usmc archives

Private Marion Pillsbury assembles a .50 caliber machine gun at a Marine Corps base in San Diego.

From: USMC Archives

USMC war dog “Caesar von Steuben” is x-rayed by Navy corpsmen after being wounded on patrol during the fight for Bougainville. 

As with most of the dogs that fought with the United States military in World War II, the three year old German shepherd had been a civilian, owned by a family in the Bronx who volunteered him for service, one of thousands of families to offer their pet up for the war effort.

Only a select few were accepted into service, and even then they would undergo rigorous training to prepare them for life in the combat zone. In total, 1,074 dogs were ‘enlisted’ in the Marine Corps, and 29 would die in combat, along with just under 200 fatalities from disease or accidents. After the war, an outcry ended plans to euthanize the remaining veteran animals, and instead they were put through demilitarization training, with almost universal success. Many were returned to their families, although in more than a few cases, the Marine handler would bring the dog back to civilian life with him.

In Caesar’s case, he recovered from his wound quickly, and he received an official commendation for his communication runs prior to his wounding, including completing his ninth and final one while injured. Returned to service however, he would be killed in combat while fighting on Okinawa in 1945.

(National Archives)

US Marine Corps dog handlers with their canine companions on Bougainville. In the thick jungles of the Pacific islands the furry fighters of the 1st Marine War Dog Platoon (soon to be followed by the 2nd and 3rd) served with Marine Raiders, going out on patrol to detect ambushes, and carry messages about, being much faster than the two-legged Marine runners.

(National Archives)

Out on patrol, USMC war dogs alert their handlers to the possible presence of Japanese forces in the nearby jungle. While many Marines were skeptical of the War Dog program at first, the dogs quickly proved their worth, and became an essential part of the jungle fighting on Bougainville.

(National Archives)