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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Veteran's Day tribute to an unsung hero by the name of Charlie, and his buddy, my hubby...

A Veteran's Day tribute I've repeated off and on for years in a variety of net venues.  Each year I tweak the story and add a little more to it.  This year, my goal (again) was to include more about our rescue terrier, Maggie's story.  Sorry, but all I can muster is an additional line or two this go round.

Where Charlie's story ended, Maggie's story began years later on golf cart at a Morningstar Mini Storage in Rockingham, North Carolina.  She's only been gone a little over two years now, and the heart pang of her loss is still very much with me.  Admittedly, it's easier to focus on our other rescues that live under foot and their individual special needs.  We have our kitties, and our three and half Springers.  Namely, Chance aka Mr. Puppy; he's the one that began my love affair with rescue Springers over 10 years ago.  Our little princess, Sydney Australia, still my baby girl at a big age two.  The lovely five or so year old tri-color and ever so humble, Miss Summer.  And our newest addition, what Steve's calls, our short round Sprocker, tiny Roxie aka Rootie.  She's just turned three! 

Maggie and I spent an enormous of time together after I was first hit with Epilepsy and became home bound.  She watched over me intently even though age was catching up to her in the form of arthritis and vestibular disease.  And yes, even though we have a house full of rescues, we still are very much aware of the void she left in our hearts and in our lives.  I hope one day I'll be able to share more about her without feeling her loss so much and re-living her last afternoon with me one on one.  However, that day has still not arrived.

So, back to the tribute at hand...

Charlie was Steve's very first rescue puppy. He never even realized Charlie was a rescue puppy until I pointed it out to him. In his mind, he was saving a puppy's life. Well, that's what rescue is.  He not only saved his life, he gave him a happy life in the midst of war torn Viet Nam.

We've shared Charlie's story countless times to once a Marine always a Marine Marines.  Meaning buddies Steve served with in Viet Nam.  His Platoon members of Charlie Company, 1st Batilion, 26th Marine Division aka C-Company. As well as to family, loved ones, friends, dog lovers, etc.  In essence, there are really two stories. Charlie's story, and our Maggie's story. The two overlap in a unique way, and it's so incredibly unique that only God could have pulled the strings to make it happen. Yet, for now it's Charlie's story once again to be told...  Maggie's sits on hold for another year.

While on patrol in a village south of Da Nang, Steve caught sight of beautiful tiny black puppy sitting alone all by himself. As he shares the story, he says he had a split decision as to whether to pass him by or pick him up. His heart won over and Charlie was put in his right side pocket of his utilities. He was so miniscule when Steve climbed into the CH46 Sea Knight to fly out of there, Charlie rode in his helmet. He spent a good deal of time in that helmet until he grew out of it. 

Charlie was with Steve for three months and he grew like a weed!  He captured the hearts of many tough guy Marines in his platoon. There are men Steve served with who are sometimes foggy on Steve's name, but never when it comes to memories of Charlie.  Over the years, we've discovered posts on forums and bulletin board about him.

During that time in Steve's tour of duty he was the Platoon Radio Operator. So, many guys actually could call Steve by name, but his dog, Charlie, literally had fans. He made a huge difference in Steve's life during that hellacious time, and also to the men in his platoon. He boosted morale and had fill in daddies when Steve was on patrol or night ambushes.

Charlie also had a fan base back home in Albemarle, NC.  He had grandparents who were very taken with him, too.  Even though they'd only read about him in letters written home, and got to know him the little character through pictures.  In order for photos to be developed Steve had to send the film home, so his family couldn't help but fall in love with Charlie at their first glance of him in Steve's arms.  They sent him a flea collar and leash of his very own, so he would know he belonged. He also received his very own care packages with plenty of rawhide chewies, doggy biscuits, treats, and rubber toys. Corpsman provided his vaccinations, while he dined upon C-Rations.

It hurt Steve's heart sorely to leave Charlie behind when he rotated out in January of 1969. Then, for what seemed like an eternity, he never knew what happened to him.  Often, wondering for over 30 years about what happened to his little buddy. I did, too from the moment Steve first told me about him.  Dog lover and rescuer that I am, his pictures almost haunted me.

A few years ago we finally reconnected with the Marine who took over Charlie's care when Steve returned homeside.  We were very sad to learn that a month after he left, Charlie got tangled up in some trip wire and was killed by friendly fire.  The news hurt, and stung as if it had happened just yesterday.  But, it's important to focus on the lives that Charlie touched.  The differences he made to the a number of young Marines missing home, missing their loved ones, including their dogs, during dreadfully rough war times.  Charlie's presence brightened their days, touched their soft heart spots and made their living conditions, momentarily a little more livable.  As for Charlie, he didn't have a care in the world from the day Steve made the fateful decision to pick him up.  And this is my reason for remembering and paying tribute to a little stray puppy, who became an unlikely Viet Nam war dog, named Charlie. 

Of course, that was not the ending we wanted to hear, nor the one you wanted to read.  However, Charlie' trip to Rainbow Bridge was the beginning of our dear little Maggie's story.  All I can share right now is that when she found me she was covered in red clay.  Red clay that appeared identical to the red clay Steve was so familiar with in Viet Nam.  She was so red, we had no idea she was black, until we gave her a bath.

In tribute to Steve and Charlie, below is a simple little slideshow. Please note, my husband was only 20 when he was in Viet Nam.

Photos were taken both north and south of Da Nang, HiVon Pass and Namo Bridge, and parts in between.

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