Members of the Richard I. Bong American Legion Post 435 will say goodbye to one of their own at the Friday, Aug. 21, with a Flag of Remembrance Ceremony in front of the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center.
A missing man ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. in memory of Sarge, the German shepherd who attended funerals and events with the post’s Honor Guard for the past 10 years.
“He attended over 400 funerals with us and that’s not counting the socializing we did at schools and functions,” said post member Ron Cain, an Army veteran. “He was always there beside us.”
The canine ambassador visited schools, homes, cemeteries and local restaurants with his owner, Denny Bee.
Bee said Sarge was a favorite among local children, who got to know him during flag etiquette classes the Honor Guard hosted at schools.
“Just about every kid in town knows him,” said Bee, a Vietnam veteran. “We did two schools in one day. He had, I think, over 1,000 kids pet him in one day. Everybody loved him.”
The 101-pound German shepherd was a gentle giant, intelligent and calm. Sarge walked in parades, attended flag raising ceremonies and was a steady presence at veteran funerals.
He often helped put people at ease and brought them joy, said Dan Williams, executive director of the American Red Cross Serving Northern Minnesota and Douglas County.
“Sarge was a great combination of a dignified presence honoring our veterans along with being a goofy, loveable sweetheart that could bring out a smile in even the most hurting hearts," Williams said.
The last funeral Sarge attended was about two weeks ago. The 12-year-old dog had been suffering from hip dysplasia for a year, but his front legs had gotten weak. The family said goodbye to Sarge Monday, Aug. 17.
“It was tough, but I told my wife when he couldn’t walk anymore it was time,” Bee said.
An Army veteran and former post commander, Bee began bringing Sarge along to meetings when he joined the legion about 11 years ago.
‘We’d have coffee on Tuesdays and he got to know the guys, and the guys really liked him,” Bee said.
He started training the pup to join the team, desensitizing Sarge to the sound of rifle shots by bringing him along to cemeteries and leaving him in the vehicle.
“Once he got used to it and he didn’t jump, I started taking him out,” Bee said. “He’d be right by my side.”
That’s where he stayed for the next decade.
“He was part of the team, and it was like we’d attend a function and the attendees to the function wouldn’t know we were there. All the attention was on Sarge,” Cain said. “He was just that type of dog.”
Having a canine Honor Guard member was especially beneficial at funerals where children were present. Bee would bring Sarge over to them once the ceremony was through.
“I let the kids pet him and it would kind of break it up a little for the family, kind of take the tears away just for a few minutes anyway, because all the kids loved him of course,” Bee said.
The Superior man’s history with military dogs dates back to his service days as a combat engineer, where he had a mutt named Charlie.
Because of the advanced hearing dogs have, Charlie would warn the soldiers about incoming attacks, Bee said.
“He saved the platoon’s life more than once. They can hear a rocket go off or a mortar go off way before you do. He would alert everybody, and if we were in a base camp, we’d have time to get in the bunker before the mortars started hitting,” he said.
Bee plans to continue the service dog tradition. He’s currently training a 2-year-old German shepherd, Gunner, to join the Honor Guard.
But Sarge will always be remembered for his sense of humor, his love of donuts and his gentle presence.
“Everybody knew him,” Bee said.
The public missing man ceremony for Sarge will take place following the raising of the Flag of Remembrance at 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 21. Anyone who knew him is welcome to come.