Airman 2nd Class John Langley of Venice was a member of the 377th Security Police (K-9) when he arrived at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base outside Saigon South Vietnam in 1967. It was the 19-year-old airman and his guard-dog “Vogie” against the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong guerrillas.
He was trained in guard-dog handling at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
“We worked with German Shepards and taught them obedience,” the 71-year-old former airman explained. “What we were also doing was bonding with the dog. I worked with a dog called “Pete.”
What were the requirements for a guard-dog?
“They had to have the right temperament. They couldn’t shy away from gunfire. If they were a big barker that was not good,” Langley said.
For his first two years in the Air Force he and “Pete” guarded the pine trees on the base at Pease Air Force Base outside Portsmouth, N.H.
“I’m proud to say not one pine tree was ever stolen,” Langley smiled.
From there he flew to Vietnam and a new assignment with a new dog he knew nothing about.
“Vogie” was a 65-pound female Shepherd. She was the best dog I ever had,” he said. “She was always alert, and she never barked when we were in the field. She was the best.
“I flew into Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base and that’s where I stayed. I was part of the perimeter guard around the airbase,” he explained. “We’d go out at night with our dogs. We were out three miles or so from the fence around the airbase with a rifle, a radio and ‘Vogie’ to alert the base about anyone planning to attack.”
On a normal day he and “Vogie” had to be leery of helicopters flying over and the soldiers behind them in bunkers holding the Main Line of Defense between them and the perimeter fence around the air base.
“They’d just open up with their machine-guns and start firing at things randomly,” Langley recalled. “You could have in-coming fire from above or behind on a normal day.
The high water mark for Langley in Vietnam was the “Tet Offensive,” a surprise attack by 80,000 NVA and VC troops against all major military bases and cities in South Vietnam. “During ‘Tet’ they attacked the perimeter of Tan Son Nhot Air Base with hundreds of VC. It started about 3 a.m.,” Langley said. “They were everywhere and lead was flying all over.
“There was little the people on the base could do to help us. It was just me and my dog out there and ‘Vogie’ was agitated by all the commotion. I had to lay down and keep her under control because I didn’t want anyone to know we were out there.
“Fortunately for us, about three hours after the first attack several mechanized units from the Army showed up. They had tanks, Armored Personnel Carriers and armored trucked with quad-.50 caliber machine-guns mounted on them,” Langley said.
“After three days of fighting there were bodies everywhere. During those three days we brought our dogs back to the kennels at the base. We left and went back out to fight some more. It was obvious the dogs were more valuable than we were.
“Right next to the base was the Michelin Rubber Plantation. The VC were on the plantation by the thousands. That’s where the killed and wounded were the heaviest. It was our job to go out and look for survivors. It wasn’t a nice thing to do, looking for survivors in a sea of dead bodies,” he said.
“For us ’Tet’ went on at night for several weeks. There were snipers and mortar fire and in-coming fire on the air base. “Fortunately for me, I left Vietnam on March 29, 1968 and flew home to the states.
“I flew from Honolulu into San Francisco. There were no Vietnam War protesters waiting for me. It was too early,” Langley said.
He spent the last six months or so of his Air Force service at Minot Air Force Base in Minot, N.C. helping to guard the “Minuteman” missile silos.
“All I had to do was drive a pickup around the base and check on the missile sites,” he said.
Langley got out of the service and went into construction work. That didn’t last long because he was not in good health. He was suffering from a variety of maladies he picked up during his time fighting in Vietnam.
“We worked in a defoliated area of Vietnam. On top of that, once a month we bathed the dogs in a big tub of Malathion that we used to keep the bugs off them. Then we washed with something called Phisohex to get the Malathion off us,” he said. “We suffered from the effects of three bad chemicals: Agent Orange, Malathion and Phisohex.”
He got ill after being discharged and working in construction. With the aide of the Disabled Veterans of America Langley was declared 100% disabled and awarded a military pension for life.
Looking back on his service with his dog in Vietnam he was perplexed because he had to leave “Vogie” behind when he flew home.
“I was concerned about what was going to happen to her. I had a great dog,” he said. “When I was there in Vietnam they didn’t feed these dogs properly. They were feeing ‘em kibble that we had to debug.
“We ended up giving the dogs our C-Rations. On occasion we would go scrounging at the Army depot and come back with frozen cases of steaks and chicken which we ate and fed to our dogs.
“Over 4,000 dogs were used by the military in Vietnam. When we left we euthanized them. That’s what happened to ‘Vogie,’ she was euthanized.
“They just stacked the dead dogs in a pile and I guess they burned their bodies, I wasn’t there. But I have records on what happened to these dogs,” Langley said.
When he returned to the U.S. he got another Shepherd he named “Sarge.” He lived with the family for a dozen or so years.
“When he got sick I had to put him down. I just couldn’t take another dog after that,” he said.
Langley is divorced but has two children: Jason and Alison.
Name: John Francis Langley
D.O.B: 27 Sept. 1946
Hometown: Needham, Mass.
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 27 Aug. 1964
Discharged: 28 Aug. 1968
Rank: Airman 2nd Class
Unit: 377th Security Police (K-9)
Commendations: Vietnam Service Medal with 3 Bronze Service Stars, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm
Battles/Campaigns: Tet Offensive – Vietnam
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017 and is republished with permission.
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