Key Pen’s Richard a.k.a. “Dick” Dixon is a gentle and incredible man of courage who has had at least a dozen dogs since childhood. Five of them were so extraordinary that he felt compelled to write a book about them. His book, “My Heroes Have Always Been Dogs,” was recently released by PublishAmerica.
Dixon, who has been through the jungles of Vietnam with two of those dogs, started writing the book for his children. His wife, Brenda, urged him to find a publisher. The book is tearful, sad, funny, but very heartwarming for dog lovers and anyone else.
Little Joe, a registered German shepherd, was born in Okinawa, Japan. Dixon was commissioned as a second lieutenant from the University of Washington in 1961 and assigned to Okinawa in 1964. Little Joe was born at the same time and soon became part of the Dixon family for security purposes. Numerous times he saved them from break-ins by house invaders. When Dixon was permanently assigned to Vietnam for combat duties, his family had to return to the States, forcing Brenda to turn Little Joe over to the Army for volunteer K-9 duty. Some months later, Dixon was watching a dog disembark from a helicopter and recognized him as Little Joe. That was the last time Dixon saw his companion, as Little Joe and his trainer disappeared into the jungle. He later learned that a dog fitting Little Joe’s description had been killed in action.
The author returned stateside in 1968, became a major and schooled for another year before being sent back to Vietnam as the leader of an advisory team. The work was near Cambodia, in 2,500 square miles of mountains and jungle. Here, Dixon befriended a dog called Snake, who at one time tripped a mine and barely survived. Together, the two encountered and survived many dangerous and harrowing missions on land and in the air. Snake won an air medal for flying in combat. This intelligent dog was also very sensitive to the enemy and would react when one was near. This saved his master’s life several times. Once Snake took on and fought off a tiger about to attack Dixon, saving his life once again. Dixon eventually had to make the hard decision of leaving Snake in Vietnam, feeling the canine belonged with the team.
On a sunny afternoon in 1970, Dixon was fishing near the Nisqually River when he felt some eyes peeking at him through the bushes. Slowly, a small ball of fur came toward him, all skin and bones with ribs showing. He was named The Bummer on the spot. After taking him home, Dixon discovered that Bummer was part-malamute and some wolf. Not finding an owner, he took the dog in, helping him heal and grow to 120 pounds.
Dixon was reassigned to Alaska in 1972 so he took his son, Chris, and Bummer and drove the Al-Can Highway in record cold, encountering exciting and memorable experiences along the way. For three years, he made several transfers and in 1979, back in Alaska, was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He eventually moved to Minnesota, which became Bummer’s final resting ground.
After 20 years in the Army, Dixon went to Fort Bragg and made 300 parachute jumps on his 50th birthday; he retired with several top honors in 1985. Upon moving to Tacoma, he acquired a dog from a friend whose AKC bred dog had just had a litter. The family named him Tacoma’s Proud Maharaja, or The Raj for short. Raj was a very regal pal and received a blue ribbon at age 1. He lived to be 14, buried on Vashon Island, where the family moved, with a rhododendron on his grave in his memory.
Dixon wasn’t ready for another dog, but Brenda felt he should have one to ease the pain. One year, their daughter, Evelyn, came home for Christmas carrying a shopping bag and asked her dad to hold it while she removed her coat. As he took it from her, the bag moved and out came the head of a small, furry Golden Retriever with a red ribbon around her neck. It was love at first sight with this little AKC puppy, soon named Chloe. Chloe would eventually become queen of Key Peninsula, where Dick and Brenda moved in 2000. (He and Chris had built two homes together in Lakebay.) Chloe is one of the five heroes portrayed in the book.
Dixon has been retired for two years from a civilian career. Today he loves to go for walks with gentle Chloe and she in return eagerly waits for a car door to open so she can go for a ride. He is currently vice president for the Lakebay Improvement Club and keeps active in community affairs—but his heart and memories will always be with Little Joe, The Bummer, Snake, and The Raj.