The Canine Angel That Saved a Soldier

How one veteran was blessed by man's best friend—in peace and in war.

by
- Posted on Nov 14, 2015

Jon Holden and Minka take time out of jeep patrol for mail call.

The eight of us slipped quietly as we could through the rolling German countryside. We were the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Unit, the eyes and ears of the Army Infantry, one of the storied divisions that battled Hitler’s army across northern Europe.

The fighting had grown ever more fierce in October 1944, as we crossed the Luxembourg border into Germany. On this night, our job was to scout the German lines and report back on how many troops they had, how many tanks, and the number and size of their big guns.

But something went wrong. The Germans spotted us as we approached a small village, and let loose a wall of fire with their deadly, 88 mm guns. All of us ran for cover. I headed for an old barn.

I found a dark corner, sat down and waited out the thunderous artillery assault, unable to stop shivering.

After a while, I realized I wasn’t alone. A small mutt, weighing maybe 30 pounds, stared at me with fear in his eyes, quivering just like me. Lord, please get me through this, I prayed. The dog looked like he was praying right along with me.

I cuddled up with him and we rode out the shelling together.

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When the firing ended, I walked to my jeep and the dog followed me. I was amazed we were both still alive. I picked him up and put him in my jeep. He rode with me back to headquarters, where I introduced him to my buddies. My good luck charm, I thought.

I called him Minka, after a 1930s song that I loved. Minka stuck to me like my shadow. I guess we were meant to be together. Soon, nothing could separate us.

One day, our team was scouting the outskirts of a village when Minka started to murmur. He’s warning us, I thought. We took cover. Sure enough, German troops were camping nearby. “You stay quiet now,” I told him.

I spoke to him in German, because I figured he’d been trained in that language. He never made another peep. After that, the boys were sold on him. Minka accompanied us in my jeep on all our missions.

Only once did we become separated. Orders came down from command. We had five minutes to pull out. Minka had gone off, wandering. I couldn’t find him. When we broke camp, I was distraught. Soon we had advanced 30 miles.

I felt like I’d lost not just my little brother, but my protector. It was my lowest moment during the war.

I prayed for a miracle to bring us back together, and I guess the Lord heard me, because two days later someone from the division found him and drove him to our outfit. Oh, what a reunion we had!

After that, I tried never to let Minka out of my sight. Minka seemed to feel the same about me. We grew so close that throughout the snowy winter, as we fought the Battle of the Bulge, we even slept together. Minka would crawl into my sleeping bag and curl up at my feet.

In some ways, the worst part of the war for me was when I received orders to return home. You see, we were forbidden to take animals aboard our transport ship. I know it sounds silly now, but I actually considered staying in Europe rather than leave Minka behind.

I came up with a plan. But I needed Minka’s help. If I could pack him into my barracks bag and train him to keep still and silent, I could carry him onto the ship and none of the ship’s officers would know.

I practiced with him for days, to no avail. I just couldn’t get through to him. Not in German, not in English. The day we were to ship out from La Havre, France, I was in a panic. At the dock, out of view of the officers, I tried one more time.

“Okay,” I said to Minka in German, “this is it. You stay quiet or else you can’t come.”

He looked at me in that way that dogs do, to make it seem they understand. And then he crawled to the bottom of my barracks bag and never made a move, never uttered a sound.

Aboard the ship, the guys and I surreptitiously fed him from our rations. I cleaned up the steel deck after him. When we landed in New York, back he went into the barracks bag. I didn’t have to warn him.

Once we were on land again, all bets were off. Minka sprang out of the bag and ran back and forth, celebrating like it was New Year’s.

Minka and I lived another 11 years together, back at home in North Carolina with my wife and our three children. They were among the happiest years of my life. People who hear my story say it’s so touching that I saved Minka. “No,” I tell them. “Minka saved me.”

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