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U.S. Air Force Dog Handlers

U.S. Air Force dog handlers provided a unique and critical capability in defending air bases against attack. (U.S. Air Force photo).

U.S. Air Force dog handlers provided a unique and critical capability in defending air bases against attack. (U.S. Air Force photo).

A1C David Shark with his sentry dog Heino at Cam Ranh Bay Air Base, South Vietnam.  It is not possible to overestimate the incredible bond that existed between handler and dog. The handler trusted the dog with his life, and the dog was absolutely loyal, even to the death. (U.S. Air Force photo).

A1C David Shark with his sentry dog Heino at Cam Ranh Bay Air Base, South Vietnam. It is not possible to overestimate the incredible bond that existed between handler and dog. The handler trusted the dog with his life, and the dog was absolutely loyal, even to the death. (U.S. Air Force photo).

Sentry dog alerts to movement outside the perimeter of Phan Rang Air Base. (U.S. Air Force photo).

Sentry dog alerts to movement outside the perimeter of Phan Rang Air Base. (U.S. Air Force photo).

Security Police team with a dog on an early morning reconnaissance patrol near Phu Cat Air Base, South Vietnam, in 1967. (U.S. Air Force photo).

Security Police team with a dog on an early morning reconnaissance patrol near Phu Cat Air Base, South Vietnam, in 1967. (U.S. Air Force photo).

U.S. Air Force dogs received extensive training, including learning to attack upon command. This photo was taken at Lackland AFB, Texas, in 1970. (U.S. Air Force photo).

U.S. Air Force dogs received extensive training, including learning to attack upon command. This photo was taken at Lackland AFB, Texas, in 1970. (U.S. Air Force photo).

Throneburg, who was still in the hospital, seeing Nemo for the first time after the attack. (Image courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

Throneburg, who was still in the hospital, seeing Nemo for the first time after the attack. (Image courtesy of the Security Forces Museum).

Nemo after recovering from his wound.

Nemo after recovering from his wound.

Air Force dog handlers provided a unique and critical capability in defending air bases against attack. Under PROJECT TOP DOG 145, the U.S. Air Force sent 40 sentry dogs and 40 handlers to South Vietnam in the summer of 1965. Many more followed, with the U.S. Air Force sentry force in Southeast Asia peaking in early 1967 at nearly 500 dogs.

Through the hours of darkness, sentry dogs and their handlers patrolled along the perimeters of U.S. Air Force air bases. The enemy was rarely able to get past the keen senses of the sentry dogs unnoticed, and these sentry dog teams remained by far the most effective means to detect enemy movement at night.

Nemo: Canine Hero
On a night in early December 1966, about 75 enemy raiders slipped past the first perimeter line at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam. Second line sentry dog teams detected the enemy force, and Security Police killed or captured several of them.

The next night, sentry dog Nemo, an 85-pound German Shepherd, detected a small enemy group that remained hidden on the base. His handler, Airman 1st Class Robert Throneburg, released him to attack. As Nemo charged, Throneburg killed two enemy troops. Enemy return fire hit Throneburg in the shoulder and Nemo in the snout. In spite of his severe wound, Nemo would not leave his handler's side until the firefight was over.

Though he lost an eye, Nemo survived. Credited with saving Throneburg's life, Nemo was hailed as a hero. He was taken on tours throughout the U.S., and lived in a special kennel at Lackland AFB, Texas, until his death in 1972.

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Maria Goodavage: "America's Canine Heroes" (00:37:23)
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