantryman with the First Cavalry Division and a scout dog handler with the 44th Scout Dog Platoon. Burnam saw plenty of action during both tours of duty. His first ended prematurely when he jumped out of a helicopter under fire and landed on a bamboo punji stake that impaled his right knee. He describes that and his other war experiences well, using minimal reconstructed dialogue. The most valuable part of the book is Burnam's description of his second tour, when he bravely led dangerous infantry patrols with his two scout dogs, Timber and Clipper. Of the countless American Vietnam War memoirs, none has provided such an in-depth look at the training and operations of the scout dogs and their handlers. Burnam, the current president of the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association, unabashedly lobbies for formal recognition of the Vietnam War dogs and their handlers, and by book's end, only the most canine phobic will give him an argument. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

Acrid memoir of infantry days spent in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968. Four thousand dogs served in Vietnam for the American military. They were prizes for any unit, writes scout-dog handler Burnam in the gruff voice used throughout his text; sharp sensory equipment combined with extensive training gave them the jump on ambushes, booby traps, and kindred nasty battlefield situations. The first half of this work chronicles Burnam's introduction to Vietnam--the clueless enlistee "had no idea there was a war going on in Vietnam or where that country was located on the globe"--providing a low-key but brisk primer on what it is like to be dropped into tropical landscapes to encounter people who want to kill you and work very hard to do so. (He will undoubtedly alienate some readers with his use of the term "Charlie," but this seemingly derogatory nickname for "these fierce and savvy Asian warriors" comes as part of his rough packaging.) Luckily, Burnam managed to run a sharpened piece of bamboo through his knee rather than be killed, which certainly looked like his destiny. Recovering from that incident, he received training in dog-handling and then reenlisted for another tour of combat, a step for which he can provide no justification. The second half details his experiences on the battlefield with two German shepherds: Timber ("a grumpy draftee," notes Burnam, tipping his hat to the dog's native intelligence) and Clipper, who together saw the infantryman through traumatic combat shock, minefields, and intense battle fire. The dogs' quick intelligence saved Burnam and his comrades' bacon more than once. What thanks were they given? Fewer than 200 were shipped home, the remainder euthanized or slaughtered for food. The author and the Vietnam Dog Handler Association are seeking to acknowledge their contributions with a monument of their own. Not a pretty story, nor prettily told. But few will deny that the dogs deserve this tribute. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

This Vietnam narrative by a war-dog handler who became a career soldier has two parts. The first is Burnam's account of being a grunt with the 1st Air Cavalry Division, and it graphically illustrates how even those who in time become good soldiers start off green as grass and as dangerous to their comrades as to the enemy. The bulk of the book--its more original and moving part--relates Burnam's experience with sentry and scout dogs, particularly with one scout dog named Checker. Checker and Burnam owed one another their lives many times, and, working as a team, they saved many American casualties. For that, Checker's reward was to be left in Vietnam and most probably eaten, something that rankles Burnam to this day and will rankle animal lovers who read this overdue tribute to an overlooked group of Vietnam War participants. --Roland Green

Library Journal Review

Battle memoirs give readers in succeeding generations a fascinating glimpse into the world of young soldiers under extreme duress. Writing style is secondary to the writer's ability to convey the nature of combat and its associated terrors as filtered through the eyes of the older civilian reflecting on an unforgettable part of his youth. Burnam, a retired U.S. Army master sergeant, was both a combat infantryman and a dog handler in a canine unit during his tours in Vietnam. While the time he spent in the combat zone was hazardous, working with a dog while walking point with an infantry company redefined the danger for young Burnam. He offers simple, straightforward descriptions of military life, training with canines on Okinawa, and his battle experiences as a rifleman and seeking out injured GIs and booby traps with dogs Timber and Clipper. The understated prose makes the combat pieces even more arresting. Readers may pick it up to learn of his touching relationships with his canine companions, but they will stick with it to read of one young and decent man and his life as a warrior. Recommended for Vietnam collections in public and academic libraries.-John R. Vallely, Siena Coll. Lib., Loudonville, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Prologuep. xvii
Camp Alphap. 1
Gary Owenp. 7
Ia Drang Valleyp. 17
Bong Sonp. 38
Wounded in Actionp. 75
106 General Hospitalp. 84
Sentry Dog Platoonp. 93
Return to Vietnamp. 121
Dau Tieng Base Campp. 127
44th Scout Dog Platoonp. 136
Timber and Ambushp. 144
Clipperp. 173
Death in the Kennelp. 180
Trappedp. 194
Booby Trapsp. 227
The Capturep. 256
Life between Missionsp. 262
Short-Timerp. 275
TET and Convoyp. 291
Good-bye Clipperp. 313
Leaving Vietnamp. 318
Epiloguep. 327
Glossaryp. 334
Acknowledgmentsp. 336
Appendix Gone But Not Forgottenp. 337
Indexp. 355