Skip Navigation and Jump to Page Content    The Library of Congress >> American Folklife Center  
Veterans History Project (Library of Congress) ABOUT  
SEARCH/BROWSE  
HELP  
COPYRIGHT  
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Donald R. Walton [7/19/2002]

Ingrid Lief:

This is Ingrid Lief. I am the oral historian of the Stanford Historical Society in Stanford, Connecticut. Today is Friday, July 19, 2002. I am interviewing Donald Walton, whose dog, Lucky, served in the Marine Corps at the time of the Second World War. We are in Stanford, Connecticut. Mr. Walton, will you tell us about Lucky's background, his breed, how you acquired him, how old he was when you got him, and Lucky's story as a Marine Corps war dog in the Second World War.

Donald R. Walton:

Well, we were very lucky. I had a colleague and friend by the name of Doug Springer. And he bred his German shepherd bitch, and he gave us a pup, an eight-week-old male. And the dog was lucky to join our family, and we were lucky to have him. And so we named him Lucky.

Ingrid Lief:

And where did you get him?

Donald R. Walton:

Well, we were living in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, at the time. And the dog was born there, and all his early years with us were in Tamaqua. We lived out in a rural area known as Owl Creek, and he was given the freedom to run and roam. He learned his basic commands very early; he was very intelligent, very sharp. And he loved the outdoors, and he was free to roam.

Ingrid Lief:

And how was it that he became a war dog? Where -- where was he enlisted?

Donald R. Walton:

Well, he was enlisted in Camp Lejeune, South Carolina (sic, North Carolina). It looked as though our family was going to be broken up. My wife and I had an infant son. I had passed the Navy physical test, and I was told by the Navy that it would be only a few days before I would be a member of that service. I told the boss that I had to go, and he said, "Don't worry about it." But it was obvious that our family would be broken up by the war, and my wife and son would have to go live with her family in Washington, D.C., which was a city. And there was really no place for the dog there. There was no -- no way they could care for him, and there was no way in which I could take him with me into the service. So we had to do something about taking care of the dog while our family was broken up. And the Marines were desperate for dogs. They were asking and pleading with people to enlist their dogs. And as soon as I called the Marine Corps, they came right back to me and said, "Yes, we want your dog."

Ingrid Lief:

And how old was he at the time?

Donald R. Walton:

He was a year-and-a-half old. He knew all his basic commands, and he was very much a family dog.

Ingrid Lief:

And where did he go for his training?

Donald R. Walton:

We put him on a train in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, which was a dingy, coal mining town. And the train dropped him off at Camp Lejeune, South Carolina (sic). And he received his basic training there.

Ingrid Lief:

Was he alone on the train? I mean, who picked -- who was he --

Donald R. Walton:

He was -- he was in a crate marked "USMC Devil Dog." All of the dogs at that time were known as Devil Dogs. And that was because, originally, many of the Marines were known as Devil Dogs, themselves. Later on during the war, the official designation was changed to War Dog. And I think that’s because the Army also had dogs in the service.

Ingrid Lief:

And they called them War Dogs, too?

Donald R. Walton:

Yes. At the time he was discharged, he was called a War Dog. But when he went in, he enlisted as a Devil Dog.

Ingrid Lief:

And do you have any record or knowledge about his training at Camp Lejeune?

Donald R. Walton:

The best description of the training is in a book by Captain William Putney called, "Always Faithful." He is the officer who was in charge of training the dogs there, and he led the first two platoons of dogs and handlers into the invasion of the Island of Guam. He did not personally train our dog, but he prepared the program by which the dogs were trained.

Ingrid Lief:

Did you have any contact or knowledge during the war as to where Lucky was?

Donald R. Walton:

Oh, yes. The Marines were wonderful. At the time he completed his basic training, they wrote and told us that he had passed his basic training, had been promoted to Private First Class, and was being sent out to the Pacific Theater as a replacement for a casualty. Well, we were pleased that he had passed his rigorous training, but we didn't exactly like the idea of replacing a casualty. So we know that his first action in the Pacific was really a final training. It was searching out hidden Japanese soldiers who had taken refuge in caves on Guam. And because the dogs were so sensitive to the presence of people, the dogs were used to find those hidden soldiers who were armed and dangerous.

Ingrid Lief:

What year was this?

Donald R. Walton:

Well, that was 1945. Guam had already been taken, but the Japanese soldiers had held out in the caves.

Ingrid Lief:

And how long was he in Guam? Do you know that?

Donald R. Walton:

No, I don't; but it wasn't very long. They needed the dogs farther west in the amphibious invasions of the islands of the Pacific.

Ingrid Lief:

And he was a part of those invasions?

Donald R. Walton:

Yes, he was.

Ingrid Lief:

And you have record of that, and you know that?

Donald R. Walton:

We received a letter from his handler, which gave us particulars on that. Unfortunately, that letter has been lost in all of our moves and so on. But our memories are pretty good on what he told us.

Ingrid Lief:

What -- did he write periodically about what Lucky was doing?

Donald R. Walton:

No, but the Marine Corps did.

Ingrid Lief:

So -- so you know what happened in the Pacific, too?

Donald R. Walton:

We -- we had a lot of notification from the Marine Corps, and they even told us that we could write directly to the handler. All we had to do was address an envelope to Lucky, Serial No. 651, at a certain Army Post Office number in the -- I guess in San Francisco, and that that letter would eventually be delivered to Lucky's handler. We thought about that pretty deeply. And we thought, perhaps, since we were being moved around and everything was so uncertain in our family situation, and we thought since we had actually given away the dog that, perhaps, it wasn't a good idea to keep up that correspondence.

Ingrid Lief:

Pursue it, uh-huh. But did they tell you about his behavior during these days at Guam and west of there?

Donald R. Walton:

The handler's letters were really in quite good detail on what happened.

Ingrid Lief:

And you say there is a record? The Marine Corps has a record of those letters?

Donald R. Walton:

I don't know what the Marine Corps has. I have not seen the Marine Corps files.

Ingrid Lief:

Would they let you look at them? Do you suppose you'd like to?

Donald R. Walton:

It might be possible. I don't know whether they still exist.

Ingrid Lief:

Uh-huh.

Donald R. Walton:

But it might be possible.

Ingrid Lief:

And how long was it, now, that he was in the Pacific, as far as you know?

Donald R. Walton:

Well, from the time he went to the Pacific, he was there through all of the island-to-island invasions. And when Japan finally surrendered, no one knew if that was for real or not, because the Japanese had been so tricky in the beginning of the war. So when the Marines made their first landing on the mainland -- on the main islands of Japan, they were all ready for battle. It was an amphibious landing, backed up by the Navy and all their guns. The only difference was that there was no artillery preparation. And the battle-hardened Marines landed ready for anything then.

Ingrid Lief:

With the dogs?

Donald R. Walton:

Of course.

Ingrid Lief:

Did you ever hear what happened to Lucky's handler?

Donald R. Walton:

We know that he came home safely. He -- he -- in his letter, he pleaded with us, because he wanted the dog. He was number two in line after the original owner. And he wrote us the most beautiful letter, telling us about his experiences with the dog. And he called him "a sweet dog you could do anything with." And then I had to respond to that. That was, perhaps, the toughest letter I've ever written.

Ingrid Lief:

Really.

Donald R. Walton:

And I put it on the basis that the war was over, and he was returning home to his family. And so Lucky was coming back to his family, too.

Ingrid Lief:

And how long after the war did you receive Lucky?

Donald R. Walton:

Well, we didn't get him back right away. Lucky was used in Japan as part of the occupation forces. And they needed him and the handler to patrol and help in the transition from a war-time condition to a civilian government. And he came back with the very last of the dogs that came back to the country. And we finally -- after he was detrained -- received him in April 1946.

Ingrid Lief:

When you say "detrained," what exactly would that mean?

Donald R. Walton:

{Laughing} The Marines were very good about that, and Mr. Putney was in charge of the detraining. As a matter of fact, our dog was detrained while Mr. Putney was in charge of Camp Lejeune. And I have a letter from him in which he says that he didn't remember our dog, specifically, as an individual, but there was no question that our dog was detrained while he was in command of that group. The dog had to be re-oriented to civilian life. And they did that by letting the dog socialize, not only with other animals but with, also, a lot of people. He had been held in control by one handler throughout his military service. And it was absolutely essential to have him become aware of other people and relate in a normal manner with other people. And this they did in a series of ways; one of which was they romped with the dog. And, indeed, when we finally did get the dog back, the instructions we had were from the Marines that every day we had to romp for 30 minutes with the dog. Believe me, that exercise would wear out anybody.

Ingrid Lief:

Would you tell us what happened when Lucky came back to you.

Donald R. Walton:

That was a thrill. We knew what train to meet. We had moved. We were in a new house in a new city, an area that the dog knew nothing about and had never been. And it was after midnight when the train came into the station in Richmond, Virginia. And I was there. And when the crate was unloaded onto the platform, I spoke his name. And I know he recognized my voice. He gave a very low -- almost a quiet whimper, just like a little whine. Mind you, this dog had been taught never to make a sound -- not to bark, not to growl, no sound of any kind. But as soon as he heard my voice, he couldn't resist that little whimper. And I opened the crate. He ran off to the bushes to take care of the necessary. And then he came roaring back, put both hands on my shoulders and wagging his tail violently. He recognized me.

Ingrid Lief:

How beautiful. That's a beautiful story. And then, when you brought him home, what was his reaction to being at home again?

Donald R. Walton:

That was a classic. It was a house he had never seen. And the only contents that he knew were the furniture and the people -- my wife, my son, and myself. And I let him in the front door and turned the lights on. And, very cautiously, he pussy-footed every inch of that house. He was looking to see if there were any threats anywhere in that house. And then he came back and laid down at my feet.

Ingrid Lief:

Was this part of his training, do you think, that he did this?

Donald R. Walton:

Oh, yes. Oh, I'm quite certain he'd been trained to do that.

Ingrid Lief:

Did you spot any other military training in the first few months or years that he had -- that you had him back?

Donald R. Walton:

Oh, yes.

Ingrid Lief:

And --

Donald R. Walton:

We were told by the Marines two commands never to use. And, of course, we didn't use them. One was obviously the command to attack. And the other one I interpret as the command to guard a prisoner. And, I think, there could be nothing more effective than a dog that guarded a prisoner. In any case, we were very, very careful never to use either of those two commands. But he was extremely well disciplined. And when he came back, he seemed to have a general air of assurance about him. Not that he was rough or -- or a bully or in any way used his skills against people or dogs. It was just that he seemed to know what he was about. And, no matter what, he never got lost. He was given free rein. We never put him on leash. We never locked a door or a window. We knew as long as he was there, everything was perfectly secure. And he felt it was his job to look after our son. And when the second baby came along, he made it his personal job to keep close tabs on that baby. As a matter of fact, when the older boy was about three, he loaded his express wagon with a few things that he thought he might need, and he set out and walked down the railroad where we lived, headed for the river about three-quarters of a mile away. And beside him was Lucky. There was only one house between us and the river. And the lady there looked out her kitchen window and saw this expedition headed for the river. And she very wisely detoured the expedition with a few well-placed cookies. And I can recall my wife, who was very concerned. But that dog was with that boy, no matter where he went, and was always willing to keep an eye on him. Later on when the two boys began riding bicycles, the dog would always ride shotgun; he went with them. And if a neighbor dog came out and barked at them, our dog would simply run him back up on his porch. And after the dog had been properly told to stay put, {laughing} Lucky came back and resumed his job of going along with his boys.

Ingrid Lief:

Do you think that this was because of his training or because of his love of the children or a combination?

Donald R. Walton:

It has to be a combination. He had been disciplined, and he knew he had some duties to perform when he was in the Marines. And I think he took it on himself that there were certain duties that he had to perform when he was a civilian, again. Not that we forced him to do any of these things. He just had a basic intelligence that he had a responsibility. This was his family.

Ingrid Lief:

So you don't think that this came from the Marine Corps? This was because he was an intelligent person -- dog. He almost sounds like a person. And he got a Ph.D. or the equivalent thereof in the Marine Corps. And so he was his guardian -- the children's guardian and the guardian of the house.

Donald R. Walton:

Well, I have to think that there was a mutual dependence between him and his handler and the other Marines. And I think that he learned, really, to look after his handler while he was in the Marines. And it may be that that carried over into his civilian life.

Ingrid Lief:

Yes.

Donald R. Walton:

He certainly had a very close relationship with his handler. And whenever he saw anyone in uniform, he wanted to go up and see who it was. He was hoping that someday he would meet his handler again.

Ingrid Lief:

So he never exhibited any negative qualities that he might have learned to exhibit -- to do in the Marine Corps when he was at war?

Donald R. Walton:

We were very lucky. When he came back, he kind of took a leading place among the local town of some pets, but he didn't attain that by malice. He just had a degree of self assurance that other animals and dogs looked up to. I must tell you one particular instance. As a special treat, sometimes we would give the dog a bone, and he loved bones. And he took the bone and would lay down in the middle of our front yard on the grass and chewing on the bone. And when he was pretty well satisfied, he'd wonder off, leaving the bone there. And in the neighborhood, there was a very rough, tough, ugly mongrel who'd been cruising the neighborhood for food and so forth for quite some time -- didn't belong to anybody, just a mongrel. And I looked out the window and saw the mongrel come, spot the bone, and lay down in our front yard, eating Lucky's bone. And I thought to myself, "Do I dare go out there and try to take it away from him?" And I thought, "No. That wouldn't be the right thing to do." And while I was thinking that, I heard a bellow. And our dog was clear over at the edge of our property, and he could see what was going on in his front yard. And he roared, and he came charging, absolutely full speed, flank speed. And this huge mongrel looked up and saw death and destruction approaching. He just had time to roll over on his back and put all four feet in the air. And Lucky skidded to a stop and rigidly walked -- paced slowly around the dog. And when he turned his head aside, that mongrel took off

Ingrid Lief:

{Laughing}

Donald R. Walton:

But instead of a battle, no problem.

Ingrid Lief:

His presence was enough.

Donald R. Walton:

He was so respected in the area that no dog wanted to challenge him.

Ingrid Lief:

Would you say that he was like that before he was enlisted? That he was a personality --

Donald R. Walton:

He always was a personality, but he was never as mature or as self confident before he went. He was only a year-and-a-half when he went in the service. He had an experience in the open -- in woods and waters and countryside. He knew where he was all the time. He never got lost. When he was six months old, we visited my in-laws' house in Washington. And we wanted to keep him in the house so he wouldn't get lost. It was a city, with a lot of houses and streets; everything looked the same. But, unfortunately, somehow the door was left open, and he got out and disappeared. And I went out and whistled and called. He was wonderful; he would come when I called him. But he didn't hear me; he was gone. And I felt so badly, because a six-month-old dog in a strange city might never show up again. So I got in the car and drove around. I covered every block, every place I could think of that he might be. And so I was very sad and very unhappy, and I drove home. And there he was on the front porch, waiting for me.

Ingrid Lief:

That's a wonderful story. Is there anything else that you would like to say about Lucky that I haven't asked you about?

Donald R. Walton:

Yes. There are some things that he did after he came home that I think were directly related to his service in the Marine Corps. The Marines, especially those who went through the amphibious landings and terrible battles, certainly experienced the hazards of gunfire and water. And when Lucky came home, he was quite protective of our children. As small boys do, they loved to play with cap pistols. And when the boys were out in the yard playing with cap pistols, Lucky would come to me and put his head in my lap, pleading with me to tell them not to shoot at each other. And when we went on vacation, we went down to Virginia Beach -- lovely, gently sloping beach with all white sand and very little in the way of wave action on Chesapeake Bay. And the boys and I, when they were very small, used to go in the water and play in the shallows. Lucky didn't like the idea of these boys being in the water. And he would go off to the side and swim out and then swim over and then swim in from the deeper water toward to the boys and try to push them in towards shore. Now he didn't get any training from me to do that. He just knew that water was dangerous, and he didn't want these boys exposed to deep water.

Ingrid Lief:

That's wonderful. What a treasure he was.

Donald R. Walton:

Oh, he was a delight.

Ingrid Lief:

What happened to him, eventually?

Donald R. Walton:

Well, eventually, he -- he reached old age. He lived to be 14 years old, which is quite old for a dog of that breed and especially for one who had had such a rugged life. But he -- he was finally put to sleep at the age of 14.

Ingrid Lief:

Have you anything to add?

Donald R. Walton:

Yes. There are some things which came to us from Lucky's handler. His handler really wanted Lucky. And in his letters to us, he gave us quite a bit of information about Lucky during the war. One of the important things was that Lucky was never surprised by enemy people. He always sensed their presence. One of the favorite tactics of the Japanese was a night bannzai attack to try to overrun a position of the Marines -- throw them into confusion and do a lot of damage to them. When the handler went to sleep, he slept with the palm of his hand under the throat of Lucky. Lucky had been taught never to bark or growl. But if he sensed anything out of the ordinary at night, his throat would vibrate in a silent growl, which would awaken the handler. And the handler, then, roused the other Marines. And they were never, ever surprised by a bonzi attack by the Japanese. And the presence of the dog was such an important matter to the other Marines that the handler threw away his own shovel. All the Marines dug holes when they always took cover. But the handler never dug a hole, and neither did Lucky. The other Marines dug two extra holes. They wanted Lucky right with them.

Ingrid Lief:

That's amazing; that's amazing. How did you make a civilian out of Lucky?

Donald R. Walton:

Well, that was easier than it should have been. Lucky, when he was in the service, was fed three pounds of food a day, and two pounds of that was meat. And when Lucky came back to us, we had all these instructions from the Marine Corps about his feeding and the romping and so forth. And one of the instructions was to feed him the way he was fed in the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, while we could provide three pounds of food a day, our family ration of meat was two pounds of meat per week. So it was necessary to make a civilian out of him, as far as diet was concerned.

Ingrid Lief:

{Laughing} Quickly, uh-huh.

Donald R. Walton:

Another thing about his return -- we never really recognized how effective the Marine training was. When he came back, he spent the night with us. And the next morning, I had to go to work. And we had an acre of ground. And a half acre was surrounded by a high fence, which had kept in goats which the previous owner of the property had had. There was a spring there and plenty of fresh water for him. And I put him in that enclosure, figuring that when I got back from work in the afternoon, we would romp and feed him and so forth. And I took off for work. And 15 minutes after I left for work, he was at the front door, asking to come in the house. He went up and over that fence, and it was not a barrier to him. But I have to tell you the classic story. We had very good friends and neighbors. And on the other side of them was an older couple who had a white female spitz, a beautiful dog. And every year when her dog -- when the dog came into season, they would close her up in an old garage. It didn't have any windows. The only opening other than the main door was a tiny little square opening just under the V of the roof, which had originally had slats in it to provide ventilation. And so when the dog came in season, they would quickly put her in that until the period was over. And one day our next-door neighbor lady came over, and she was laughing so hard. I could not get her to tell me why she was laughing so hard. "Mamie, what are you trying to tell me?" And, finally, she told me that she had seen Lucky coming out of that square opening, which was about 14 feet above the ground. And she said, "If there's a puppy, I want one." And, sure enough, there were puppies, and she got one.

Ingrid Lief:

I did want to ask you if he had any descendants, and did you know what happened to them?

Donald R. Walton:

{Laughing} Well, I have no idea, really, what connections he might have made while he was freely roaming the world. I think, with his capabilities, that there are probably some mixed descendants in various places.

Ingrid Lief:

And they're probably as wonderful as Lucky was. I thank you, very much, for doing this interview. It was a great pleasure to talk to you. This is the end of side one, and the end of the tape.

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us