They say every dog has its day--even if it's 50 years coming.
In this case, there are 25 dogs who--thanks to a retired Woodland Hills veterinarian--will receive belated honors for making the ultimate sacrifice in World War II.
William Putney, commander of the Marine Corps war dog units in Guam in 1944, plans to revisit the scenes of battle July 20 and dedicate a cemetery on the island for his dogs, who for decades were buried in a neglected jungle patch.
"I'm going to have to make a speech," Putney said in a Virginia drawl. "It's going to be terribly emotional, and I just hope I don't screw it up."
As part of a massive gala planned for the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Guam, the 25 Doberman pinschers and German shepherds who served and died on the island will receive a belated ceremony with full military pomp, including a 21-gun salute and the attendance of the top brass in the Pacific.
The dogs--used as sentries, messengers and scouts in the rugged island battles--originally were buried at Asan beach, where many had come ashore.
But after a typhoon wrecked the graveyard in the early 1960s, the headstones were moved inland and forgotten until Putney, 73, found them on his first return to the island in 1989.
Putney this month secured a plot for the new cemetery at the U.S. Navy base at Orote Point, the island's other beachhead, after trying in vain to get permission from the U.S. Department of the Interior for a new cemetery at Asan Beach. By July 20, new headstones will be set with each of the 25 dogs' names, with a life-size bronze statue of a Doberman standing proudly in the center.
Putney never expected retirement to be so busy.
Since a story about his quest for a new war dog cemetery appeared in The Times, he has been interviewed for a cable television show and received requests for his time from several schools and a TV documentary maker. Dozens of well-wishers have telephoned and written, although he refers offers of money to the United Doberman Club, which is paying for the statue.
"The dogs are finally getting the recognition they deserve," Putney said. "They weren't just dogs. They were Marines that gave their lives bravely, and some of us are probably here today because of them."