LAYTON — More than two years ago, after a multi-year process of fundraising, planning and eventually building, an immense monument honoring the more than 58,000 soldiers who died in Vietnam was erected in Layton.
And now, in the same section of Layton Commons Park, the canine counterparts of those men and women who died are also getting some recognition.
On Saturday, the Vietnam Combat War Dog Monument was dedicated at the park.
The monument, which honors U.S. military service dogs that never returned after serving in war, sits about 20 yards from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Layton. That wall, which is approximately 80% the size of the original national Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., was built in the northeast corner the park, 437 N. Wasatch Drive, and completed in the summer of 2018.
Like the wall in Washington, the 360-foot long Davis County memorial features the names (etched in stone) of all 58,000-plus Americans who died fighting in Vietnam. Dennis Howland, president of the Northern Utah chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America and the man who spearheaded the wall project, said while the process to build the structure was unfolding, a discussion with two other members of the VVA sparked the idea to honor the four-legged animals who served in the Southeast Asian conflict.
Howland said Jim and Linda Crismer, also members of the Northern Utah VVA chapter, first mentioned the notion of paying homage to military dogs.
“We kept talking about all the dogs that we left over in Vietnam,” Howland said, a combat veteran of the war. “And we just kind of decided this was the thing to do.”
Howland said the Crismers spearheaded the dog project, working to raise the funds necessary for the installation. Dog lovers, the Fruit Heights couple has two adopted military dogs — Mazzie, a German shepherd who worked as a military dog in Kuwait, and Geli, a shepherd-Belgian malinois mix, another Kuwait service veteran.
The Crismers commissioned Lena Toritch, a Salt Lake City artist who works out of Young Fine Art Studio, to sculpt the dog memorial. It’s modeled after Mazzie. Linda Crismer, a long-time elementary school teacher, says she hopes people will be inspired to learn more about war dogs when visiting the sculpture.
“I guess it’s the teacher in me,” she said. “But I really hope people will research these dogs and learn more about them and appreciate what they did — it’s pretty remarkable.”
According to the United States War Dogs Association, Vietnam war dogs were used to search for booby trap trip wires, anticipate ambushes and find hidden caches of food or weapons.
The USWDA says approximately 4,900 American war dogs where used in Vietnam between 1964 and 1975. None of the dogs returned to civilian life and most were euthanized or turned over to the South Vietnamese Army. According to the association, Vietnam was the largest concentrated effort of the use of dogs in any U.S. conflict. It’s estimated that the dogs and their handlers saved over 10,000 lives.
“That’s pretty astonishing to think about,” Howland said. “If not for those dogs, we’d have another 10,000 names on the wall. And they were just left over there, basically as surplus military equipment. They were truly four-legged heroes.”