Monument Honoring Military Dogs and Their Handlers Unveiled at Navy Memorial (photos)


A larger than life sculpture honoring all the men and women of the sea services, past present and future, and all military working dog teams, was unveiled on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington D.C.  The bronze, called “Service and Sacrifice,” is the first monument honoring working military dogs in the nation’s capital.

The artist Susan Bahary is a renowned sculptor of monuments honoring service animals and their handlers and is a leader in raising awareness of their vital contributions.

The work features Navy Petty Officer 1st Class John Douangdara, the brave lead dog handler for Navy SEAL Team Six and his war dog Bart. Both were sadly lost on August 6, 2011 along with 29 U.S. Soldiers, 17 of whom were Navy Seals, plus eight Afghans, when an insurgent armed with a rocket-propelled grenade shot down their CH-47 Chinook helicopter transport in Afghanistan. It was the costliest day in SEAL Team Six history.

Bart was a Belgian Malinois, a breed known for their intelligence, loyalty, speed, endurance, and willingness to track and take down an adversary much larger than itself. Most of the dogs that work with the Navy SEALS are Mals, including Cairo who helped SEAL Team Six take down Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan in Operation Neptune Spear on May 2, 2011, just three months before the helicopter carrying John and Bart went down.

Asko on the left, who was invited with his handler to attend the dedication ceremony, is a dead ringer for Bart on the right whom he seemed to take a curious liking to. Both are Belgian Malinois. Asko, who is based in Washington D.C., does substance detection for the Navy and also works as a patrol dog. (photo by Jeff Malet for the US Navy Memorial)

“Sacrifice and Service” was commissioned by the U.S. War Dogs Association National Headquarters. The USWDA exists to provide a lifetime of practical support to Military Working Dogs (MWDs); their handlers and adopted families. Its president, Chris Willingham with Rear Adm. Mike Steffen, Commandant, Naval District Washington, earlier laid a memorial wreath at the Navy Memorial’s iconic Lone Sailor statue as part of Veterans Day ceremonies. Willingham is a retired Master Sergeant who served 20 years in the United States Marine Corps – a majority of his career dedicated to the MWD Program.

John Douangdara of South Sioux City, Nebraska, a son of Laotian immigrants, enlisted in 2003.  Ghan Follen, John’s sister. was on hand at the dedication along with other family members. “He loved Bart, he loved all of his animals. He found his passion working with animals … He served and he sacrificed and that’s just something that we want everyone to remember.” John Douangdara is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He was 26.

“War dogs and their handlers are amazing assets to the service, providing invaluable support on missions foreign and domestic to protect American lives and are owed an upayable debt of gratitude” said sculptor Bahary. The sculpture was modeled on a photograph taken in Afghanistan. “John’s right hand is holding his rifle to his heart representing his sense of duty and his left hand is touching his dog, demonstrating their love and connection. What I’ve learned through the 25-plus years of sculpting monuments to honor our various types of service animals and their handlers, is that the human/animal bond is universal, infinite and timeless. There are countless ways in which our service animals perform duties to help us both physically and emotionally. They do it for all of us with unconditional love and devotion.”

“Service and Sacrifice” will become a permanent part of the Navy Memorial Visitors’ Center, which is located at 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. midway between the U.S. Capitol and the White House and directly across from the National Archives. Navy Memorial Plaza contains the largest map in the world, known as the “Granite Sea.” It is home to the Lone Sailor statue, towering masts with signal flags, fountain pools, and 26 bronze sculptures depicting Navy history. Through engaging and interactive exhibits and multimedia experiences, the Visitor Center inspires and informs over 110,000 visitors each year of the rich history and heritage of the United States Navy. Visitor center hours are from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is free.

Added Rear Admiral Frank Thorp, USN (ret), President and CEO of the United States Navy Memorial: “The Navy Memorial is proud that we will host the statue honoring Petty Officer Douangdara and Military Working Dog Bart, both of whom gave their lives for the United States. And in so doing, we honor all of the Navy Special Forces Personnel and Military Working Dogs who serve in defense of our great nation.”

(Click below for a slideshow of Jeff Malet’s photos from the dedication ceremony of “Service and Sacrifice” at the U.S. Navy Memorial.)

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