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Authors: Isabel George

A Dog With a Destiny

BOOK: A Dog With a Destiny
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A Dog With a Destiny
Smoky

A Short Tale from BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY
Heart-warming stories of canine devotion and bravery
by Isabel George

Dedication

To my parents who showed, by example, that courage, loyalty and love really can conquer all

‘Smoky was a diversion from the demoralizing reality of the Pacific War. She made us laugh and forget. The thought that it could all end suddenly was all too sobering. So, as we flew together on combat missions, I was ready for the worst but remained determined, within all my power to keep her safe. We were a team.’

 

(William A. Wynne – from his memoir, Yorkie Doodle Dandy, published by Wynnsome Press)

Miracles probably happen every day but few are witnessed and many more go unrecorded. Why? Because they just ‘happen’. But in a theatre of war where miracles are rare, they shine bright. Here, in the fearful darkness of hostility, where good stands out so clearly from bad, a miracle, however small, is something to treasure in memory – forever.

When Bill Wynne first laid eyes on Smoky he wasn’t exactly sure what he was looking at. Standing a little closer, the tall, dark, handsome GI from Ohio could just about make out that the baseball-size mass of brown fur in front of him had four short legs, two beady black eyes, and a leathery little nose but beyond that, its true identity was a mystery.

‘What kind of beast is this?’ Bill asked, turning to an oil-soaked Sergeant Dare. Blinking in the sunlight as he emerged from under the chassis of a Jeep, Dare confessed that he hadn’t a clue. All he knew was that Ed Downey had found the little thing in a foxhole in the jungle and then dropped it back with him at the 5212th Photographic Wing motor pool along with his vehicle. After giving Dare the lowdown on the unreliable Jeep that had been assigned, Downey offloaded his jungle ‘find’.

‘Hey, Dare, I found this in a foxhole,’ he said, thrusting the mass of brown fuzz into the sergeant’s greasy hands. ‘This damn thing broke down,’ he said banging his fist against the olive metal, ‘and in the sudden quiet I heard a yelping sound and at the end of it – this. I don’t know what it is but I know I don’t want it.’ Downey walked away towards his tent, frustrated by the day, the unreliable vehicle and the overpowering, wet heat of the New Guinea jungle.

Sergeant Dare already had enough to do in the motor pool. He didn’t see himself adopting this animal but he knew a man who just could be this creature’s salvation. In the meantime, he offered the animal water and food and, to help it cool down, he grabbed the hand shears and hacked away some of its excess hair. Frightened, near-scalped but still smiling and hopeful, the strange sweet thing fixed its gaze on the man standing in front of him who was wearing the puzzled expression.

Bill Wynne had been told about Dare’s new house guest and had wandered over to take a look. He squatted down for a closer inspection and got more than he bargained for – a big, wet, lick on his face. ‘Well it’s a dog,’ said Wynne, ‘but it looks kind of weird thanks to the haircut and I’m not sure it’s healthy. Where did you say you found it?’

The sergeant repeated the story and said that three Australian dollars would clinch the deal. Money wasn’t the problem. In US terms, that was around $9.66. What Bill didn’t want to do was become emotionally attached to this crazy-looking dog and then have it die on him a short time later. Bill’s twenty-one years of life had already been filled with more than his fair share of sadness. He had become accustomed to losing those he loved and he wasn’t in a rush to go through anything like that again. He had a feeling that nature might take its course with this fragile little life and made up his mind to wait until morning before parting with the three dollars.

Bill prayed that the little dog would make it through the night. They had only met briefly but there was a part of him that admired her spirit. Dare’s story had tugged on his heartstrings and there was an immediate empathy with a fellow creature that was also caught up in the uncertainty of the war and all its horrors. One thing puzzled Bill more than anything he had heard so far: how on earth had she ended up in the jungle in the first place? He marvelled at the miracle that caused Ed Downey’s Jeep to break down at that exact moment and in that precise location where the dog’s cries could be heard. But the string of miracles didn’t stop there. The biggest of all the dog’s lucky breaks was that Downey picked her up at all. He didn’t like dogs and didn’t mind admitting it, but he still followed the sound of the cries, rescued her and took the lost pup back to base. If none of that had happened, the animal’s life would probably have been snuffed out by heat exhaustion, starvation or one of a variety of predators which included the native tribes. But her life wasn’t taken and she seemed determined to live. Thanks to a series of fortunate events and happy coincidences, the small creature’s life was just about to begin.

The next morning Bill’s prayers were answered. Smoky was no longer a sickly looking beast peeping through the stumpy chunks of a bad haircut. The dog that Dare had called Smokums was a real survivor. Less than twenty-four hours earlier she had been pacing and weaving with anxiety and looked as though the trauma of it all might break her. But no. Thanks to Dare feeding her up and giving her a comfortable bed for the night, Smoky had defied the odds stacked against her and could now relax into her good-natured, loveable self. Bill handed Dare the new asking price of two Australian dollars. As the Sergeant pocketed the money and dashed back to his card game, Bill tucked Smoky under his arm and headed for his tent.

It was lucky for everyone that Smoky was only seven inches tall at the shoulder and four pounds in weight. A larger animal companion would have stretched the mini-malist accommodation way beyond the possibility of comfort. The tent had room for the bare essentials only: a cot bed to sit, sleep and eat on and stacking space for storing regulation-issue kitbags and contents. The old expression, ‘Not enough room to swing a cat’ could have been adapted to, ‘Not enough room to swing a tiny Terrier’. Pitched row upon row on cut grass the tents made up the Wing camp area. Each tent had its own foxhole directly outside so the men could dive for cover during raids and beyond the tents was the high grass leading to jungle and the mountains beyond. The view from Wynne and Downey’s tent was jungle. Dense, green and totally alien to the US Forces stationed there. Bill Wynne was more used to the farmland and industrial landscape of Ohio where you could see for miles around. Here, the jungle was a hiding place for predators of all kinds, including the enemy who were more wise to the terrain and therefore assumed to always be one step ahead.

This was to be Smoky’s playground. And her whole body shook with excitement just looking at it. A strange whimpering cry escaped from her body: a sound that was loud enough to come from a much larger animal. Bill’s first impression was that she liked what she saw and, although she was still a little limp and weak from her traumas, Bill could feel her tiny feet digging into his side as if she wanted to scramble out of his grasp and have a run around her new home. But first there was something Bill had to do.

Bill’s tent mate was Ed Downey who was definitely not going to welcome the tiny new resident. There was only one way to handle this and that was to deal with it there and then, head on. With Smoky still cradled in his arms, Bill looked at Ed and declared, short and sweet and low, ‘She stays!’ It seemed odd to Bill that Downey, the man who had saved Smoky from almost certain death in the jungle, so vehemently resented her presence in the tent. But perhaps it explains why, when he knew how much Bill wanted a dog, that he didn’t present him with his find instead of dropping her at the motor pool. But, a combination of luck, love and loyalty have a habit of winning through in the end; no matter how many obstacles are thrown in their path they rise up, like a resilient garden weed determined to make their presence felt no matter what. In this case, the dog and the man met anyway and the match was made. It was love at first sight and there was no turning back.

Smoky fell in love with something at first sight too – Bill’s cot. Once out of his arms she scampered towards it and then dived onto the drab olive cover folded at the bottom. She circled her chosen spot a couple of times and then settled down for a nap. Bill watched her every move. Her dreadful make-do haircut was severe and the crudely cropped tufts of hair all over her body made her look as if she had been the victim of some terrible attack. But her coat fascinated Bill and he tried to imagine how it would have looked before Dare’s impromptu cut. He could see why Dare had called her Smokums as the colour of her coat was a gingery brown with smoky tips and he imagined that when it all grew back the hair would be fairly long and flowing. Right now, the lack of hair meant her tiny fine-boned legs were on display and her delicate face and features could be seen clearly – at least that would help Bill give her a check-over when she woke. For now he wanted to let her sleep in comfort and peace. It would give him time to gather a few things together for his role as dog owner – one of the first bits of kit he was going to need for her in this humid environment, was a bath. Bill reached for his helmet – if it was good enough to act as his shaving basin then it was good enough to double-up as a dog bath.

As Smoky lay dozing on his cot, Bill took a moment to come to terms with his new responsibility. He had realized, within seconds of having her in his arms, that although she was the size of a lap dog she was not going to be content sitting on anyone’s lap all day, or lying on their bed. He did not know what breed she was but he could see that she was something special. She was tiny, and he could see there was a canine elegance and grace about her. But those were not the qualities that were going to help her now. More important to her in the jungle was her unstinting spirit. Bill could see she had an element of mischief in her make-up. He had witnessed too her sheer determination and he felt relieved because these were the qualities that were going to be the most valuable in her day-to-day survival alongside soldiers in a war zone.

Bill and Smoky were now players together in the war in the Pacific. They were part of a combined military force that was fighting the Japanese Imperial Army on land, at sea, and in the air. To win this battle it was going to need soldiers, sailors and airmen with not only the hardware to cripple the enemy but the emotional and psychological strength to take them through the bullets and the bombs and back home safe.

When Smoky was adopted by Private First Class Bill Wynne it was March 1944 and the United States of America had been in the Second World War for just over three years. Bill was one of 150,000 US servicemen posted to the New Guinea jungle as part of the Allied mission to hold off the Japanese from reaching Australia and regain Asia. The ultimate aim was to force a Japanese surrender. This was quite a tall order considering the Japanese had clearly exercised their military might on the US on 7 December 1941 with a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the naval parking lot in Hawaii for some of the US Navy’s finest warships. Battleships, cruisers, destroyers and more, all anchored in rows waiting to be called into the action. But they never stood a chance. Just after 7am on that Sunday morning the first wave of enemy planes bombarded the fleet destroying or severely damaging the ships where they sat. This once peaceful, paradise location had become a blazing inferno; a graveyard for several thousand tons of burning charred and twisted steel.

On 8 December, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress:

‘Yesterday, December 7 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

… As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

With confidence in our Armed Forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.’

The cream of the US fleet was crippled. Battleship row decimated. On 7 December, Japan also launched an attack against Malaya and then Hong Kong. They also entered Guam and the Philippine Islands. They attacked Wake Island and, the following morning, Midway Island.

Meanwhile, the war in Europe was still raging. Hitler’s Luftwaffe was doing its worst against the city of London, the nightly bombing raids causing mass destruction to people’s homes in an attempt to break the spirit of the British people. To those engaged in the war in Europe, the conflict in the Pacific must have seemed light years away. The US Navy and the 5th Air Force had destroyed Japanese landing forces destined for Australia in the Coral Sea Battle in June 1942 and would force the point again a little while later in the Battle of Midway. And to continue to keep the enemy at bay it was going to need a huge injection of troops. It was thought this could only be achieved once the war in Europe was over. The Allied Forces and the political machine behind them fought to keep the Japanese threat at a distance for as long as they could – preferably until Hitler had been defeated, all occupied territory liberated and British shores secured. In March 1943, young GIs like Bill Wynne were facing two years of jungle warfare in a place very far from home.

When Bill Wynne read the headlines declaring the attack on Pearl Harbor he was home in Cleveland, Ohio. He was nineteen years old and a graduate of West Technical High School, the second largest public school in the country. His passion for football had been satisfied with a spell in the first team but torn ligaments in his right knee saw off any chance of a continued performance. On an academic front, West Tech offered a wide variety of courses to attract the more practically minded student and that suited Bill. Everything was geared to turn out work fodder for local industries and the vast acreage of greenhouses. Alongside courses for prospective electricians, carpenters, pattern makers and printers, there was an outstanding course in horticulture, which interested Bill, as did photography and art which he studied for a year.

Bill was still a student when he met the love of his life, Margie Roberts. His family moved into her street, just a few doors down from her house. The attraction was mutual and instant and for Bill, who had moved house ten times before reaching the age of seventeen, it was the best move of all. He still believes it was meant to be. It was Margie who bought Bill his first dog, Toby, who was only six weeks old when he was presented as a twentieth birthday gift on 29 March 1942. A German Shepherd and Doberman cross, Toby became Bill’s reason to attend his first dog training class. The Cleveland All Breeds Training School was Bill’s introduction to formal dog training classes. The classes were organized with the blessing of the American Kennel Club and incorporated a great many of the techniques being used to train dogs attached to the Armed Forces as patrol and guard dogs. The Services would require dogs that could display the ultimate in discipline and control and nothing less. The training was adapted to suit the average dog owner and their pet but the ten week programme was rigid and many owners’ expectations were high. The classes proved very popular and owners came from miles around to attend. Although Bill did not know this at the time, the training was going to be more relevant in the future than in the present.

BOOK: A Dog With a Destiny
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