The Dogs That Joined the Marines

t's said that dog is man's best friend. Faithful and friendly, dogs have even given their lives for man.1 During World War II, dogs of the Army's K-9 Corps located wounded on the battlefield and carried medical supplies and messages. But the K-9's aren't the only dogs who've been to war.

recently heard stories about other dogs in war, from a Marine veteran who fought in the South Pacific. That Marine is Charles “Chuck” Dancey of Pekin, Illinois, now 97, who joined the Corps before America was at war with the Japanese.   Dancey, who retired as a Colonel in the Corps, remembers the dogs from his military service for our country in the early 1940's. What he recalled of the dogs will be told here in the context of his wartime experiences, and in the larger context of the war in the Pacific. (At left, Charles Dancey, USMC, from a picture in his home) 

      He was sent to the Solomons, islands that were strewn across the ocean northeast of Australia, some in groups.  Of these he was stationed on the Florida Islands and the Russells, which neighbored to Guadalcanal 2  where some of the bitterest fighting occurred in 1942-43 and the first major offensive against the Japanese empire took place. On the Russells he was around 30 miles from Guadalcanal and whatever Japanese aircraft the Marines stopped there, made less for the troops on Guadalcanal to contend with.

      The main islands of the Russells were Pavuvu and Banika, where he was in charge of anti-aircraft gun emplacements, located in scattered positions. These were machine guns and machine cannon, the latter which fired belts of larger shells, of an explosive kind. Where they had a cliff to fire from, they even had two stories of guns.

     The islands had coconut plantations. He said people had evacuated the islands, except for the natives and the dogs. The dogs he said were mainly Australian dogs. Of these he remembered the canine coloration of black spots on gray. 

      As to what kind of dogs from the southern continent inhabited the islands, among the kinds originating in Australia are the Kelpie, the Koolie and the Australian Cattle Dog, the latter derived from the crossing of the progenies of Northumberland drovers with tamed dingo, a subspecies of the grey wolf.   There's a 1976 monument in New South Wales, that has a plaque saying it was presented by the Australian Cattle Society of NSW, commemorating a Thomas Hall who carried out experiments with the native dingo and "a pair of smooth coated blue merle collies."   They were "the foundation of today's breed the Australian Cattle Dog."   It can create a strong bond with its owner, be protective and typically not far from the owner's side.  Regarding the Australian shepherd, see the Note below.

      He told the Marines manning the gun sites he oversaw, to make it their home away from home. And their "homes" included the island dogs which they became friends with, and the dogs, in turn, attached themselves to the soldiers.  The dogs had joined the Marines.

The Russells were a forward base for Guadalcanal, and Dancey said these two islands had the main airfields in the area.  The engines of the Japanese planes coming to attack, had a distinctive sound which the Marines not only became attuned to, but the dogs also knew the sound as well. With their perceptive hearing, the dogs sometimes heard the planes coming before the human ears picked up on them.

asked him how the dogs reacted to the sound of the Japanese planes, and what he most remembered of what they would do, is run for the gun emplacements where their masters went.   What struck him as odd, was that these dogs ran to a place where there would be a lot of loud noise from the guns, and not run away from the noise.  
The gunnery sites were also vulnerable to bombing or enemy strafing.


t should be mentioned that the Marines also had another means of warning. Dancey said the natives didn't like the Japanese and our side got radios to the natives, to transmit intelligence about enemy sorties. When their planes took off, they radioed from what field and how many aircraft. He mentioned one defensive strategy they devised on the Russells at nighttime, was to send up the double-fuselage planes,  the P-38 Lightnings, which could reach a high altitude. When the Japanese were coming to attack, they trained a searchlight on the Japanese planes, and the pilots in the P-38's seeing the enemy planes, would pounce down, firing away. (At left, P-38 at Udvar-Hazy Center, Virginia)

      There is an open-water passageway in the Solomons, about 300 miles long, which the Japanese used to try to keep control of Guadalcanal.  The Americans dubbed the passage The Slot.  Near the beginning of the passage were the Shortland Islands, and near the end of it, were the Russells and the Floridas.    On April 17, 1943, the Americans got wind of the itinerary of Admiral Yamamoto, the mastermind behind Pearl Harbor.  Known for his punctuality, he would be flying over Bougainville the following day.  Bouganville lay beyond the Shortlands.

      They sent P-38's to intercept the Japanese admiral, on a flight of more than 400 miles.  With radios silent, they dead reckoned over the ocean.  It was timed so they would have five to ten minutes in the target area: that's calling it close.    There were two Japanese Mitsubishi Betty bombers with Zero escort.  The P-38's made it and downed both bombers. After their mission, they headed for Guadalcanal, but one P-38 landed in the Russells with only four gallons of fuel to spare.

      When the men had to leave to go on to another island, dogs were left behind, but that wasn't always the case. Dancey managed to get several of them sent along. I imagine for those left behind, that there were sad moments, and can visualize dogs standing and waiting where they last saw their masters, perhaps looking out to sea from the shore, watching.

He also told another dog story, of the time a landing craft was approaching the beach and a soldier's companion dog jumped overboard and swam alongside the craft, coming out on the shore like the soldier. When his master dug a foxhole for himself, the dog was beside him digging his own in the sand. A foxhole is kind of appropriate, considering the fox is a member of the dog family. 

      The night before the Americans would move to another island, Dancey would land on the island first, to reconnoiter it. He was put ashore in darkness to survey the terrain, to see where they could spot their guns. In one instance they dropped him off at the wrong shore and he had to walk to where he was supposed to survey the area. He said the gun placement was a matter of math.

      He was sent from island to island and eventually ended up on Eniwetok atoll, in the Marshall Islands, farther to the north. Its capture provided a harbor and an airfield to attack the Marianas islands.

Farther to the north yet, in the Pacific, is where he had already been earlier in the war, when he was shipped to Hawaii after the outbreak of hostilities.    He went through Pearl Harbor, when smoke was still rising as a result of the sneak attack. He remembers a “destroyer totally messed up.” One may wonder whether it could've been the USS Shaw, whose forward magazine exploded, the subject of a very spectacular photograph.

      He was sent on from Hawaii to Johnson Island, west by southwest of the Honolulu, more than 700 miles distant. Johnson was about a mile and a half long, by a half mile wide. They were taken there on an inter-island boat, crewed by Hawaiian civilians, and protected by a lone mine sweeper. As they were leaving Pearl Harbor, an aircraft carrier was coming in, and they passed side by side. It took several days to get to Johnson. While en route a Japanese submarine surfaced next to their boat, apparently not seeing the mine sweeper. The sweeper fired on the sub and it quickly submerged.

But that wasn't the end of it.  Hours later in the morning, a torpedo was launched at them.  Then at mid-afternoon, another torpedo was sent their way, and that one he thought was probably fired from a second sub, but possibly the same one.  Their boat was so slow a sub might've kept up with them. 

      One of the torpedoes barely missed their boat.  The boat tried to turn toward the sub to present less surface for the enemy to hit.   Dancey had been topside on the roof of the pilothouse when he saw the bubbles of the torpedo tracking toward them.   They were popping to the surface, but he said you don't know how deep the torpedo is, nor how far ahead of the bubbles it is.   He jumped down to the deck below and ended up on the stern, at the rail looking straight down.   He said that it wasn't exactly where he originally planned to be.   The torpedo went under the curving overhang of the stern, where he was standing.  It was that close.

      Referring to that boat trip, he recounted with humor, "I always said that was the best way to travel to Johnson Island.  It was the only way that desert island would look good to us."

     He was on Johnson when the Battle of Midway took place. The Americans had broken the Japanese code and they knew there was more than one fleet coming their way. They knew ships were headed for Midway but didn't know the destination of the other warships. Adm. Yamamoto's strategy had dispersed his forces.

      A naval officer, who Dancey admired for his straight talk, came to tell the Marines that they were going to throw everything they had at the Japanese at Midway, but they wouldn't have the forces to help them if the Japanese came their way. The Marines were on their own.

      The Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942), ended exactly six months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, when our aircraft carriers happened to be out to sea. The Japanese wanted to get our carriers this time, and gain dominance in the Pacific.

But Midway didn't turn out that way. While the Japanese did succeed in sinking one of our carriers, we sank four of theirs, all of which had been in the fleet that struck Pearl Harbor. One military historian called it “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.” The Japanese navy hadn't been defeated since 1863.

On the small island of Johnson, he said, there was one dog, a big terrier, and Dancey recalled that whenever the flag went up, everybody froze; so did the dog.

      The friendly dogs of the Pacific stuck in Dancey's memory of those perilous times. Shakespeare wrote “the dogs of war” in his tragedy, Julius Caesar, and while this may've been a metaphor, there have been attack dogs in war. But the dogs this Marine knew on the islands, were of the gentler kind who shared the peril with the men who fought for our country. They helped give the troops a sense of home, so far away from home.

      After Dancey returned from the war, he married his girl friend Nina, and they raised three sons, Richard, Bert and Clinton. He would eventually become the editor of the Journal Star in Peoria, Illinois, take part in Latin American newspaper meetings, and travel to places for background information, like Russia and Israel. He not only wrote but stood behind his signed editorials.  His signature C. L. Dancey was there for the reader to see.

He and Nina have a little pet dog as a companion, a Dachshund. At home in Pekin, on a short street named Haines, he is a companion to his master, and a joy and to both him and Nina. He'll bark when a stranger comes, but if the person sits down on their couch, he's been known to climb to the back of it, and lay his head on a stranger's shoulder, very much at home.
—John Riedell

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1.  Regarding giving their lives for men, understood here as humankind, there's an remarkable account of a cabin in Oregon that caught fire and a baby named Shirley was in a crib inside the house.  Her parents had been working outside, when the dog sniffed the air and barked wildly. Seeing the blaze, they rushed to the house, but were prevented from entering the open doorway by a sheet of flame. The father told the trembling collie, "Shep! Get her, Shep! Get Shirley!" The collie went through the flame, and part of the roof caved in, blocking the doorway behind the dog. Shep reached the little girl in her crib and dragged her to a far window, where the father grabbed his daughter. His canine intelligence had processed the situation. When the dog leaped out the window, his coat was afire, and sadly he would succumb to injury, but not before he had heroically saved the little girl.   
Animals You Never Will Forget, from Reader's Digest, by Paul Friggen, from Farm Journal, 1960.

2.  The native name for the island of Guadalcanal is Isatabu. It happened that the island was discovered by a Spanish expedition from Peru, and was named after the hometown of one Alvaro de Mendana.  The name itself comes from the Arabic wādi al-xānāt, "Valley of the Stalls," which were refreshment stalls during the time of Moslem rule.

3.   Another remarkable story from Reader Digest's Animals You Never Will Forget, is "The Dog from No-Man's Land," condensed from "One Man and His Dog," by Anthony Richardson, 1960.  Found as a German shepherd puppy, the dog written about was named Antis.  "He developed an unusual ability to detect enemy aircraft, and was always minutes ahead of the base's high-frequency detection finders.  The warning system only worked when the planes were flying high. When the Germans came in at tree-top level, it was of little use.  But Antis, the armorers claimed, alerted them in time to take cover.  Another excerpt: "Liverpool was a major target, subject to massive bombardment.  The dog's warnings were uncannily accurate, and the men came to depend on him to alert them  whenever the immediate area was threatened."

Note:  There is a dog called the Australian Shepherd, known also as the Aussie,  which one might think is an Australian dog, but it was developed on ranches of our own West, and not in Australia.  They were seen there in the 1800's.  Here is an Australian sheepdog that belongs to Scott & Lisa Friederichs of Germantown Hills, Ill.).

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