Note:  This story was written by member and retired Air Force Colonel Ron Albers for Motts Military Museum.  It is used here with permission.

Ed Reeves was born and raised in the Columbus area, and after graduating from Grove City High School in 1968 went to work in that Columbus suburb. On July 11, 1969 he was drafted into the Army. He first went to Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. He did so well in AIT that he was asked to attend the Non Commissioned Officer School at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He soon realized that at, the young age of 18, he wasn’t yet prepared or experienced enough to be leading others in the military; and after two months or so attending the NCO school, he was able to withdraw. While awaiting orders to Vietnam, Ed was assigned to a casual company. One morning the company commander asked if anyone had experience in civilian life with training or working with dogs, especially German Shepherds. Ed had lived a couple of doors away from a Grove City police officer who had a police dog named Prince. Ed and the officer were friends, and Ed had enjoyed being with him as he exercised and trained his dog. Ed also became good friends with the dog and would care for him when the officer was away. Anyone who volunteered to become a dog handler would have their deployment to Vietnam delayed. Although told never to volunteer for anything in the Army, Ed decided that it sounded like a good deal. The CO told Ed and the other volunteers to grab their gear and report back to the office. They did so and that day were trucked to the 26th Infantry Scout Dog Training Platoon at Ft. Benning.

After a couple days of orientation, regarding what their role in the Army mission was to be, they were told to grab a leash and go pick out a dog from the kennel. Ed selected a big German Shepherd named Hantz and worked with him for only a week before the instructors and Ed both realized that Hantz wasn’t suited for this type of training. So Ed went back to the kennels and selected another Shepherd named Prince, partly because of the dog’s name and also because the dog and Ed seemed to have a natural attraction to one another. For nearly five months they worked together, nine weeks on leash and nine weeks off leash. Ed used a dog whistle and hand signals to train Prince to detect ambushes, trip wires, and mines and then give an early silent warning when he sensed them. Ed’s job was to interpret what the dog was signaling and report it to the ranking individual at the scene, enabling him to make a decision about what action to take.

Following a brief leave back to Grove City, Ed returned to Ft. Benning to depart for Vietnam with Prince. Together they were trucked early the morning of July 30, 1970, to Dobbins AFB in Atlanta where they were loaded into a C-141 for the flight to Dover AFB, Delaware. Prince traveled in a shipping crate through all these various phases of transport. From Dover, another C-141 flew them to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska and from there they flew to Yokota AFB, Japan before the final leg to Tan Son Nhut AFB near Saigon, where they landed on August 1. The dogs and equipment were unloaded, and the group waited a few hours before loading everything aboard a truck for the trip to Bein Hoa. Ed realized now that they were in a totally different world. Their truck was part of a convoy consisting of tanks, armored personnel carriers, vehicles with 4 50-caliber machine guns mounted on them (Quad-50s,) and other trucks hauling lots of men with weapons. Still dressed in stateside fatigues and without any weapons, Ed and the other handlers felt a little out of place.

After about a two-hour ride, they arrived at the USARV Dog Training Detachment at Bein Hoa. Once they had unloaded everything, got the dogs kenneled, fed & watered and the shipping crates stored away, Ed and the other dog handlers were taken to their barracks. The following day they were issued jungle fatigues, underwear, T-shirts, socks and jungle boots – all olive drab green. This was to be home for the next thirty days, as the trainers and the dogs got acclimated to the hot, humid climate, and veterinarians monitored the dogs’ health. Nearly every day they would go outside the wire to train, mostly in a rubber plantation. When the training was complete, the ten dog teams departed for nine different scout dog platoons at locations ranging from the Delta to the DMZ. Ed and Prince were assigned to the 33rd Scout Dog Platoon with the 4th Infantry Division at a place called Camp Radcliff near An Khe in the Central Highlands Region of South Vietnam.  Ed and Prince packed up and headed for the airfield to board a plane to their new home.

Both the kennel and Ed’s quarters were actually quite nice for being in a combat zone. Ed and Prince were assigned to different platoons all the time, and their task was “humping the boonies,” walking point in front of the other troops. Ed recalls very few names of the many men he walked the jungle with, and they always just called him “Dog Handler.” Prince, however, was known to all as Prince. They’d fly by Huey helicopters to a suitable landing spot where they’d spend three to five days seeking out the enemy or stashes of their arms and supplies. When packing his ruck sack for a mission, Ed would pack five days’ worth of rations and water for both him and Prince. Ed would eat two meals a day, while Prince only ate one evening meal, consisting of perhaps five quarter-pound dry hamburger-like patties. He’d also pack four one-quart canteens and a five quart bladder with water, enough for both Ed and Prince. Not surprisingly, it was a heavy load to carry while handling an M-16 and a dog on a leash. Their first mission (along with an experienced dog handler to show them the ropes) was also their first ride in a helicopter, and Prince became overly excited about it. On both entering the Huey and then exiting it after landing, Prince jerked Ed totally off balance and onto his heavy backpack, both upsetting and embarrassing Ed.  They reported to the CO, who was briefing some squad leaders. The squad point man introduced himself, Ed put Prince’s working harness on, and off they went on their first assignment.

They hadn’t walked a half hour when Prince suddenly stopped on the trail ahead, looked to his left and started sniffing. Ed called him back with the silent dog whistle and then released him down the path again. Prince stopped in the same spot once again and looked to his left, sniffing intensely.  Ed recalled Prince once again and told the sergeant that Prince smelled humans but didn’t see them. So the CO commanded the men to move on down the trail to set up point security. Ed, the other trainer, Prince, and the sergeant stopped at an intersection with a recently used path through the jungle and sat down on a small mound. Suddenly Prince looked to his right and began sniffing once again. As they looked in that direction, they could see two Vietcong soldiers come walking out onto the trail towards them, obviously not knowing the American GIs were there, because their rifles were over their shoulders. Ed and the others began firing with their M-16s and continued to do so as the VC ran through the bushes. It was all over in a few seconds. A scout showed up right after the fire fight to check out the trail with another squad, briefly inspected the scene, and quickly reported one VC KIA and a blood trail heading off into the jungle. They also found bunkers and a stash of arms including about 100 rifles, rocket propelled grenades and launchers, ammo, and documents. Ed sat down and shared a Tootsie Roll with Prince. “It’s going to be a long year,” he said to his canine companion. After all, this had all occurred in the first hour of their first mission.

In mid-October Ed and Prince were transferred to the 47th Scout Dog Platoon, 101st Airborne Division, at Phu Bai (located in Quang Tri Provence on Highway 1 about 7 miles south of Hue.) Prince and Ed had numerous close calls and adventures while accompanying various teams during a vast array of assignments in the combat zone. Prince found any number of mines, bombs, trip wires, booby traps and other items, no doubt saving Ed’s life many times - in addition to the lives of those other soldiers he was scouting for.

With about two months left in Vietnam and his military commitment, Ed gladly accepted a position as a club manager and platoon driver. The good news is that he remained safely on the post, but the bad news was that he wasn’t allowed to visit Prince. That was extremely difficult, as the place wasn’t very big, and they often saw one another. On July 2nd, 1971, Ed finally left Vietnam and flew to Ft. Lewis, Washington. But not before going to see Prince one last time and to give him a big hug and thank you for getting him through his tour alive. There was some talk that the dogs would be allowed to return home with their trainers, but that’s all it was – talk! That was the last time Ed ever saw Prince. Ed was discharged on July 4th at Ft. Lewis and flew home to Columbus on commercial airlines that same day. Only a week later, he was back on his old job in Grove City again.

Ed tried to put his military experiences behind him and rarely talked about them to anyone. He couldn’t get Prince out of his mind, however. He thought about his canine companion all the time and wondered what had become of him. Ed watched the news every day and followed the war. When it was finally over in early 1973 and the troops came home, he learned that the dogs wouldn’t be coming home. They were either given to the South Vietnam Army or euthanized. Ed hoped that Prince had been euthanized, because Vietnamese often ate dogs. In any case, Ed gave up Prince as being dead.

In 1993 some veterans formed an organization called “The Vietnam Dog Handlers Association,” and Ed joined. They had a publication, a newspaper called “Dogman,” and the December of 2006 issue contained an article stating that they now had access to the records of 30,000 military working dogs at Lackland AFB, TX. With a donation to “Nemo’s War Dog Heroes Memorial Project,” they would research a dog. Of course, Ed mailed off a check and awaited the response, which arrived sometime in early 2007. It said that Prince had arrived at Lackland AFB on August 17, 1971 – the month following Ed’s return from Vietnam and discharge. Prince had then been given to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. So Ed wrote to them. He was disappointed when they responded that they had no records prior to 1977. It didn’t surprise Ed that much, because dogs were considered just another piece of equipment to the government. He was content knowing that Prince made it home alive from Vietnam and had found a new job with Customs.  And he didn’t do much else with his search until he became more skilled at how to do research on the Internet.

The card he received from Lackland listed the family who donated Prince to the Army. They had lived in Milaca, Minnesota. Ed researched and found a Facebook page for “Mille Lacs County Times Newspaper” and quickly posted a message summarizing that a family from that area had donated a German Shepherd to the Army in October of 1969, but that he couldn’t read the family’s name. This occurred in April of 2011. Several days later Ed received an e-mail from a reporter who was interested in his story. So he called her, and she ended up writing a newspaper article about Ed’s search for Prince. As a result she called Ed back a few days later and told him that the owner of Prince had passed away in 1983. His son, however, was still in the area and recalls buying the dog for his father on the farm. The reporter listened in on Ed’s phone call to the man and wrote another article about the phone call. It seems Prince simply played too rough with children, and that’s why he was given to the Army.

In September of 2014, after corresponding with the family and exchanging photos and information via e-mail and snail mail with them, Ed drove with his wife Debbie to Milaca to meet with the family. He wanted to express in person his gratitude to those who had donated the dog that safely got him through his tour in Vietnam.  They arrived mid-afternoon, ate a delicious meal, and then talked for several hours. In the conversation, Ed learned that the guy’s sister (now living in Florida) had possession of his dad’s possessions, and one item was from California about Prince. The following month, Ed received a phone message from the family. They had found a photo of Prince, and it had some information on the back of it – a man’s name the date 9/2/1977 and Bonita, California.

After any number of frustrating phone calls, Ed was finally in touch with a former Customs dog handler who knew of Prince. He suggested that Ed contact a Jensen’s Kennel out in California. He googled it, found a phone number and called. The woman who answered the phone knew “Princey” very well. They cared for the Customs dogs, and when Prince retired, they adopted him. He lived with them until he passed away on July 20, 1983, and was buried on the kennel property.

The Customs guy called Ed back and put him in touch with the Customs handler who actually worked with Prince starting in 1974 and until Prince retired. They had both worked narcotics at the San Diego border with Mexico. During the winter Olympics they worked the Canadian border in Vermont. Since then, the two former dog handlers have shared stories and photos from Vietnam and of Prince’s many drug busts.

Approximately 4000 dogs served during the Vietnam conflict. Not only did they serve as sentry dogs, guard dogs, scout dogs, tracker dogs, mine dogs and other specialties, they were a great source of comfort and morale-boosting for the troops. All branches of the military used them (and still do today.) When our troops came home after the fighting ended, only about 200 dogs were returned back to the U.S. It’s truly sad and unfortunate that our government often treats a majority of them as excess equipment when they’re no longer needed. Ed Reeves was one of the lucky ones, finding out 34 years later (after thinking Prince was dead all that time) that the dog who had saved his life on numerous occasions (as well as the lives of countless other troops) lived to fulfill a second career before being retired to live the remainder of his life with a wonderful family.

 

 

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