Some 60 participants, including K-9 veterans, active and retired K-9 dogs and handlers, and those that came out to support them, attended Wisconsin’s 6th Annual K-9 Veterans Day celebration held Sunday at the American Legion Post 166 in Fort Atkinson.

The event, sponsored by the Kennel Club of Fort Atkinson, was followed by a wreath-placing ceremony at the K-9 memorial monument in Fort Atkinson’s McCoy Park.

State Sen. Steve Nass spoke during the event, noting that beginning Friday, March 13, the official date of the statewide observance, a flag will be flown in honor of K-9 veterans at the state Capitol, and will remain in place for a brief period, after which time the flag and a certificate will be presented to Kennel Club of Fort Atkinson treasurer and coordinator of the club’s K-9 project Mabel Schumacher, who served Sunday as master of ceremonies. Schumacher was also the coordinator of the committee that led the effort in support of a Wisconsin resolution, acknowledging March 13 as K-9 Veterans Day statewide. The Wisconsin Legislature passed the resolution in 2015.

Vision, history and dedication

Joseph White, a retired military working dog trainer and Vietnam K-9 handler, founded K-9 Veterans Day. After returning from his tour of duty, White wanted to honor the service of working military dogs. He started a national effort to recognize March 13 as K-9 Veterans Day, choosing that date because, on that date, in 1942, the US K-9 Corps was founded.

White died in 2009. His home state of Florida was the first to proclaim March 13 as K-9 Veterans Day. Since then, 14 states, including Wisconsin, have followed.

In 2011, Schumacher said, members of the Kennel Club of Fort Atkinson approached Wisconsin state legislators, asking them to consider a proclamation similar to the one made in Florida. The legislators approached were Nass (R-Whitewater), then-state Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D-Milton), and state Rep. Cody Horlacher (R-Mukwonago), who together drafted Assembly Joint Resolution 4 (AJR4), proclaiming March 13 as K-9 Veterans Day in Wisconsin.

During Sunday’s event, Schumacher presented a slide show, including photos taken in the Wisconsin Assembly Chambers, when Jorgensen presented the resolution on the Assembly floor.

Coordinating with the passage of AJR4, the kennel club sponsored Wisconsin’s Inaugural K-9 ceremony. All three legislators who drafted the resolution attended. Next, in Fort Atkinson, the K-9 Veterans Memorial planning committee was formed, with a goal of erected a memorial to honor military working dogs.

The committee’s work was inspired by the memory of fallen Fort Atkinson hero K-9 handler Marine Lance Corporal Terry Beck and his K-9 partner “Seato.” Research performed by Jorgensen helped identify the team as among Wisconsin’s fallen heroes, Schumacher said. The team served during Vietnam and died Dec. 20, 1967.

In 2016, the club sponsored a second K-9 Veterans Day ceremony and fundraising for the memorial project began. The monument was dedicated on June 25, 2017.

Sunday’s presentation

At the American Legion hall, those taking the podium with Schumacher included: Nass; Milwaukee War Dogs member Jerry Witt, a veteran Vietnam K-9 handler of two Army scout dogs, “Skip,” a German Shepherd/Collie mix who was killed in action, and “Satan,” a black lab, and keynote speaker Ron Werneth, an author and military historian, and past-historian of the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association, who has been collecting stories from veterans for over 25 years. He is today writing a third book, documenting K-9 handlers.

Werneth told those in attendance that he plans to include information in his book about Beck and Seato, whose likenesses have been etched into the granite monument erected in McCoy Park.

During the ceremony, a memorial bell was tolled in honor of 14 working dogs whose lives were lost between March of 2019 and Sunday. Among those lost was “Carbon,” the German shepherd dog used as a model by sculptor Mark Dziewior, who made a bronze statue that today graces the McCoy Park K-9 memorial monument.

Also honored was recent Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department retiree “Harlow,” a Belgian Malinois/German shepard mix police utility dog skilled in narcotics detection, evidence recover, bite and apprehension, tracking and handler protection. Harlow retired on Valentines Day, Feb. 14, and lives with his now former handler, Sgt. Jason Behm, also of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. Before his retirement, Harlow served for over six years, Schumacher said.

On Sunday, a combined 24 dogs, handlers, and K-9 veterans in attendance were recognized for their service.

Among those recognized were Milwaukee War Dogs member and veteran Marine K-9 handler serving in Afghanistan Cody Crangle and his adopted retired bomb-sniffing black lab, “Flo.” Flo was recently the recipient of community support when it was discovered that she needed knee ligament reconstruction surgery. Witt helped create a fund to pay for the surgery and American Bank, Waukesha, gave a $4,000 donation.

According to the War Dogs Milwaukee, website, the group is comprised of veterans and people with their dogs representing the variety of breeds that have served in wars. Through various presentations, parades, and events such as Great Lakes Pet Expo, it continues to educate and raise funds to help retired military working dogs and service dogs for veterans.

Also recognized was United States War Dogs Association Chapter 3 Executive Director John Meeks, along with his adopted German shepherd “Brutusz,” a patrol, explosives and protection dog who retired from service in 2018. Meeks, of Kokomo, Ind., served as a K-9 handler in Vietnam with his partner “Artus,” a German shepherd who was killed in action Dec. 11, 1970. Meeks further contributed to the ceremony by bringing a wall of photographs of K-9 dogs and handlers. He has been amassing the collection for 10 years, he said.

Veteran K-9 handler Rick Hong, who carried the War Dogs flag as part of the ceremonial color guard, was also recognized.

Racine County Sheriff’s Department K-9 deputies Anthony Valenti, and his Belgian Malinois, “Stax,” Edward Drewitz, and his German shepherd/ Belgian Malinois mix “Friday,” and Kurt Clemens, and his German shepherd dog, “Nox,” were among those recognized, as was Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department deputy Scott Gukich, and his German shepherd, “Balko.”

Also in attendance were Gary Wolfram, Fort Atkinson resident and friend of Beck, and K-9 Memorial sculptor Mark Dziewior.

After the legion hall ceremony, a second ceremony was held in McCoy Park, where Schumacher and Wolfram placed a floral wreath around the neck of the bronze statue of Carbon.

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