Nemo: One of the Few Vietnam War Dogs to Return Home

Only about 200 of the more than 4,000 heroic dogs who served in Vietnam made it out - those that did not die were euthanized or left behind when US troops withdrew from the war. Nemo, who became famous for saving his handler's life, was one of the fortunate dogs to return home.

Nemo was born in October 1962 and began his military career with the Air Force in the summer of '64. After completing an eight week training course, the German shepherd and his handler Airman Bryant were assigned to Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington. In January 1966, the two were transferred to the Republic of South Vietnam. They were assigned to the 377th Security Police Squadron stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Six months later, Bryant rotated back to the US and Nemo was paired with a new handler, 22 year old Airman 2nd Class Robert Thorneburg.

One night in December 1966, Thorneburg and Nemo were on patrol about a quarter mile away from the air base. Not long after they got there, Nemo alerted his handler to the presence of enemy soldiers in the vicinity. Before Thorneburg could radio for help, they were fired on. Thorneburg released his dog and began firing into the enemy. Nemo was shot and wounded, the bullet entered under his right eye and exited through his mouth. Thorneburg was able to kill one Viet Cong soldier before he too was shot in the shoulder and knocked to the ground.

Despite his injury, Nemo refused to give in without a fight. The 85 pound dog threw himself at the guerrillas, giving Thorneburg time to radio for help. A Quick Reaction Team arrived, killing the remaining Viet Cong soldiers. Meanwhile, Nemo had dragged himself over to Thorneburg and crawled on top of his handler's body to protect him from harm.

Nemo wounded in Vietnam

The base veterinarian worked diligently to save Nemo's life. Nemo pulled through but was blinded in the right eye. When the doctor felt Nemo was well enough, the dog was put back on perimeter duty. But it turned out his wounds needed further treatment. On June 23, 1967, Air Force Headquarters directed that Nemo be returned to the US with honors, as the first sentry dog to be officially retired from active service. Thorneburg was taken to Japan to recuperate then also returned home with honors.

On July 22, 1967, Nemo arrived at Kelly Air Force Base in Texas and was welcomed by a committee headed by Captain Robert Sullivan, the officer in charge of the sentry dog training program at Lackland. After settling in, Nemo and Sullivan made a number of cross country tours and television appearances as part of the Air Force's recruitment drive for more war dog candidates. After the US involvement in Vietnam began to wind down, Nemo was given a permanent kennel to retire in at the Department of Defense Dog Center in Texas.

Nemo died shortly before Christmas in December 1972. After a failed attempt to preserve his body, the Vietnam War dog hero was laid to rest on March 15, 1973 at the Department of Defense Dog Center. Nemo's kennel stands today as a memorial in his honor.