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In 1942 at the height of World War II, the U.S. military was looking for an edge in the battle in Europe. The winters in Europe were harsh which made it virtually impossible to transport much-needed supplies, the wounded, and conduct search and rescue missions by vehicle.
On July 16, 1942, Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson drafted a letter that would lay the foundation for the “Dogs for Defense” program (Paltzer, 2020). He placed the responsibility for procuring and training of the dogs in the hands of the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps.
The U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps trained canines for military service. Included in this program was dog expert, Arlene Stern Erlanger, who helped write the training manual for the program and musher, Dave Armstrong who trained the Alaskan Malamutes in Montana.
The U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps was placed in charge of training a variety of dogs for use in WWII. One of the tools used was a manual that was written specifically for the U.S. Army with the help of dog expert and New York socialite, Arlene Stern Erlanger. One of the breeds which passed the selection process was the Alaskan Malamute.
The Malamute was deemed worthy to serve in the harsh winters of Europe due to their “resistance to cold and his ability to move swiftly over snow and ice (because of the nature of his feet), together with his great strength and disposition to work, makes the Alaskan Malamute outstanding as a sled dog (Erlanger, 1943 p.p. 18-19).”
On February 5, 1943, Dave Armstrong arrived in Montana to train the Malamutes to transport supplies, the wounded, and even search and rescue missions. His sled team was originally training for a mission in Nazi-occupied Norway; however, the mission would be passed on to the British military. Armstrong and his team were then assigned to serve in search and rescue in Greenland and Baffin Island Canada.
Little is known about the Alaskan Malamute’s service in World War II. What is known is that their numbers dwindled as the U.S. Army found other places around the world for the dogs to serve instead of being returned home to their civilian owners. Armstrong kept a collection of photos as documentation of their service.
In 1947, there were only 30 registered Malamutes remaining in the U.S. (Seeley & Riddle, 1976, p. 42).
Eva Seeley and some of her Malamute enthusiasts were concerned that the Malamutes
would become extinct if action was not taken to bring back their numbers. A great deal of time and effort went into researching the stud book to make sure that the breed had the characteristics which made the Malamute so infamous.
Many stories have been told and recorded which set the scene for a true historical narrative. One such narrative is told by Dave Armstrong. He was concerned with the fact that there was little in the way of recorded history or artifacts to support his time with the U.S. Army, Camp Rimini, and his sled team. He collected photos and even a sled which he had used.
In 1945, at the end of WWII, Camp Rimini was closed, and the Malamutes were transported to Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Armstrong was told that the dogs were then euthanized and burned, although he states, “I wasn’t there so I can’t prove it (Talwani, 2013).”
It had also been told that Eva Seeley provided the Malamutes (and Huskies) which were used to transport the wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, although there is no concrete evidence of it (The Dog Writer, 2004).
In applying this topic to our lives today, there are many things that have changed since WWII. Military K-9’s are now protected under federal law. The section of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) provides for the adoption and veterinary care for retired military service dogs. The bill was passed in 2013 with the help of Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Representative Walter Jones (R-N.C.) (ASPCA, 2012). This provision of the bill not only gives these retired military dogs a second chance, but also keeps history from repeating itself. When we learn from history, we make note of the changes that need to be made in order not to make those same mistakes in the present and the future.
An example of this is Sgt. Jarred Palmer, a squad leader in the U.S. Army, was able to adopt his military K-9, Zzazu after she was found to have a pinched nerve which forced her into retirement (Steiner, 2017). Sgt. Palmer took his obligation to his war dog seriously and is a great example of how we should take care of what has been given to us. Animals do not have a voice. We are their voice, which in turn gives us the obligation to be their voice.
Becki Van Vlack
Becki discovered her love for Alaskan Malamutes while reading Jack London’s “White Fang” and “Call of the Wild” as a young teenager. That love continued into adulthood as she adopted her first Malamute, “Lady” in 1996. She has since adopted other Malamutes and volunteers with Washington Alaskan Malamute Adoption League (WAMAL.com). She resides in the small Oregon town of Mill City and is fur mom to her 3-year old, Alaskan Malamute, JJ Lambkins, Esquire.
ASPCA. (2012, December 21). Congress Passes Legislation Protecting Military Dogs. Retrieved December 19, 2020, from https://www.aspca.org/about-us/press-releases/congress-passes-legislation-protecting-military-dogs
Erlanger, A. S. (1943). Chapter 2: Traits and Care of Military Dogs. In TM-10-396-War Dogs (pp. 17-19). Washington, D.C.: War Department.
Paltzer, S. (2020). The Dogs of War: The U.S. Army's Use of Canines in WWII. Retrieved December 12, 2020, from https://armyhistory.org/the-dogs-of-war-the-u-s-armys-use-of-canines-in-wwii/
Seeley, E. B., & Riddle, M. (19). The complete Alaskan Malamute (pp. 42, 181-193). New York, NY: Howell.
Steiner, C. (2017, November 9). Military working dogs retire to handlers' homes. Retrieved December 13, 2020, from https://www.army.mil/article/196706/military_working_dogs_retire_to_handlers_homes
Talwani, S. (2013, January 31). Camp Rimini dog trainer recalls training dogs to fight Nazis, rescue pilots. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from https://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/camp-rimini-dog-trainer-recalls-training-dogs-to-fight-nazis-rescue-pilots/article_a8ba757e-b194-537e-bfa8-c068d75737d2.html