Seventy-five years ago, on November 1, 1943, the 1st Marine War Dog Platoon stormed the beach at Bougainville, Solomon Islands. Twenty-four dogs landed with the Marines and the 2nd Marine Raider Regiment (Provisional) – three were German Shepherd messenger dogs, the other twenty-one were Doberman Pinscher silent scout and sentry dogs. Two of the messenger dogs, Thor and Jack, were handled by Pvt. Homer J. Finley, Jr. This is Homer’s story, now age 93, as told to Robin Hutton.
I went into the Marine Corps in 1942 and signed up for a four-year hitch. I was 17-years-old when I went in, and stationed in Jacksonville, Florida – a long way from Elmira, New York.
I loved dogs my whole life, so when I heard that the Marines were looking for volunteers for a job involving dogs, I volunteered and moved to Front Royal, Virginia. because that’s where all the dogs were coming in – and it was also closer to home.
You wouldn’t believe all the different dogs we worked with – a lot of them were pure bred and all sizes and shapes. The first thing we had to do was have the veterinarians check them over, and then we took care of their feeding, watering, cleaning up – everything.
Initially we started training them with the basic commands – down, sit, stay, come – and it was real exciting.
When we thought our dogs were well trained in the basics, they had us tell our dogs to “sit” and “stay” and we marched away from them.
Eventually I was shipped back to Jacksonville, Florida with three well-trained watch dogs who attacked on command. At night we’d take the dogs out on certain guard posts.
One day I was called into Marine Headquarters and was transferred to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Here’s where we got into serious dog training for combat, and that’s where the 1st Marine War Dog Platoon was originated.
The Marine Corps used German Shepherds and Doberman Pinchers. Our platoon had three German Shepherd messenger dogs – Caesar, Thor and Jack – and each had two handlers. That’s where I worked mostly. And that’s how I ended up going into combat.