Most warriors say the brotherhood with fellow soldiers is a very deep bond formed very quickly. Army veteran Don Hutchinson of Valparaiso formed a special bond with a rare breed of soldier.
Poncho was a sentry German Shepard in the First Calvary Division. He and Hutchinson guarded ammunition dumps together in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, for nine months in 1965 and 1966 before they had to part ways when Hutchinson became a squad leader
“I’ll tell you what. You felt secure because the animal is going to let you know if anybody’s around. And they’ll step in front of you and take a bullet for you,” Hutchinson said. “They know no fear. I loved that dog.”
Sentry dogs were one-person dogs who underwent specialized training with their handlers and were only used at night. “If you’re going into an area and nobody’s supposed to be in that area but you and your dog and the dog knows that…” Hutchinson said.
Dogs were also used in Vietnam for scouting, tracking and ferreting out mines and booby traps. Hutchinson remembers one such dog who was separated from his handler when they became lost in the jungle.
The handler was found and evacuated, but the dog was never found. He made his own way back to camp.
“How he found his way back, I don’t know,” Hutchinson said. “That just shows you how dedicated they are. It’s kind of like a marriage to the dog.”
Once he was transferred, Hutchinson never knew what became of his dog who was assigned to a new handler. “That’s the problem,” he said. “In today’s world they let you bring the dog back with you.”
Hutchinson was in Vietnam for the last 15 months of his eight-year career as a military policeman. “I thought it was different all around,” said Hutchinson who had already served 34 months in Italy near Pisa and 13 months in Korea.
To his memory the clichéd Vietnam helicopter is iconic. The helicopters were often flown at night while Hutchinson was on guard duty to protect them from mortar attack.
The sound of unseen helicopters is the soundtrack of his Vietnam experience. He was impressed by the pilots who basically had to fly them blind.