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An affecting testimonial to the bond between American soldiers in Vietnam and their canine helpers, A Soldier’s Best Friend is veteran John C. Burnam’s account of his tenure as a scout dog handler patrolling the jungles of Vietnam with his German shepherd, Clipper, at his side.
There were 10,000 soldiers in Vietnam like Burnam, accompanied by these intelligent, adaptable scout dogs. Between hazardous missions, the dogs were loving, playful friends who shared the lives of their human squadmates, while in the combat zone they were all business. Routinely braving danger, the canines searched for injured GIs, probed for potentially lethal booby traps, located underground weapons caches, and warned of approaching enemy attacks and ambushes. So valuable was the dogs’ service that the Viet Cong offered a hefty bounty for their lives. Despite their heroism, many of these dogs were abandoned at the conflict’s end, left to fend for themselves.
Since the 1990s, this book has had two runs as a self-published book, and one as a trade title, with all three of these print runs selling out.
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Burnam is a man with a mission: to garner recognition for the 4,000 dogs and their 10,000 or so handlers who served in the Vietnam War. Burnam was one of the latter; his instructive book is a combination war memoir, a history of the use of American war dog teams in Vietnam and a plea for the construction of a National War Dog Memorial in Washington, D.C. A Colorado native, Burnam joined the army soon after graduating from high school, volunteered for jump school and went on to serve two tours in Vietnam. He was an infantryman with the First Cavalry Division and a scout dog handler with the 44th Scout Dog Platoon. Burnam saw plenty of action during both tours of duty. His first ended prematurely when he jumped out of a helicopter under fire and landed on a bamboo punji stake that impaled his right knee. He describes that and his other war experiences well, using minimal reconstructed dialogue. The most valuable part of the book is Burnam's description of his second tour, when he bravely led dangerous infantry patrols with his two scout dogs, Timber and Clipper. Of the countless American Vietnam War memoirs, none has provided such an in-depth look at the training and operations of the scout dogs and their handlers. Burnam, the current president of the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association, unabashedly lobbies for formal recognition of the Vietnam War dogs and their handlers, and by book's end, only the most canine phobic will give him an argument.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This Vietnam narrative by a war-dog handler who became a career soldier has two parts. The first is Burnam's account of being a grunt with the 1st Air Cavalry Division, and it graphically illustrates how even those who in time become good soldiers start off green as grass and as dangerous to their comrades as to the enemy. The bulk of the book--its more original and moving part--relates Burnam's experience with sentry and scout dogs, particularly with one scout dog named Checker. Checker and Burnam owed one another their lives many times, and, working as a team, they saved many American casualties. For that, Checker's reward was to be left in Vietnam and most probably eaten, something that rankles Burnam to this day and will rankle animal lovers who read this overdue tribute to an overlooked group of Vietnam War participants. Roland Green
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