Drafted at age 17 to serve in World War II and conscripted again years later to fight in the Korean Conflict, A.T. has always considered himself very fortunate. Now 88 years old, the Army veteran is hero to Gator, a rescued shelter dog, with whom he shares life’s many blessings.
WWII veteran pressed into service once more in Korea
Prior to his first tour of service in 1942, A.T. married. He and his wife, Wanda, have since enjoyed “71 wonderful years together.” The newlyweds’ time together was cut short by WWII when A.T., an Arkansas native, was assigned to the 8th Army and shipped out to Japan.
During 28 months of brutal combat during WWII, A.T. considered himself fortunate that his unit succeeded “bringing back people alive.” He followed his tour with a stint in the Reserves where he was told he would remain stateside to train new troops. That all changed when his country needed him once more, and A.T. found himself back on the front lines during the Korean Conflict. During those years he served in the 7th Division Company B 32nd Regiment and saw action on multiple fronts. Reflecting on this period of his service, the Army veteran notes that they “fought more Chinese troops than Korean.”
Finally in 1953, the Army let A.T. separate from service – for good. The decorated veteran was honorably discharged and ready to resume life with his wartime bride.
Empty nest emptier after death of beloved dog
During their many years together, A.T. and Wanda traveled extensively while working for companies such as Wonder Bread and Hostess Cupcakes before launching their own office equipment and supply business. The couple settled in Knoxville, a community they have called home for 21 years, to be close to close to their beloved granddaughter who is now 20 years old.
Their children long grown and gone, including a son who served in Vietnam, the couple filled the void with a Doberman Pinscher who they adopted equally for security and companionship. When the dog passed away at nine years of age, A.T. and Wanda felt empty.
“He protected us,” says A.T., “and we missed him so much.”
An advertisement in the local paper for Pets for Patriots changed everything.
The couple was inspired to call the charity for more information, and A.T. subsequently applied to their companion pet adoption program for veterans. Barely two weeks later A.T. got a call from a local Pets for Patriots adoption partner, the Young-Williams Animal Center in Knoxville, to let him know that a recently surrendered dog might be a good fit. A.T. and Wanda went to the shelter immediately to meet Gator, a two year-old Lab-Golden-Australian mix, who tipped the scale at 72 pounds. As both an adult and a large breed dog, Gator was considered at-risk and eligible for benefits through Pets for Patriots.
It didn’t take long for the WWII veteran to realize that Gator was the one. He turned to Wanda and declared, “this is my dog.” For his part, Gator returned the Army veteran’s gaze, looking up at him as though to say, “you’re mine.”
Army veteran a hero to “the most loving thing in the world”
A.T. doesn’t know the big dog’s history, but it doesn’t concern him either. He marvels at Gator’s beautiful coat, which is accentuated by “the most beautiful white tie from his chin down between his front legs that makes it seem like he’s wearing a suit.” A.T. also describes Gator’s eyes – the left one blue and right one brown – as “the prettiest thing.”
Luckily for A.T. and Wanda, Gator is a two-person dog who “loves his mommy and daddy” equally. When Wanda leaves the house Gator “stands by the living room window until she pulls back into the driveway.” He’s been a model dog and most wonderful companion for this older couple and, like his beloved predecessor, offers unconditional love with a measure of protection and security as well.
It turns out that A.T. and Wanda weren’t the only ones in the family to adopt Gator. The dog has been welcomed by the couple’s two Chihuahuas, 13 year-old Buffy and seven year-old Maggie. Even their cat, Samba, has taken to the once homeless dog.
“They love each other,” says A.T. of this unlikely pair. “Love” is a word A.T. uses often to describe his new best friend.
“He’s never done anything wrong,” he says, and is “the most loving thing in the world.”
The WWII veteran notes that, for an older couple, having a dog like Gator is “the most valuable thing you can have in your home,” giving them peace of mind and companionship. But above all, Gator is much more than a loyal sentinel.
“He’s the closest thing to a human being,” says A.T., “and loyal friend.”
In what ways is your pet your best and most loyal friend?