CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — It’s hard to describe the tight bond among veterans, but it’s easy to understand the connection between a military working dog and his handler.
When military working dog, Sergeant Fieldy and Marine Corporal Nicholas Caceres first met during training over a decade ago in North Carolina, the attraction was instant.
“He came up to me. I don’t know. He came to me. I was looking for him and alright… There you go,” smiles Caceres.
Twelve years ago while serving in combat in Afghanistan, Sergeant Fieldy, a black lab, and his battle buddy, Corporal Cacerras, were inseparable. They took good care of each other. But Sergeant Fieldy went above and beyond that. He sniffed out and detected roadside bombs, keeping his handler and other Marines alive.
Corporal Cacerras describes Sergeant Fieldy as a hero.
“Everything he did saving lives, going in front, making sure our path was safe,” said Caceres.
After Corporal Cacerras came home from war, Sergeant Fieldy stayed behind, serving two additional tours of combat duty.
In the meantime, Caceres applied for and was granted adoption of Sergeant Fieldy upon his return from the battlefield.
Together, they both retired with the Caceres family in South Texas. They were together for 10 good years.
“You know… He laid around… played with the kids. He was my bird dog too,” said Caceres.
Eventually, Sergeant Fieldy began showing signs that the end of his life was near.
Instinctively, Corporal Cacerras contacted the local veterans cemetery to plan a proper burial for his military working dog. But there was a problem. The VA would not allow it.
“They told me that they couldn’t,” said Caceres. “He was considered an animal, and animals are not allowed to be buried there.”
Caceres didn’t take no for an answer. He wondered why a four-legged combat veteran, who received the same honorable discharge as himself, would be denied.
“He (Fieldy) did his time just like I did. Just like many service members did,” said Caceres.
With time running out, Caceres, with the help of South Texas Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, came up with legislation to change that. The Sergeant Fieldy Act would allow military working dogs to be buried in the same plot as their handler at state or national veteran cemeteries.
Last year, HR 9152 didn’t get far in Congress.
Then, late last year, with a newly elected House of Representatives, Gonzalez refiled a new bill, HR 918.
But time ran out. Sergeant Fieldy had to be laid down two weeks ago. His ashes are now on display in an silver urn at the family home.
In the end, this working dog who gave so much for his country, was not even given proper military honors in return.
“They’re not just a pet. You know it’s not just some random dog that I just can’t let go of. You know he was there (in combat) with us,” said Caceres.
But the story does not end there. That unbreakable bond between a courageous canine and his caring corporal will not be broken, will not be broken. Caceres made this final vow to never give up the fight.
“I’m not asking for too much other than somewhere to lay him to rest,” said Caceres.
There are approximately 1,600 military working dogs on duty right now, supporting all US military branches.
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Contact Veterans In Focus reporter Pat Simon at email@example.com