At 6:06 a.m. Thursday, former Airman 1st. Class John Langley of Venice stood in front of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and read 30 servicemen’s names who appear on the memorial together with more than 58,000 others inscribed there forever.
Among those names is Airman 2nd Class George Michael Bevich Jr., the first Air Force dog handler killed on Dec. 4, 1966, in a Viet Cong mortar attack while protecting Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon with his dog, Rex. The 22-year-old received the Silver Star, for sounding the initial alarm that an enemy attack was under way, and the Purple Heart, both posthumously.
Rex, his dog, survived the attack.
Langley, who also was a dog handler, went to Vietnam a year later. He met Bevich in 1966 before both of them shipped out. Bevich and a group of four other dog handlers and their dogs were on their way to Vietnam and Langley drove them to Logan Airport in Boston for the trip overseas.
Before this Veterans Day, today, the 25th anniversary of the unveiling of the Vietnam Wall, Langley will make a pilgrimage. The former airman will visit Bevich’s grave in Summit Hill, Pa., 40 miles north of Allentown. He will also be one of the official readers at The Wall in Washington, D.C., afterward.
“I went to see the dedication at The Wall when it first opened in ’82 and realized they had nothing to recognize the dog handlers who died in the war,” he said. “There were 4,000 dogs and 9,000 handlers and no recognition for them at all.”
Langley decided to do something about it. He began contacting his former dog-handler buddies and eventually formed the nucleus of a dog-handler group known today as the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association.
“Our group really took off 10 years later when we got home computers,” Langley said. “We now have 2,000 former dog handlers in our organization today.”
After reading George Bevich’s name during the official ceremony that began Thursday at The Wall, he planned to put a picture of Bevich squatting beside Rex, holding his M-16 rifle in Vietnam when he was a 22-year-old, shortly before he was killed. The picture will go up on The Wall under his name and, in addition, Langley will attach an old newspaper article under the headline: “Airman Awarded Silver Star Posthumously.”
A contingent of former Vietnam dog handlers will be there standing with Langley as part of the Veterans Day services at The Wall this week. It won’t be like it was when he first attended the ceremony a quarter century ago with no recognition for the dog handlers.
In late March 1967, Langley arrived at Tan Son Nhut Air Base and became a member of the 377th Security Police (K9). He was one of the perimeter guards protecting the airbase from intruders.
The 20-year-old airman was paired with a 75-pound female German shepherd named “Vogie.”
“These dogs were just like having a child. They had their good days and their bad days,” he explained, “On a good day, Vogie would pay attention and really be alert, watching out for everything. On a bad day, she was in another world.”
The dogs’ sense of smell and hearing saved a lot of American lives. It was during the “Tet Offensive” that Vogie and Langley played their biggest role.
He and his shepherd were stationed 3 miles from the fence surrounding the airbase along a path surrounded by jungle. It was Langley’s and Vogie’s duty to hide out in the underbrush and sit quietly from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. the next morning watching, listening and staying out of sight.
If they heard or saw something, they notified the base by walkie-talkie. A three-man squad in a Jeep with a mounted M-60 machine gun would arrive within five minutes and check out the area looking for Viet Cong infiltrators.
“When Vogie’s ears would go up, the fur on her back would go up, her tail would also go, I knew she had something,” Langley said. “She would get excited, but she was trained not to bark.
“On Jan. 30, 1968, all hell broke lose. There were hundreds of VC running out of the woods toward the airbase,” he said. “As soon as that happened, I got on my walkie-talkie and alerted the base. All of the other dog handlers were doing the same thing. Within minutes, the base was all lit up.
“Dragon ships sprayed the surrounding jungle with bullets. You had to be careful not to get in an area that was being hit by one of these dragon ships or a helicopter gun ship. The gun ships and choppers were firing at everything that moved.
“The next several days we spent out in the bush hiding out and staying out of the clutches of the VC. They weren’t interested in us, they wanted to knock out our planes and helicopters with satchel charges, mortars or 122 millimeter rockets,” he said.
“At times we had to lay on our dogs to keep them quiet when he VC ran by. During the day, they would truck C-rations and water out to us and we stayed put.”
After 11 months and 27 days as an Air Force dog handler in Vietnam, Langley and Vogie parted company. He flew home and another airman took over handling his shepherd, which remained in the war zone. Eventually, almost all of the 4,000 guard dogs were turned over to the South Vietnamese when the U.S. forces pulled out of Vietnam.
“What happened to them after that?” Langley was asked.
“A few of them were euthanized or they became dinner for some Vietnamese family. It was awful, it was a terrible thing to have happen to them,” he said as he shook his head.
Name: John Francis Langley
D.O.B: 27 Sept. 1946
Hometown: Needham, Mass.
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 27 Aug. 1964
Discharged: 26 Aug. 1968
Rank: Airman 2/Class
Unit: 377th Security Police
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, November 11, 2007 and is republished with permission.
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