When Dustin Lee died in an explosion in Fallujah, Iraq,
his military dog was at his side. Lex the German shepherd was wounded,
too, but refused to leave his 20-year-old Marine handler.
are so many heroic war dog stories, I can’t tell them all,” retired
Army Master Sgt. John C. Burnam said Saturday during a ceremony to
honor handlers like Lee and dogs like Lex.
“Over time, I learned
to rely on my dog more than my rifle,” Burnam said. Lex was in the
crowd at the Air Force Air Armament Museum along with Lee’s family,
which adopted the dog in late 2007 after a campaign for Lex’s
retirement. It was the first time a military dog was allowed to be
adopted by its fallen handler’s family.
NICK TOMECEK | Daily News
Lee embraces Lex, a retired Marine working dog, after he received a
commemorative Purple Heart on Saturday at the Air Force Armament
Museum. Lee’s son, Marine Cpl. Dustin Lee, was killed and Lex was
wounded in Falujah, Iraq, last March. Lex is the first military dog
that was allowed to be adopted by a fallen handler’s family.
a dozen active-duty dogs sat watching as Lex, who still has shrapnel in
his back from the March 21, 2007, explosion, was awarded a
commemorative Purple Heart. Lee’s mother Rachel spoke, remembering her
son from Stonewall, Miss., who even at the age of 11 knew he was going
to serve in the military. Lee believed in himself and in his dog, she
said, and adopting Lex has eased some of the family’s pain.
feelings have become less tense with Lex in our lives,” she said. “As I
touch him and look deep into his big brown eyes, I see and feel
The ceremony was for all working dogs
German shepherds, Malinois, black Labrador retrievers and others and
their handlers, many of whom have died in the line of duty. Marine Sgt.
Adam Cann, 23, of Davie, Fla., died when he threw himself at a suicide
bomber with a vest of explosives strapped to his chest. He saved his
fellow Marines and the surrounding crowd. His dog, Bruno, was wounded,
but recovered and returned to duty.
Bruno was the one who
alerted to the bomber’s presence. Members of Cann’s family were also at
the ceremony and accepted a memorial award to a standing ovation.
Burnam spoke of 100,000 military working dogs throughout history who
served as soldiers sniffing out enemy caches, charging bunkers under
fire, pulling sleds, laying wires and dragging their wounded masters to
NICK TOMECEK | Daily News
handlers from law enforcement and the military line up Saturday to
honor fallen handlers and their working dogs during a tribute at the
Air Force Armament Museum.
He told the story of Stubby, a
bull terrier who became the military’s first dog hero in World War I
when he captured a German spy hiding in bushes and mapping out American
trenches. Stubby chased the spy, nipping at his ankles and knocking him
down before clamping his jaws on his rear end until American soldiers
arrived, Burnam said. Those stories brought laughs from the crowd of
more than 100, but the mood was somber and respectful as Rachel Lee
accepted her son’s award and Lex had his award draped over his collar.
“At 11 years old, my son Dustin knew he was being called to serve his country,” she said.
“As Dustin always said, ‘No regrets.’ ”
Daily News Staff Writer Andrew Gant can be reached at 863-1111, Ext. 1432.
Link to original article