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U.S. Air Force Dog Handlers

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)