Often-overlooked heroes honored at local cemetery for military dogs

Published: Nov. 11, 2019 at 12:06 PM EST
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As we mark this Veterans Day, we honor all the men and women who have served this country. Alongside many of them have been four-legged heroes.

There's a special place in Michigan that honors War Dogs and their incredible contributions to our country. It's called the Michigan War Dog Memorial.

It started as a family pet cemetery in the 1930s, and it stayed that way until the 1980s. After that, it sat abandoned for decades. But one man made it his mission to bring it back to life as the Michigan War Dog Memorial, honoring the K-9 heroes of this world.

The quiet plot of land in South Lyon is the final resting place for some of America's most important and sometimes overlooked heroes. Dogs have been serving alongside men and women of the military for more than a century. Between World War II, Korea and Vietnam, dogs are credited with saving about 28,000 lives.

Honoring some of those dogs started with Phil Weitlauf, and it wasn't an easy task. When he first saw the old pet cemetery, Weitlauf thought somebody should do something about the long-abandoned property. He then realized he should be that person.

It took two years to clear the property with the help of a lot of people and businesses. Although it was a family pet cemetery, a famous military dog named Sgt. Sparks was actually buried there in 1947. Weitlauf says the dog fought with the Marine Corps in WWII. Sgt. Sparks went through four major campaigns and helped bring everyone home safe.

One of the most powerful parts of the hallowed ground is a tribute to the dogs that were part of the Vietnam War. Weitlauf says a little more than 4,200 dogs were deployed, and only 204 of them made it back to American soil. Weitlauf spent more than two years tracking down the names and tattoo numbers of every dog. They are listed on a memorial wall that was dedicated in 2017. Dozens of dog handlers from the Vietnam War were there that day and were overcome with emotion when they saw the names of their long-lost friends.

Most of the stories of military dogs buried there are connected to more recent wars. Three of them were part of Tracy Spader's life. Tracy and her husband George are from Lambertville. They adopted Jig and Buddy and fostered Chyan. When Buddy died, she wanted a place for him to be buried and honored for his service. She made a phone call to Phil, and that's how the burial of Military War Dogs with full honors began.

Thanks to the cemetery, Tracy and George made sure the stories of their dogs are never forgotten. Jig was just buried with full honors in September.

We also met up with Laszlo Szalay and his PTSD service dog, Emperor, during our visit to the cemetery. Szalay is a Marine Corps veteran who says the dog has been a true life-saver. Szalay says they both have their battle scars. Emperor served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the dog was seriously hurt when his handler was killed. Szalay adopted him several years ago. Szalay says when Emperor dies, he will be buried at the cemetery along with all the other American heroes buried there.

In addition to all the family pets, as well as military and police dogs buried at the cemetery, it is now open to service, therapy, search-and- rescue and PTSD service dogs.

If you'd like to learn more about the Michigan War Dog Memorial,