A Handlers Story
by David Hagerty,  Circa 1970-71

I enlisted in the USAF in December, '69 and went to  Lackland AFB for basic training.  I took a battery of tests to be a  linguist and was accepted into the DLI (Defense Language Institute) program at  Monterey, CA, during boot camp.  About a week before  "graduation" from basic training, my Training Instructor (the "Bad Cop"  of the "Good Cop/Bad Cop" instructor duo) called me into his office, pulled an  IBM punch card off the top shelf of his wall rack, and growled at me to  be at CBPO at 0900 hours.  I was all but vibrating with excitement  because I had been accepted into the linguistics program and my dream of  becoming a translator for the State Department after my military  service looked like it was going to come true.  When I arrived  at the designated room number in CBPO, a sour-faced E-3 took my card and said,  "Wait here" and disappeared into a back room.  When he returned,  he said only, "You're thirty days late" and went back to his  paperwork.  When I looked more closely at the card and saw that he was  right, I was crushed.  I've been convinced for all of these forty years  that my T.I. had either misplaced or forgotten the punch card in his  wall rack and when he found it again, he waited until it was exactly  30 days late before giving it to me, so that I wouldn't notice the  date on my way to the CBPO.  In any event, his  screw-up changed my life.
When it was time for the recruits in my basic training  flight to receive their orders, about a half-dozen of us found "Security  Police; AFSC 81130" on ours.  I wasn't a bad teenager, but had never  had a good relationship with the police while growing up, so I was  upset.  Four of us walked into the "Good Cop" T.I.'s office and  asked how we could be reassigned to jobs that we wanted.  He told us  that there was one way, but that it was a one-way ticket to Vietnam:   volunteer for K-9 school.  Everyone in the office looked at me like I was  from Mars when I immediately said, "Sign me up!"  The next day, it was a  done deal.

For the next several months, I went through SP school,  K-9 school, and Combat Preparedness school at Lackland AFB.  In K-9  school, I first handled Schnitzel (tattoo unknown) for about a week  before I was given Bacchus (tattoo unknown) for the last twelve weeks of  the school.  Bacchus was vicious and sneaky and turned on me from  six to twelve times on every single training day, but I think he  trained me more than I trained him--I was constantly on guard at every moment  while I had him out and learned to read him like a book, whether he was pissed  off or peaceful.  I mention Schnitzel and Bacchus because someone out  there may remember them, also.  A couple of weeks before our graduation,  a knot of us were standing in the parking lot waiting for the trucks to take  us back to the barracks at the end of a training day.  A group of  three or four graduates from a few months earlier who were passing  through on their way to the AZR course (Combat Preparedness) came up  to us and asked, "Who has Bacchus?"  I said, "I do" and they all  said, "Ooooh", partly making fun of my misery and partly to let me know that  Bacchus was a well known stinker.  Still, he deserved our respect--he  never stopped fighting me until the day I left him chained up to a  tree ring (I never questioned why I was told to leave him there, instead of  taking him back to the kennels) and took one long, last look at him from about  thirty yards away.  While in K-9 school, we trainees were all awed with  stories of Nemo and his heroism and the Tet of '68.  The closer we got to  the end of the school, the more we all paid attention to the lessons we were  being taught--especially on night exercises.  I graduated as the  "Outstanding Honor Student" in my class, but was already aware  of how much I didn't know.
After a tense and tiring flight over the North Pole on  Flying Tiger Airlines, I landed at Tan Son Nhut AB in September, 1970 as an  E-2.  I performed non-K-9 perimeter security duty in bunkers and towers  (with very little ramp duty, thank God) in all sectors around the base  for a few weeks.  I believe that it was in Foxtrot Sector about  a week after my arrival that I was targeted by a sniper while in a 15- or  20-foot tower across the wire from a "residential" area, just at  dusk.  Fortunately for me, the sniper couldn't shoot straight, but  he taught me the distinctive sound of an AK-47 when it is fired in single-shot  mode.  After a couple of rounds, I called CSC on my HT220 radio to  request permission to return fire.  First, I was told, "Negative--stand  by."  The rounds were getting closer and the second time I called, I  was told, "Negative--hold your fire".  When the last round missed my  head by inches and sounded like a dull knife ripping through  canvas, I realized that our rules of engagement had been dreamed up  by someone who was very distant from the firing.  I opened up with  about a half-clip on what I was pretty sure was the sniper's position and the  rounds stopped coming in.  I've no idea if I hit him or not, but our SAT  was at the base of my tower within about 45 seconds.  The SAT  leader, an E-5 with almost his entire tour already behind him, radioed to  ask me if I had seen anything from my post.  He knew that  I had just turned loose a dozen rounds after being told to hold my fire, but  he also knew that snipers were common pests in some sectors  on the perimeter and newbies like me had itchy trigger fingers.  I  radioed back, "Negative--small arms fire has stopped."  To his credit  (and my relief), he just told me, "Stay alert, Foxtrot Tango" and  left.  For the rest of my tour, I never again asked for permission  to return fire--and I never did verbally challenge anyone with what was  supposed to be the standard "Halt!  Dung Lai!" before opening fire.   Was I wrong?  Maybe.  Was that the norm for Security troops and Dog  Handlers?  Absolutely.  You know exactly what I'm talking  about.

At last, I was assigned a dog  and was jeeped out to the kennels to do kennel care for a few  days before going on post for the first time.  Marat was awesome to  work with; he was physically beautiful, completely obedient, more intelligent  than any dog I've known before or since, and when he alerted on VC,  he had an amazing ability to relay their exact position and  distance by the way he held his ears and his tail and how he hunched his  back.  He was never wrong.  As far as I'm concerned, Marat and I  were as close a team as ever walked the perimeter and beyond (show me a K-9  team that doesn't think that, right?).  He was one of the few Patrol  Dogs that we had on the base; the others were Sentry Dogs.  The rest  of my tour was a series of episodes that I can relate later,  but it seems that I've written enough about that for  now.

  I wanted to ask if anyone remembers Thor, a relatively  small dog who was the fastest thing on four legs.  Thor would take  off after a target, hit him in the middle of the back to knock him down,  overshoot him by several steps (airborne all the way), twist 180 degrees  in the air, hit the ground at what looked like full speed, and be back on  the target within a split second to chew his head off.  I don't  remember his handler's name while I was there, but Thor was impressive  and his handler was justifiably proud.  His name should be added to the  roster.  Again, this was in the 1970-71 period.
I also wondered about a portly young Black E-4 whom  we all called "Buddha".  He primarily did kennel care.   I no longer remember his name, but Buddha was a really good guy.  He may have walked posts with the rest of us, but I don't  remember.

 One afternoon about two years ago, I was driving along a  major street in Las Vegas, Nevada, and pulled into the center,  left-turn lane beside a fast food restaurant parking lot to go  through the drive-through.  I was electrified when I saw the license  plate on the car in front of me.  It said, "ICHI BON" and had a small  depiction of a Vietnam service ribbon below it on the frame.   The lady driving the car pulled into a space in the lot and instead of going  through the drive-through, I pulled into the space beside her.  She  walked inside the restaurant while I parked, my emotions in turmoil.  I  stood behind her in line until we had both ordered and I approached her,  saying, "I couldn't help noticing your license plate.  I know that  name.  I handled a different dog, but I served with Ichi Bon and his  handler for a year.  He was an excellent dog.  How is it that  you have his name on your license plate?"  She told me that her husband  had handled Ichi Bon and three or four other dogs while he served four tours  in country.  I couldn't wait to ask to speak with her husband, when she  told me that he had died just four months before I saw her license  plate.  She told me her late husband's name (it wasn't Mark Tyer,  who handled Ichi Bon during my tour), but I was so stunned that I only  remembered it for a few minutes.  She said that he had left the country  several months before I arrived.  I wish I had known of your website  before my chance meeting with that lady--I would have contacted you to let you  know that another of our own has passed on.  If I ever see that  license plate again, I'll follow it as far as necessary, so that I can get his  name and pass on the location and date of his death to you.
Finally, a hearty "Hello" to Jim Boesenberg, Jim Bonfig,  "Country Joe" Cochran, Larry Daugherty, Bruce Golden, Terry Groves, Bob  Harvey, Art Hautala, Dan Jones, Don Leatherman (posthumously), James Malone,  Mike Masley, Dan McIlhenny, Ray Michaud, Alton Morgan (posthumously), Steve  Nishijima, Evan Erickson, Floyd Pearson, Harold Penny, Ron "Monk" Pope  (posthumously), Mike Prince, "Sly" Sylvester (I don't think I ever knew if  Sylvester was Sly's first or last name), Dick Tanguay, Terrell Taylor,  Mark Tyer, Richard Wilkinson, Gary Witkos, and Bill Yarbrough.  I know  that the other guys with whom I served in the 377th deserve specific  mention, but the years have dimmed my memory, so I apologize  to anyone else whom I left out that was my personal friend.  

There are a few Security troops on this list, but the vast majority were Dog  Men.  It was an honor, a privilege, and a pleasure, serving with all  of them.  Even though my T.I. in boot camp screwed up what at the  time I thought was my golden future, I owe him for twisting my  fate toward a leash, a muzzle, and a CAR-15--and the best group of wardogs and  handlers that anyone could hope to serve with.

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Tan Son Nhut AB Air Base    Dogs of Tan Son Nhut AB

Handlers:  A thru L     Handlers:  M thru Z

A Handlers Story




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