Vietnam Dog Handler Association honors former area man for service
Russell T. Walters now a retired major
HERSHEY — Maj. Russell T. Walters (Ret.), formerly of Lewistown and now of Hershey, was awarded the Warriors Medal of Valor in October for honorable military service. The award was bestowed by the Vietnam Dog Handler Association at a reunion held Oct. 15 in Branson, Missouri.
Walters is a 1969 graduate of Lewistown-Granville High School, and a 1975 graduate of Penn State University. He is married to the former Sue Ellen Griffith, a 1974 graduate of Lewistown High School.
Walters received the award “for valor under fire, service to military working dogs and service to current military dog handlers,” according to the VDHA.
Papers nominating Walters for the award tell his story:
He enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school graduation in 1969, at the age of 17. Walter attended Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Advanced Individual Training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Walters volunteered for Vietnam service, and attended Scout Dog Training at Fort Benning, Georgia, en route to Vietnam.
Then a Private E-2, Walters was assigned to the 62nd Infantry Platoon Combat Trackers as the first veterinarian specialist in the unit. There, he opened a small clinic to attend to the needs of the unit’s Labrador retrievers, as well as the German shepherds deployed forward with the 37th Infantry Platoon Scout Dog.
Although he was not required to participate in combat missions, Walters volunteered to accompany tracker teams on hazardous missions, providing support as a cover man.
At times he was called upon to provide “human” medical duties as well as attending to the dogs.
At the age of 18, Walters attained the rank of Sergeant E-5. He extended his tour of duty in Vietnam, and also served with the 57th IPSD 198th Infantry Brigade; 59th IPSD 11th Infantry Brigade; 63rd IPCT 23rd Infantry Division (Americal); and the 48th IPSD 196th Infantry Brigade (Separate).
In one action, with the 59th IPSD, Walters and two fellow platoon soldiers participated in a combat mission with Charlie 4/21 2nd Platoon 11th Infantry Brigade, which involved a command detonated booby trap, killing nine U.S. soldiers, including Walters’ commanding officer, and the scout dog handler and his dog, as well as wounding 11 others. Wounded himself, Walters refused medical treatment to provide for his fellow soldiers.
After Vietnam, Walters continued his military service by becoming an Army nurse, and was commissioned as an officer.
He added to his resume by attending the Operating Nurse Course at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in Fort Bliss, Texas. He also attended the Air Assault Course at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and Airborne Training at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Walters provided surgical support for the surviving Marines of the Beirut bombing in 1983. In 1989, he participated in Operation Just Cause in Panama, and provided operating room services to the wounded at Howard Air Force Base in Panama City.
Walters deployed to Desert Shield/Storm in August of 1990, providing operating room services with the 47th Field Hospital, and the 1st Forward Surgical Team (Airborne).
He returned to the 44th Medical Brigade at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1991 after the Gulf War, and retired from active duty on Dec. 31, 1992, as a major.
During his career, Walters received 18 combat decorations, as well as 15 other awards related to his military service.
In addition to his military career, Walters authored a teleplay entitled “Let Loose the Dogs of War,” for the weekly television program “Tour of Duty.”
He has also written two novels. “Knight’s Blessing,” deals with his experiences with the five military dog platoons he served with in Vietnam. His second novel, “The Deepest Wounds of War,” examines a returning Vietnam veteran’s struggle with PTSD.
Walters is now working on a third novel, “Tehya 914M,” the life story of a combat scout dog and his handler.
Walters has participated as a Vietnam combat tracker dog handler re-enactor with his black Lab, Sparks. He has also been involved with sending care packages to military working dogs and their handlers overseas, and continues to spread the word about military working dogs among the general public.