“Tarzan, Westport War Dog, Killed by Booby Trap Overseas” (1945)

Sometimes it is the most obscure of stories that can shine fresh light on the enormity of historical events. This small newspaper article found inside a scrapbook of Second World War clippings, chronicles the heroic deeds of Tarzan, a handsome German Shepherd from Forge Road, who was one of thousands of dogs given by their owners to military service during the Second World War. The War Dog program began not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor, as the American Kennel Club and a new group calling itself “Dogs for Defense” mobilized dog owners across the country to donate their pets to the Quartermaster Corps.  Mr. and Mrs. Rounds of Forge Road, Westport knew their Tarzan must join the ranks. “It was their way of doing their bit.”

Described as being “strictly in the canine Clark Gable class” Tarzan stood 25 inches high and weighed 79 pounds. He had been a familiar sight in Westport “dragging a small wagon on which youngsters rode delightedly.” According to his owner, Wendell Rounds, he was well suited to military service and tolerated gunfire. “He loved the excitement of hearing the gun go off and wasn’t alarmed a bit.”

Tarzan gave nearly two years of service, joining the Quartermaster Corps War Dog platoon for overseas duty. He perished in an exploding booby trap in 1945. Notification of his death came with a Certificate of Merit from the Quartermaster Corps:

“The war dog Tarzan, tattoo No. A683, having died while serving with the armed forces of the USA, is hereby awarded this Certificate of Merit. Trained for tactical work at the War Dog Reception and Training Center, Front Royal VA, assigned to duty July 9 1943 at Camp Hale Colo. Reassigned July 15, 1944 to a QM War Dog platoon for overseas duty. Tarzan performed his duty well until January 14, 1945, when he was killed by explosion of a booby trap.”

Following a 12-week basic training during which dogs were accustomed to muzzles, gas masks, and to gunfire, Tarzan went on to complete specialized training. His owners believed that Tarzan was trained as a messenger dog. Unlike other war dogs, the messenger dog was not trained to be aggressive or to seek out trouble. A messenger dog moved swiftly and silently between two handlers, taking advantage of natural cover, and required exceptional loyalty, great speed, stamina, and superior powers of scenting and hearing. 

A total of 151 messenger dogs were trained and fifteen war dog platoons were activated in World War II. Seven platoons saw service in Europe and eight in the Pacific.

Given the considerable attention Tarzan received in the local media, this was clearly a significant event for the town of Westport. Tarzan was honored by the Westport Selectmen who proposed placing a tablet in his honor in the Town Hall. ”He died like a soldier,” George W. Russell, chairman, said at the time.

It was undoubtedly a personal tragedy for Tarzan’s owners. “We’re glad that if he had to die it was in service,” commented Mrs. Rounds. “To us, he was as much a soldier as though he had been a human being.”


WHS Collection 2008.063
WHS Collection 2008.063
World War II