By Joe Beck
His name was Chips, a German Shepherd trained at Front Royal whose long forgotten heroism on a World War II battlefield appears on its way to being memorialized in an unlikely place: the Virginia General Assembly.
Amid hard feelings over transportation funding, legislative redistricting and voter identification laws, a resolution saluting Chips and other dogs trained for military duties has breezed through the House of Delegates, 96-0, and is now working its way through the Senate.
The resolution calls for designating March 13 and the same day every year thereafter as K-9 Veterans Day in Virginia in honor of Chips and 15 quartermaster dog platoons that served in Europe and the Pacific during World War II.
The military established its first training center for the dogs off of U.S. 522 in Front Royal in August 1942, and it survives today in the form of a training center for dogs operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Patrick Farris, executive director of the Warren Heritage Society, described the current training grounds as much smaller than the original 5,000-acre site.
The site's role as a military training center for animals was already well established by the time World War II broke out, Farris said. It opened as the Front Royal Remount Depot in 1913 for training horses and mules, according to Farris. It was also used to conduct experiments to improve veterinary medicines for horses and mules, he added.
Farris said one dog that ran away from the training base during World War II was later spotted in Front Royal and was joked about as a draft dodger by residents of the day.
"There are recorded anecdotes in town of people being not just aware of the dog training program, but being highly aware of and approving of the people training there," Farris said.
Greer Garson, a British movie star with a big box office during World War II, visited the dogs and their trainers during a stop in Front Royal.
The site closed after World War II, but much of it was revived in the 1970s as a research zoo for the Smithsonian Institute.
"In essence, the Remount base never closed," Farris said. "It's still open today, but it's much smaller and trains dogs instead of horses."
Del. John A. Cox, R-Ashland, is the chief legislative sponsor of the K-9 Veterans Day resolution. Buddy Fowler, his legislative aide, said much of the historical information in the resolution came from a dog search and rescue group in Hanover, part of the area Cox represents.
Part of the resolution describes Chips as one of the war's most famous dogs and the savior of countless lives. The resolution states he earned his acclaim by attacking an enemy machine gun emplacement "and, despite being shot, continued to attack the enemy, forcing the entire crew to surrender."
The resolution also commends modern day dogs that work with the military and law enforcement agencies such as the Secret Service, Border Patrol and local police departments.
Fowler said he expected the resolution to win easy approval.
"We haven't had any opposition yet," Fowler said. "These things, everybody kind of supports it. Nobody's going to vote against dogs unless it's a pronoun for a bad bill."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org