Who knows how many tears were shed and deep feelings shared along the 400-foot-long Wall That Heals during its short stay on Marco Island from February 20-23?
Many of those memories centered around comrades and family members lost in battle, whose names appear on the Wall. For one Vietnam Veteran, a visit to The Wall That Heals brought back memories of his best friend, whose name doesn’t appear on the Wall.
Terry Kehoe, a Naples resident, was a Scout Dog Handler in Vietnam. Kehoe was drafted in 1969 and served in Vietnam during 1970 and 1971.
“I went to my advanced infantry training and they showed us about scout dogs,” Kehoe explained. “I didn’t know anything about scout dogs. I volunteered and was accepted and went for training at Fort Benning with another German Shepherd.
“Once I completed my training I went to Vietnam and they assigned me Prince. We walked point for the infantry. That was our job. When our line went down a trail or something like that, Prince was first and I was right behind him. We were the bounty.
“They said the North Vietnamese had a bounty on us. But they didn’t get us.”
It is a sad irony for Kehoe that the enemy didn’t kill Prince, but his own government did.
“Unfortunately,” Kehoe began, “in their infinite wisdom, the military wouldn’t let the dogs go home. They said it was because of diseases, but in reality, it was because they were looked at as excess equipment—like pushing a helicopter off of an aircraft carrier or something.
“I left Vietnam in April of 1971 to come back to the states. I gave Prince to another handler thinking he’d be there for his tour and that he and Prince would be good. Then in July of 1971, our unit was disbanded. They had orders to send the dogs, forty of them, to the main vet clinic in Saigon to be reassessed and reassigned. A lieutenant I met two years ago found out after the fact that all forty of them were euthanized.”
Kehoe regularly attends post-traumatic stress disorder group meetings. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event—in this case, warfare. Symptoms may include disturbing thoughts, feelings, or dreams related to the events.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in some PTSD groups,” he said. “Every week we get together—and I also do some one-on-one counseling at the Vet Center. Without that, I’d probably be on that part over there that says In Memory. There’s 22 veterans that commit suicide every day around the country. I didn’t want to become one of those, so I went for help. It’s been terrific, terrific.”
Memories of Prince are part of Kehoe’s everyday life. He thinks of his scout dog every day.
“Many times a day,” Kehoe affirmed. “I carry him around with me.”
At that point, Kehoe removed his cap to reveal a picture of he and Prince together placed inside the dome.
“I have that picture in my wallet, a smaller one. Any time someone mentions a dog, I pull that picture out of Prince and me.
“I don’t carry this in my hat all the time, because I’m not always wearing a hat. I have many, many pictures of Prince on the wall above my desk. So I basically see him every day. Think about him every day.”
Kehoe’s visit to The Wall That Heals has truly been cathartic for Kehoe.
“Today has been phenomenal for me because I’ve been talking to so many people about Prince. I look at it two ways. First of all, I want to get the information out to people. But also, it’s part of my therapy. Every time I talk about it, it gets better. I still get choked up about certain things,” Kehoe explained, starting to cry. “Like now. But overall, it’s a win-win thing for me and for those who are learning about scout dogs.
“Most people don’t know that we had dogs out in the field with the infantry. They think about a guard dog around a perimeter of an airbase or something like that. And they’re wonderful, they do a great job. But most people don’t know about scout dogs. Different thing altogether. Many of the people who have been here have been Vietnam Veterans who didn’t know about this. It’s amazing. Unless they were in the infantry, out in the field and saw it, they wouldn’t know about it.”
Kehoe’s bond with Prince is the closest bond he has ever experienced.
“Prince and I was the closest bond I ever had with any living item,” Kehoe stated, grasping for the right word. “I want to call him a person. My wife knows that the bond I had with Prince was much closer to the bond I have with her. We’ve been married 43 years.”
How does one explain such a bond between a handler and his scout dog?
“I think the bond is so tight because we took care of each other in a combat zone,” Kehoe explained. “He kept, not just me, but many, many others alive. In fact, the estimate by us dog handlers is that if it weren’t for scout dogs, there would be 10,000 more names on the Wall. That’s how effective they were. He was true to me. I could run around here and he’d be right with me if he was here. He was not going to get away from me. In fact, he was a very docile dog. If he was here, you could pet him. But at nighttime out in the field, I would tie him to my rucksack on a leash. Normally he was not on a leash. I told everybody, don’t get within the perimeter of that rucksack because Prince was trained to protect me. He would do anything to protect me—and those with us.”
Kehoe cried when he recalled the day he said goodbye to his best friend.
“When I said goodbye to Prince,” Kehoe said through tears, “this is the tough part. I have a picture of him—I don’t have it with me now. I hugged him. I’ve got a picture of that. I have a picture of him behind the gate of the kennel, and he’s got his ears down. It’s like he was saying, ‘What are you doing?’ That’s what I remember. The last time I saw him 49 years ago. It is still right here.” Kehoe then pounded his fist over his heart. “I don’t know how to explain it or anything other than that.”