War dog memorial funds raised - KULR8.com | Montana's News Leader | Billings, MT

War dog memorial funds raised

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CODY, Wyo. -

More than $140,000 was raised online to build a memorial to a War dog and his handler form Powell. So much money came in, the memorial was funded in just four hours.

Veterans Day, 2015, a Belgian Malinois, Major Mike was laid to rest in Powell, with full military honors.  He had served two tours of duty in Iraq with retired special operations Sgt. Matthew Bessler, and was Bessler’s service dog when he was shot in front of his home in Powell.

Soon, a larger than life bronze statue of Matt and Mike will be erected at Wyoming’s Veteran’s Memorial Park in Cody.  A recent national online fund raiser brought in $142,000 for the War and Service Dog Memorial.  Chive Charities kicked it off with $60,000. Jona Vanata with Families on the Frontline, worked with them from her computer in Cody.

Vanata said,  “I am responding to those donors and thanking them from Families on the Frontline, and partnering with Chive Charities.”

Vanata said her thank you notes got thank you notes from the donors in return.

She explained, “I would get pictures of other service dogs. Pictures of pets. Pictures of war dogs…”

Matt Bessler is touched by the national outpouring of recognition for his companion.  

He remarked, “It gives me hope that others can see the same thing, and that their dogs will not go unnoticed or unrecognized.

Veteran’s Memorial Park Organizer Buck Wilkerson explained why Major Mike received full military honors.

Wilkerson said, “The dog had been awarded with two bronze stars, and was credited with saving a lot of lives in Iraq.”

Wilkerson started the fundraising for the bronze after a friend brought him an idea right after the service.

Carol Armstrong was having breakfast with Jona Vanata, when she had the idea, “…and we thought, maybe something could be done to remember the dog.”

Matt and Mike were the models for Cody sculptor John Phelps.  Phelps’ son, Chase, was the subject of an award winning HBO film about bringing a fallen warrior home.  

Phelps said his son died in Iraq in 2004, while trying to protect others,  “And he positioned himself between the disabled Humvee so that they could evacuate the wounded out of it.  And then the 2nd Humvee was General Kelly.”

Phelps is known for his military bronzes and art.  So, he was the choice to create the War Dog memorial.

He remarked, “It’s definitely an honor.”

Wilkerson says the memorial will be dedicated in June, 2018. From Cody, Penny Preston, News 13.

More than enough money was raised for the War and Service Dog Memorial. The surplus will be used to start the next project: A memorial to honor women who served or are serving in the United States military.

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