Honoring Those Who Served
DOGS AS DEVINE MESSENGERS OF LOVE
By Charles Patrick Dugan
I named my dog, a Jack Russell terrier who is twenty-three pounds
of solid muscle, Cpl. J. R. Dugan, USMC 2164539. I gave him the combination
of the initials for his breed, Jack Russell, (J. R.) with my U.S.
Marine Corps rank and serial number, because this dog has the heart
of a lion. I call him Cpl. J. R. Dugan or Cpl. J. R., for short.
He is tricolor with a light brown patch over one eye that makes him
look like a little pirate. Cpl. J. R. is fearless and the smartest
dog I have ever had. He is the little heartbeat at my feet.
As a Marine Corps infantryman survivor of heavy combat in the Vietnam
War, I have always believed that it is important to recognize the
courage and bravery of every man or woman who has served in our country’s
military. What I didn¹t realize until one late October day in
2003 was that it would be my dog who demonstrated how vital it is
that we never forget those who gave their lives so that others could
The favorite place for Cpl. J. R. Dugan and me to walk is the Sacred
Heart Catholic Cemetery in Del Rio, Texas. This cemetery is one of
four cemeteries that are located side by side ‹ Saint Joseph’s
Catholic Cemetery, Sacred Heart Catholic Cemetery, Westlawn Protestant
Cemetery, and the Masonic Cemetery. J. R. and I spend countless hours
weaving in and out of all four cemeteries and enjoying the lush trees
and abundant wildlife. Numerous species of birds, deer, rabbits,
and squirrels populate this oasis in the harsh semidesert environment
of Del Rio. J. R. and I both prefer these pleasant strolls through
nature to walking around a circular track.
J. R. and I were having a late-afternoon stroll that started like
all the rest of our walks, with the exception of a misting rain and
a discernible chill in the air. I had parked my SUV near my family’s
burial plot and put a light pack on my shoulders. I always carry
water, a collapsible water bowl for J. R., J. R.’s first-aid
kit, a Swiss Army knife, a snack for both of us, my bird identification
field manual, and my trusty Nikon 7x50 binoculars. I made all the
pack adjustments, picked up my walking staff, grasped Cpl. J. R.’s
leash, and we were off on another adventure.
The wind picked up, and the chill in the air became more pronounced,
so I buttoned my windbreaker and pushed my hat a little farther down
on my forehead. Cpl. J. R. loved the chill and was prancing like
a prize stallion in a parade. I love to watch him be so full of life.
Our walks are made more enjoyable by the fact that Cpl. J. R. and
I have learned to work as a team. This dog misses nothing. Instead
of barking, he always alerts me by making eye contact when he sees
something move. After Cpl. J. R. detects animal movement, I can stop
and observe the animal with my binoculars.
Our walking trips through the cemeteries are like a time machine
that takes us back to the origins of our community. I pass the grave
sites of old family friends, mentors, teachers, pioneers, villains,
and people who now are known only to God. These are very special
walks, since they give me time to reflect and appreciate all the
people who helped to make me who I am today.
On this autumn afternoon, Cpl. J. R. and I had walked for nearly
an hour when I noticed that he was getting a little tired. He had
stopped to show me his extended tongue, his signal that he wanted
some water. For our break, I always stop at a little meditation bench
in the Masonic Cemetery to enjoy our well-deserved snack and drink.
For some reason, Cpl. J. R. did not want to stop at our usual place
this afternoon. Instead, he seemed to be distracted and was pulling
me to go in a different direction. I gave in and let him lead me.
He appeared to be on a mission and was making a beeline toward another
bench that we had never used before. I was becoming concerned at
his wild behavior. Today, he suddenly appeared to be obsessed with
getting to a destination known only to him.
When we arrived at the bench, I sat down and let Cpl. J. R. have
a lot of leash. He started scratching at a grave that had been covered
by years of dirt, leaves, and neglect. I watched in amazement, as
this was the only grave that I have ever seen him scratch at like
this. He frantically threw dirt in every direction. I became worried
that there might be something beneath the leaves that could hurt
him, so I stood up to rein him in.
As I walked behind him, my interest was piqued when I saw that Cpl.
J. R. had been digging at a military gravestone. He turned and looked
at me as if to ask for my assistance. I got down on my knees and
began to scrape the dirt and debris away from the stone. As I reached
the surface of the stone and my hand swept the final layer away,
Cpl. J. R. stopped. Rigidly, he stared at the stone. My head turned
away from Cpl. J. R., and I looked at the tombstone. I could not
breathe, and my heart pounded as I read the tombstone’s inscription:
JACK A. RUSSELL
CPL SIGNAL CORPS
JULY 21, 1928 JULY 16, 1952
I was speechless. It seemed as if all time and motion had frozen.
A sudden chill ran up my spine. Cpl. J. R. laid his head on both
paws and rested on the headstone of Cpl. Jack Russell, a soldier
with his own name, who had been killed in the Korean War. The poor
condition of the soldier’s grave site indicated that this was
a man who was not being remembered by friends, family, or lovers.
But somehow, Cpl. Jack A. Russell had a link to my little dog. Cpl.
J. R. and I both sat for a long time, paying our respects to this
man who had served his country and made the ultimate sacrifice in
time of war.
While we lingered at Cpl. Russell’s grave, I tried to gather
my wits as to what had just happened. It was amazing to be part of
an experience that had joined all of us together in a brief moment
in time and eternity.
Later, Cpl. J. R. and I cleaned the grave site and tombstone of
Cpl. Jack A. Russell, to make it a visible and very important part
of this world again. I continue to marvel at how, on this day so
near to November’s Veterans Day, a little dog paid honor and
respect by bringing new meaning to the belief that no soldier should
ever be forgotten.
Excerpted from Angel Dogs by Allen and Linda Anderson.
Copyright © 2005 by Allen and Linda Anderson. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. $13.95.
Available in local bookstores or call 800.972.6657 ext 52 or click