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Training the "dogs of war"

World War II veteran trained scout dogs and handlers for the Pacific theatre, and came back to train more for Korean War

Farm banker John Dean’s military career went to the dogs.

“I’ve always told my kids I was the luckiest guy in the world in World War II,” says Dean, 85, chairman, Glenwood (Iowa) State Bank. “I was an infantry officer—not a very safe job—and I was never sent anyplace I was even shot at.”

At 17, in 1943, Dean, a farm boy from western Iowa, enlisted. He emerged from Army Officer Candidate School as a second lieutenant. He tried to transfer to the mule pack artillery, but the Army had begun phasing that out. Then he heard about “Dogs for Defense” and the K-9 Corps.

Dean went to Fort Robinson, Neb.’s, War Dog Training Center to train with and assume command of an infantry scout dog platoon bound for the South Pacific.

Each soldier was provided four dogs, in hopes that at least one would “train out.” For scout dogs, specialized training began with an “agitator,” a GI whose role was to get the dogs’ attention, in woods or fields.

“The agitator would run and encourage the dog to chase him,” says Dean. This began the training in seeking unseen troops by their smell, the chief duty of scout dog platoons. Once they detected presence of humans, scout dogs would “alert,” similar to pointing, says Dean.

“It might not actually be an enemy,” Dean explains. “Dogs can’t tell the difference in smell between an enemy soldier and a friendly soldier.”

While not fighting dogs per se, scout dogs were trained to attack and hold when needed.

“You trained them to go for one of the arms,” says Dean.

Before Dean and his men were posted overseas, the war ended. In lieu of Pacific service, Dean was sent to Bremerhaven, Germany. There he collected and supervised care of dogs GIs had adopted, and arranged to ship them home to the discharged GIs.

Discharged himself in 1946, Dean was recalled for Korea in 1950. This time the now-first lieutenant was sent to Fort Riley, Kan., to be commanding officer of its Army War Dog Center. He was in charge of training German Shepherds and soldiers of the 25th and 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoons.

Dean enjoyed working with the dogs, despite being bitten on occasion. He had a posted policy that if a dog, in training, could bite him and draw blood, the soldier-handler would win a three-day pass.

Some did, including the handler of a dog who missed Dean’s padding, bit, and wouldn’t let go.

“I was moving my arm real slow,” recalls Dean, “because, if you don’t, they’ll let go and bite again. I asked this corporal to tell the dog ‘Out!’—the command to let go.”

Dean chuckles. “And the corporal says, ‘Do I get my pass?’ ”

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