Saved By My Dog "Builder"
1968 I was an Army Captain stationed in the small town of Rach Kein in Vietnam.
I was in charge of a small engineer task force. We were located 20 miles SW of
Saigon. Our job was to build schools for the poor rural people in an area that
was being heavily fought over. Our base camp was located right next to the base
camp of an infantry battalion of the 9th Infantry Division.
You normally didn't see many dogs around Vietnam. That is because they eat them. The typical rural Vietnamese diet is meat deficient. Anything with protein value is likely to go into the cooking pot. We even saw large live cobras being sold for food in the downtown Rach Kein marketplace. Stray dogs didn't last long.
Despite this, a small assortment of dogs began to appear around the infantry base camp. Soldiers out on operations would pick up an occasional puppy and bring it back to Rach Kein as a pet. Under a soldier's protective wing, a lucky pup would thrive, surrounded by the love and care of the soldier's squad. They also thrived on the C rations that were in ample supply .
One female dog was cared for by a soldier of Company B of the infantry. She had a litter of pups. She and her pups lived under the cot of this infantryman. His squad was located in a large Army tent that was pitched at the Northern end of the street that ran in front of our base camp. It was about 75 yards up the road.
Then came one night when we were hit with an especially deadly mortar attack that killed 200 infantrymen in several intense minutes of bombardment. Several of the mortar rounds struck the tent where the squad lived, killing the entire 12 man squad. The mother dog and most of her pups were also killed.
The next day the surviving pups were passed out for adoption. I took one. He was black, with a fuzzy long coast of hair. A picture is attached. He grew up at the side of my jeep crew and I. When I rode in the jeep, he rode in the jeep. I could not leave him in the base camp during the day for fear a Vietnamese would grab him as a main course for supper. So he went where we went. The soldiers named him "Builder", probably in reference to my radio call sign that was "Builder 6". He spent his days at the jobsites, and became well known by everyone.
The artillerymen of the 105mm battery in Rach Kein often fired right over our base camp. The shells made a distinctive audible whistling noise as they passed overhead. The same phenomenon applies to incoming enemy mortar shells and rockets. But the range of this sound is unfortunately beyond the range of human hearing. So the first warning that we had of enemy artillery fire was when the shell landed.
Builder grew quickly. He grew into a big dog, about the size of a small German Shepard. One night after supper I was lounging just outside my bunker. Builder began to howl. A few seconds later enemy mortar rounds began to land in the street in front of the base camp. I ducked into my bunker. After the attack was over, the first sergeant commented to me, "Sir, did you notice that your dog howled just before that attack?" I was dumbstruck. I had not even noticed. As a farm boy I knew that dogs could hear things that were outside of the range of human hearing. Could it be that Builder could hear those incoming rounds and was trying to warn us? Wild! So the first sergeant and I agreed to keep an eye on Builder and his howling.
A few days later we were mortared again. Yes, it happened! Builder began to howl just before the rounds landed. We had an early warning system!
Builder apparently never forgot the night his mother and brothers were killed. He had apparently associated the death of his mommy with the faint whistling noise made by the incoming rounds. A noise that is within a dog's range of hearing. When he heard that dreaded sound of incoming, he howled, either in protest or just to warn us!
Builder became famous with us. A group of men would be working about the base camp. Builder would sit up and howl. Pandemonium would break loose. Everyone would run into cover. For a few seconds it looked like a Chinese fire drill. Then the rounds would land. This happened time after time.
One evening is especially remembered by me. It was after supper. It was around August. Lt. McClernan and I were having a beer in our tent clubhouse. We were standing at the bar. There were about a dozen other soldiers lounging about our clubhouse. Sp4 Allen was the bartender. Builder began to howl. We dived for cover. The nearest bunker was Staff Sergeant Floyd Meyer's earthmoving squad's bunker, which was quite small. It was built to hold 5 or 6 people. We all dived for it. A hilarious scene unfolded as we all crammed into the bunker. Someone quipped that we looked like a bunch of college kids cramming into a telephone booth. We were laughing, and the guys on the bottom were cussing, when BOOM, a mortar round landed right outside the bunker. It was the first round of a short attack that only lasted a minute or so.
After the attack was over, we exited the bunker. We found that the mortar round had hit our clubhouse. The shell had landed exactly where I had been standing. Mac joked that "if they were aiming for the diwee, they had done a good job", as it appeared that the round would have landed right between my feet!
The shrapnel had pretty much destroyed our stock of soda and beer that had been stacked in cases behind the bar. The counter that served as our bar was also pretty much destroyed. It was amusing to me that the men seemed more concerned about the loss of our beer and soda than they did about our (my) close call.
So Builder had saved my life, probably Mac's life, as well as the lives of many of the others in the club that night.
Word got around about Builder's unique talent. He became quite famous. Visitors would ask to see "the dog". We were proud of him. We watched his every move, lest he be kidnapped by a hungry farmer. Builder, strangely, didn't like Vietnamese, so this helped in this regard.
He prospered with all of our love and attention (and he also had first choice of the daily C ration disbursement). He and I both loved "steak and potatoes".
Tet had taken a heavy toll of the enemy mortar squads that were around Rach Kein. So later in the year the intensity and frequency of mortar attacks lessened. Builder's early warning system got less use, but he remained our dear and much beloved mascot.
When Task Force Builder was disbanded in December of 1968, I needed to find a good home for Builder. It was impossible to take him home with me, which I would have preferred to do. One warrant officer from the 46th Bn. supply section was a good friend. He had gotten my shotgun for me much earlier in the year when I needed a reliable weapon. He asked for Builder, and I gladly turned Builder over to this gentle and kind man. I have always hoped and prayed that Builder fared well.
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