It was dog's day, too

Army veteran Bill Schroeder thinks it only fitting that he pay respect each year to a scout dog that saved his skin more than once in Korea.

Published May 30, 2006

SAFETY HARBOR - Bandit has been a part of the family for as long as the Schroeder children can remember.

Though they never met him, Erick Schroeder and his sister, Kristi Oakman, can tell you the stories.

Like the time Bandit possibly saved their dad's life in Korea. Or, how, in the dead of winter, Bandit shielded their father from a piercing wind atop a lonely mountain.

So every Memorial Day, Bill Schroeder takes the family to Veterans Memorial Marina Park to place a small American flag and a dog biscuit on a brick honoring Bandit.

"He always talked about Bandit,'' said Oakman, 22. "At Christmas. If we were fishing. I never met him, but he's always been a part of the family."

Schroeder, 57, spent three years in the Army. Much of that time was with Bandit, a German shepherd scout dog. In 1967 and 1968, the two guarded the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea.

When it was time for Schroeder to leave Korea, he wanted to bring Bandit with him. But the dog, originally from Texas, had acquired a disease native to the Orient. So Schroeder was not allowed to bring him back.

"The thing is, they served, too, but there is no Memorial Day, no taps, no flags to drape across their caskets,'' Schroeder said. "There is no cemetery for them to lay beside their comrades.''

Schroeder lost his only photos of Bandit when his house flooded in a storm.

To pay homage to the dog, Schroeder, a retired police officer, put a brick at the Veterans Memorial Marina Park with Bandit's name on it. Bricks at the memorial honor those from Safety Harbor who have served the country. Bandit's brick reads: Bandit 284F, U.S. Army Scout Dog, Korea DMZ.

"He was my partner,'' Schroeder said. "I know people might think it's weird that I would leave a dog biscuit. But it's just something I do. I read my mail to him. The trouble is, he never got the chance to get to come home.''

Dogs have played important military roles since World War I. In Vietnam, 4,000 dogs sniffed out the enemy and saved lives, according to the U.S. War Dogs Association. The dogs could smell the trip wire to a homemade bomb and could hear the slightest rustle of the brush. Dogs are serving today in Iraq.

In an effort to recognize the contributions that military dogs have played, a U.S. Dog Memorial has been built at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Vietnam Era Educational Center in New Jersey. A dedication service will be June 10.

Erick Schroeder, 25, remembers one of his father's Bandit stories. His father was sitting outside a military vehicle. Bandit's ears shot up and his nose pointed. Bill Schroeder didn't hear a thing, but he unleashed Bandit. The next thing he heard was screaming. Bandit had nabbed a Korean man who was trying to steal diesel fuel.

And then there was the time when Schroeder says Bandit saved his life. While Schroeder was half-asleep in a jeep with Bandit in the back seat, a man came up behind them. Bandit heard the man and took him down, giving Schroeder time to draw his weapon. Military police took the man away.

"I don't know what happened to the man,'' said Schroeder, a father of four, grandfather to nine. "But I do believe, if it wasn't for Bandit ..."

"Bandit was always by my side,'' he said.

He looked down at Bandit's brick.

The one next to it is inscribed with Schroeder's name.

"He's still by my side."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.