Grand marshal in this year’s CampGordon Johnston Days Parade was canine warrior Rocky Howard, a decorated veteran of Operation    Desert Storm. Rocky received the Silver Star for valor after being blown 20 feet in the air by an explosive device which killed his handler.

Rocky was severely injured and underwent numerous surgeries during his recovery from the explosion. The government has also provided him with surgical procedures to treat hip dysplasia.

He now lives with Gerry “Howie” Howard, a Vietnam veteran from Coleman, Alabama who served in the 4th Infantry Division. Rocky also shares his home with Monty, a companion canine.

Howard was given custody of Rocky after waiting several years for a retired military dog. When Rocky dies, he will be cremated and his ashes will be taken to his handler’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

Until recently, it was legal and common practice to abandon or put down military working dogs at the end of their useful service. Historically they were viewed as “surplus equipment.”

That mindset has changed dramatically, due in no small part to the public’s growing awareness of how these animals were treated after years of dutiful service. But it was one particular military war dog, Robby, whose fate changed that of other military dogs. 

Robby’s handler sought desperately to adopt Robby on his retirement but was denied permission to do so and Robby was euthanized. Robby’s Law (H.R.5314) was signed by President Bill Clinton in Nov. 2000 and required that all such dogs suitable for adoption be available for placement after their service. – By LOIS SWOBODA