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November 20, 2012

A Farmington Hills man works to honor K-9 veterans of war

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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Farmington Hills resident Kenneth Reynolds poses in his paramilitary uniform next to a folder he keeps of his K-9 Veterans Day documents.

FARMINGTON HILLS — It was just days ago that many citizens across the United States took the time to honor American military men and women as part of the annual Veterans Day holiday.

But one man in Farmington Hills says there are some soldiers who are often forgotten during the usual Veterans Day observance — the kind that have four legs instead of two, but who are just as willing to fight for their country’s freedom.

Kenneth Reynolds is a U.S. Army veteran who served for more than 20 years in several areas of the military, including the Signal Corps. But it wasn’t until years after he retired in 1996 that he became acquainted with military working dogs.

Reynolds, who describes himself as “70 years young,” began reading about the K-9 Military Corps about four years ago. Also known as the War Dog Program, the initiative was officially founded on March 13, 1942, and countless canines have been trained and sent into combat to assist human soldiers ever since.

“The more I got involved in it, the more I got interested,” he said. “The thing that sold me on the whole program is that we sent 4,000 dogs to Vietnam and only 278 returned. They’re treated like equipment. They’re expendable, and that broke my heart.”

As he learned more about the war dogs, he became passionate about sharing their story with other Americans. He even volunteered to handle communications for the Michigan War Dog Memorial in Lyon Township.

He decided to take his mission to an even higher level by petitioning government leaders to instate a national K-9 Veterans Day, which would give grateful citizens a chance each year to pay tribute to their canine heroes. And no day would be better in his mind than March 13 — the birthday of the corps.

“I feel very strongly that they served to save and deserve to be remembered. They’ve been fighting alongside of our servicemen and women all the way back to World War I. In World War II, they were credited with saving up to 15,000. That’s 15,000 men and women who wouldn’t have come home if it wasn’t for the dogs.”

Each morning, Reynolds wakes up at 4 a.m. and heads to his computer. He logs online and works to reach out to municipalities nationwide, asking citizens and leaders at every level to support proclamations making March 13 national K-9 Veterans Day. He’s reached out to more than 400 communities through online publications, encouraging readers to contact their local leaders and governors to request a proclamation be made in their state.

It’s a painstaking daily task, but his efforts have slowly begun to pay off. Proclamations have been made in West Virginia, Delaware, Illinois and Michigan, among other states, naming March 13 as K-9 Veterans Day.

Phil Weitlauf is the director of the War Dog Memorial Restoration Team in Lyon Township. He says Reynolds’ assistance has been vital to his mission to revive the memorial, which is about 80 percent complete after two years of volunteer maintenance efforts. He added he’s not at all surprised that Reynolds is having so much success with his K-9 Veterans Day plan.

“We want a day of recognition nationally — that’s our next step. He was the originator of writing up the proclamation, and within six weeks, he got a signature from Gov. Snyder,” said Weitlauf. “It’s a matter of constantly staying on top of it, and Ken’s doing a great job.”

It would seem that political figures around the country would agree with Weitlauf on Reynolds’ dedication. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., has been working closely with Reynolds to push the proclamation through Congress to bring the veteran’s dream to life on a national scale. Peters introduced House Resolution 740 earlier this year, which would designate March 13 as K-9 Veterans Day in the United States.

Jared Smith, who handles communications for Peters, said that Reynolds expressed the idea to the congressman during a town hall meeting at the Farmington Hills Public Library in May.

“I was proud to work with Kenneth Reynolds to introduce a resolution recognizing the countless contributions of America’s military working dogs and their handlers,” said Peters in an email. “America’s K-9 corps risk their lives on the frontlines every day, so I was glad to join with Mr. Reynolds to honor them.”

Reynolds said the current lame duck session of Congress won’t likely pay mind to the resolution, but he thinks next year may be the year that the dogs finally have their day.

“They’ll have two years, so hopefully the 113th Congress will be able to do this,” said Reynolds.

To learn more about the efforts to make March 13 K-9 Veterans Day, visit www.K9VeteransDay.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.