With their specialized training, most war dogs transition relatively easily from one handler to another, knowing their focus should remain on the job they were trained to do rather than whoever’s issuing the commands. But not always.
Rico, a German shepherd, developed an especially close bond with his handler, Staff Sgt. Russ Beckley, during his four years with the Marines, which included two tours in Afghanistan and more than 240 missions.
So when Sgt. Beckley took on a new assignment, one that didn’t include his four-legged war buddy, Rico didn’t take it very well.
He was shipped off to undergo training with a new handler but had such a hard time adjusting that he was forced into retirement in 2012. When Sgt. Beckley got wind of the news, he adopted him and eventually brought him to his parents’ home in Michigan to live out the rest of his life. And that was an adjustment Rico was more than happy to make, maybe since his new “dad,” Sgt. Beckley’s father, had also served in the Marines.
“I was so happy … because Rico didn’t even care that I (wasn’t) there because he was so attached to my father,” he said. “That same love he gave me and that same loyalty … all that went to my father.”
But the years slowly crept up on him, and in June 2016, when Rico was 12 ½ years old, his family made the difficult decision to end his suffering. When most people reach that point, they bring their beloved pets to a vet’s office and say their goodbyes there. But that wasn’t good enough for Sgt. Beckley, who felt his wartime buddy deserved to have his years of dedication and service recognized with full military honors.
“I thought it was special to pay him some sort of tribute,” he said. “He was much more than a pet or dog to me, and to just put him down and put him in a box wasn’t right.”
And so it was that Rico got the full treatment, including a flag-draped coffin and a 21-gun salute. Sgt. Beckley and his father both dressed in full uniform for this truly heartwarming ceremony, and members of the Marine Corps league in Muskegon, Michigan, even turned out to play a solemn version of “Taps.”
Sgt. Beckley and Rico had been separated before for months at a time, but eventually, they always found their way back to each other. They will again this time around, as well, Sgt. Beckley says.
“I can just imagine one day seeing my great-grandfather, my grandfather and my father and mother standing there with Rico, and we’ll all be together again.”
The bond between war dogs and their handlers is like no other, which isn’t surprising since they’re both regularly placing their lives in each other’s hands. Click the video below to hear more about how Sgt. Beckley decided to honor his comrade’s years of loyalty, and share to thank Rico for everything he did to keep our country safe.
WE SALUTE YOU, RICO: A military dog who served numerous tours of duty overseas was given a military burial over the weekend in Saugatuck, Michigan
Posted by WRAL TV on Monday, June 20, 2016
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