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A Soldier’s Tail of Courage: Vietnam dog handler recognized 33 years later

As a trained dog handler during the Vietnam War, Anthony Jerone was saved from injury and death many times by dogs who sniffed out bombs, booby traps and enemies preparing to ambush troops in the jungles and mountains of Vietnam.

Thirty-three years later, Jerone's life still revolves around dogs. Sitting in the basement office of his Academy of Canine Education in Fresh Meadows, he is surrounded by framed dog photographs and dog posters, students of his dog training school, a doggie mat and a black German Shepherd turning in circles to chase his tail.

"I need more wall," said Jerone, scanning his office for an appropriate place to hang his newest symbol of achievement - a Bronze Star Medal awarded by the president of the United States which recognizes his outstanding service in Vietnam from May 1969 to May 1970.

"I waited 33 years, two months and one day for this," said Jerone, opening up a case containing an inch-and-a-half diameter Bronze star strung on a red ribbon with a blue stripe. "Not many people have that."

For decades Jerone had a piece of paper saying he was qualified to receive a Bronze Star, but bureaucracy and a 1973 fire in St. Louis, Mo. that destroyed the military records of many veterans prevented him from receiving the medal. Finally, Jerone solicited the help of Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who wrote several letters and forwarded Jerone's documentation to a secretary of the Army.

Last week Gennaro received Jerone's medal in the mail and presented it to the veteran during a short ceremony.

"I always wanted this even though I had the piece of paper that says you are qualified to receive a Bronze Star," said Jerone. "It's something I had to prove to myself, to prove to people."

In Vietnam, Jerone "walked the point," meaning he led his troop of infantrymen with a dog which he trained during an intensive, three-month period at the U.S. Army's Dog Training School in Fort Benning, Ga.

"My job was to train dogs to smell out booby traps, ambushes and anything that would injure or harm GIs," said Jerone. "They saved thousands and thousands of lives. Four thousand dogs were sent over to Vietnam, and only 400 came back."

Jerone spent his first six months in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta, an area with dense vegetation and many rice paddies infested with ringworm. He them moved on to Quan Tri, a mountainous area 12 miles from the border between North and South Vietnam.

Dog handlers would spend five days every other week leading infantrymen with dogs, said Jerone.

"If the dog's nose was bobbing in the air, it meant they smelled body odor. If it sat, it meant there was an explosive in front of it," Jerone explained.

Jerone's Army dog, Willie, which was trained to sniff out tunnels, was promoted from a first class private to a corporal after he discovered a tunnel where a Vietcong who was on the U.S. military's Top Ten Wanted List was hiding.

After returning from Vietnam, Jerone began working for the New York Transit Authority as a train conductor in 1973. After five years, he was promoted to motorman and drove the F train for many years before retiring in 2001.

While working in the subways during the 1970s, Jerone saw that there was a lot of crime in the stations and on trains. He decided to try to convince Mayor Koch to start a program to train dogs so they could work with policemen.

"It's a psychological approach," said Jerone. "When a cop came on the train with a dog, cigarettes went out, garbage went under the seats. People would get into confrontations with a cop with a gun, but they didn't get into confrontations with a cop with a dog because a dog's got 42 rounds of pearly whites."

In 1980, Koch started a pilot program to train police dogs, and today there are about 30 dogs on the city's police force, said Jerone.

Jerone started his dog training academy in Bayside in 1988 and moved it to 75-61 185th St. in Fresh Meadows in 1996. The academy certifies people to become dog trainers after teaching them to train dogs in obedience, kenneling, search and rescue, breeding, tracking, protection and dealing with babies, among other things.

Students at the academy accompany Jerone on house calls during which Jerone works with dogs, usually to train them to follow commands such as "heel," "sit," "stay," "lie down," "come," "no" and "OK."

Jerone charges $595 for a seven-week dog training program, during which he works with dogs one-on-one for about an hour and a half each week. In addition, he conducts a free "Doggie Boot Camp" every Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Crocheron Park in Bayside.

After posing for a photograph with his German Shepherd, Fritzie, and his Bronze Star Medal, Jerone said he does not belong to any veterans' organizations and would like to forget about his experience in the war.

"There's nothing good about it to remember, except for the dogs," he said.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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