IF ONLY I COULD TALK
The Story Of Budda
Five Years with the
39th Infantry Platoon (Scout Dog) of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam
My military career began in late 1965 or
early 1966. I can not be sure of the exact date because as a civilian I had no use for calendars. My life consisted of sleeping
and waking up whenever I felt like it, getting fed, and having the run of the house. I had it made and I knew it. I would
gladly have gone through my whole life there with my job title of "Pet". But that was not to be. My life was to drastically
change. One day two strangers appeared at my house. I had never seen people dressed exactly alike before, and I guess that
made me a little uneasy. My natural instincts were to be wary of them so I raised the hairs on my back just enough to make
them aware of just who was boss here. It didn't go un-noticed, but nothing was said.
After signing a bunch of papers, my owner
was given a leather, basket-like contraption that I had never seen the likes of before. When he held it out and called "here,
Budda" I went to him eagerly to get what I thought was a new toy. I will never forget the shock of that thing going over my
face and being buckled in place. This was the first time I had ever been muzzled. To make matters worse, a silver chain was
put in place over my head and my old leather collar with the brass name and address plate on it was removed and discarded.
Immediately after that I was lead out the front door of the only home I had ever known, never to return. I was lead to the
street and placed in an aluminum box with air holes in it. If I could only talk I would have let them know that this must
be some sort of mix-up or something. The box was then placed in the back of a truck, and away I went to my new life in the
I was taken to the K-9 Processing Center
at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where I met many others
who had met the same fate as I. We were constantly poked, prodded, measured, and weighed during this period of our induction.
The guys in the uniforms called it "physical and emotional profiling". After a couple of weeks of this, it was determined
that I was physically fit, and had the required attributes to remain in the military and become a Scout Dog. I wish I could
have told them my thoughts on the subject, especially about what the veterinarian did with that thermometer. Ouch!!! Next,
it was back into the aluminum crate and off to basic training.
The flight to Georgia was uneventful and lasted only a couple of hours. Upon our arrival there
we were assigned to the 39th Infantry Platoon (Scout Dog). This unit had seen action in the Philippines
in WWII and in Korea. Now, in March 1966
they were being reactivated for Vietnam
and I was to be a part of it all. Sgt. Bob Brown was assigned to be my handler. We had loads of conflicts over just who was
to have control over whom.
Eventually we came to the understanding
that for the time being we would merely tolerate each other and hope for the best. After all, he was the one who fed and cared
for me. Basic training was the pits. We were green dogs being trained with by equally green handlers. What a circus! It was
day after day of nothing but "circle training". We had a steady diet of "NO", "HEEL", "SIT", "STAY", and "DOWN". The only
one I had a problem with was "NO". It just wasn't in keeping with my nature. If I could only talk I would tell them that this
wasn’t for me, and they could send me back home any time.
Then one day we didn't do that circle thing.
Sgt. Brown strapped me into a leather harness and removed my choke chain. Then he took me for a walk down a narrow path through
the woods. Not too bad so far. He kept saying things like "SEARCH", and "EASY". I had no idea what he was talking about at
the time, and was unable to ask. Suddenly I sensed that we were not alone there. I had caught a whiff of someone else, and
that made me nervous. My natural instincts took over, causing me to raise my head slightly and smell onto the wind to detect
whoever was there. My ears perked up and rotated forward to detect any sound that might help me pinpoint this person. As I
was unsure of his intent, my muscles tensed and the hairs on my back stood up. Sgt. Brown quickly moved forward, kneeling
just behind me and with both arms outstretched pointed in the same direction that I was looking. He began patting my shoulder
and said "attaboy Budda, attaboy". Then we advanced upwind and suddenly somebody burst from the bushes and ran away. We both
gave chase, but I guess Sgt. Brown was a bit slower than me because I couldn't quite catch up with the decoy because the leash
restrained me. If I could talk I would have said "damn, this is FUN". But all I could do was bark and jump around. We did
this a few more times and it finally sank into my hard head that this was what we were supposed to do. Hey, this is easy.
And the more we did it the easier it was. I was having fun, and suddenly Army life didn't seem too bad.
This all went on until July of 1966. Then
one day as we were taken out in the morning we saw a line of those aluminum crates again. There were 27 crates in all, one
for each of us. I knew we would be traveling again. I had no idea that I had a one way ticket to a combat zone. The platoon
had three 2 1/2 ton trucks, a Jeep, and a utility trailer. We, in our crates, were loaded into two of the trucks. Our rations,
water cans, veterinary supplies, tents, and other gear went into the trailer. The remainder was for all of our handlers and
their duffel bags. We set out from Fort Benning
bound for Warner Robins Air Force Base near Macon, Georgia. The 80 mile convoy trip was hot in those darned crates. If I could talk
I sure would have told them a thing or two. I was really tired of this crate business! But we all thought we would be out
of them now that we were here. WRONG! Our little convoy split into two groups and they drove right onto the flight line and
right up the rear ramps on the two C-141 Starlifters that were waiting there for us. As soon as everything was chained down
and secure, we took off. This was a far longer trip than any of us had expected. After a 2 hour refueling stop in Alaska and another in Japan, we finally landed at
Ton Son Nhut airbase in Vietnam after
27 hours. Those darn planes sure didn’t smell very good by then!
Our arrival date was July 26, 1966. We
stayed there at "tent city B" for a couple of days and then our orders came down. We were being assigned to the 173rd Airborne
Brigade at Bien Hoa. When we got there, our area was just a clearing in the woods, just inside the perimeter. The squad tents
went up for our handlers, and we were staked out next to our crates. Construction of my new home was started almost immediately.
We were attached to the Engineer Company and they had the materials, equipment, and know-how to build my kennels and the hootches
for the men. Items that we couldn't get through normal channels were gotten either by trading out some extra dog food, or
by a "midnight requisition". I think that was how the emergency fire pump appeared behind the kennels one morning. It was
just the thing for washing down our runs each day. A little over-kill though.
My first combat mission was during Operation
Toledo in August, 1966. When we returned to the kennels after the 28 day operation all of the handlers were awarded their
Combat Infantryman Badges. Although we dogs were not eligible for military awards or decorations, many of our handlers passed
them along to us in appreciation of a job well done.
There was little rest for us at the kennels.
Dogs needed to be worked on a daily basis to maintain their sharpness and physical conditioning. New training was initiated
to pass on what was learned during the previous missions. There was a 30 acre area adjacent to the kennel area that was all
woods and a stream. This made an excellent training area to run our practice patrols. We got some deactivated VC mines and
"potato masher" grenades from the EOD team to help us. They were either buried in a pathway or rigged with tripwires attached
to a rat trap for us to detect. Probably due to this continual training between missions, no scout teams from the 39th were
injured by booby traps during my first year in country. Many were detected though.
My life became a whirlwind of missions.
Brownie (as I now referred to Sgt. Brown) and I had become inseparable buddies. We each trusted each other completely. That
bond was our means of survival. We made it through Operations Sioux City in Xom Cat, Attleboro in Minh Than, Waco around Bien
Hoa, Cedar Falls in the Iron Triangle, Big Springs in war zone D, and Junction City in war zone C near Tay Ninh. I felt honored
in March of 1967 when Brownie and I were selected for a very special secret mission. Out of all the Scout Teams in country,
we had been selected to go with the 5th Special Forces Group and be attached to one of their A Teams. I liked to think we
were chosen due to my skills and temperament, but I guess Brownie's security clearance level may have helped a little. I never
told anyone where we went or what we did. Hey, I couldn't talk anyway!
After returning to our kennel at Bien Hoa
I got the shock of my life. Brownie would be going home in July when his DEROS date was up. After all we had been through
together the team was being broken up. My handler for the past 15 months was now under direct orders to stay away and have
no further contact with me. They said it was to prepare me to accept Brownie's replacement. Since we had all come over as
a unit at one time, all of the other dogs were in the same position. How could the military do this to us? Our tour of duty
had changed into a life sentence. From here on I would do my job, but my love of the game was gone – sigh…
My next handler was an OK kind of guy,
as were all of those that followed. One, Rick Hovis, even gave up his platoon clerk job to become my handler! We all worked
hard, but the personal chemistry just wasn't the same. Brownie would be a part of me forever.
The next five years were extremely difficult
for me and my fellow soldiers. We moved from province to province, to some of the most vicious fighting of the war. Many of
my friends and their handlers became casualties. The mouth to hand fighting had shown me just what I was really capable of
doing to whoever I felt was an enemy.
Age was beginning to catch up with me,
and almost five straight years of leading patrols had taken its toll. I never complained though. I needed to keep up my "tough
Next we were back in our crates again.
We all hated those crates. It seemed that each time we were moved in them, our whole world sort of fell apart. Everything
was always completely different when we got where we were going. Dogs prefer familiar places, faces, and routines. I was tired
of all the changes. I missed my friend Brownie. Long days on point left me tired that night and stiff the next morning. I
was grumpy and the platoon all knew it. It was determined that it was time for me to retire. It was at this point that I was
not assigned to another handler, therefore I had no more missions. Life was easy around the Kennel area. I had regular meals
and spent much of the day sleeping in the shade. The platoon Sergeant, SFC Kelly, took a liking to me and would take me out
for walks and some exercise. When handler Don Bradley went up for the 173rd Airborne Brigade's coveted "Sky Soldier of the
Month" award, he was asked which of the dogs was the most heroic. Without hesitation he answered "with such a long list
of accomplishments, plus many confirmed enemy kills, that could only be Budda". But by now I was a little overweight and
turning slightly gray. It didn't worry me though. Most of the handlers would be in similar shape by the time they retire.
Then one day in July of 1971, I noticed
a different mood around the kennels. Many of the other dogs were being put into their crates and loaded into a truck. I eagerly
followed because I was tired of Camp English.
Since most of the handlers had left we might even be going home. That would be great. We deserved a break after all we had
done. It wasn't a very long trip. We were taken to a nearby Air Base and there were many dogs there from all over the country.
There were Scouts, Trackers, and Sentry dogs all together here. I guess we really are being sent back home! Maybe they
will ship me to Brownie. I wonder if he thinks about me as often as I have thought of him. Does he remember all we went through
together? I am so excited that I can hardly stand still. In the Veterinary Clinic I can't understand why everyone is crying.
Just give me my DEROS shots and get me on that plane and I'll finally be getting out of here. I can hardly wait!
In all of my excitement I barely felt the
needle. I was used to them anyway. It feels just like the tranquilizer shot that we got before we left on the plane ride over
here back in July of '66. I feel a little sleepy all of a sudden. I think I'll lie down and rest right here.
It seems to be getting darker.
Will Brownie remember me?
I feel numb!
I think I'll rest right awhile and think
of what it will be like to be home.
I - ZZZ Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z …
Robert Brown "Brownie" went on to retire
from the Army. Presently residing in New Jersey with his
civilian canines, he has become an accomplished artist.
Budda (4A82) bravely served his country
for the "human equivalent" of over 40 years. During his time in Vietnam
he had eight handlers, all of whom survived to return home. He was wounded five times. He had five confirmed enemy kills in
close combat. He protected and saved the lives of uncountable numbers of American servicemen.
For all of this, the military leadership
awarded him the death penalty