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Montana veteran who trained Army sled dogs receives congressional record commendation

US Army soldier David Armstrong who trained sled and pack dogs for the Army at Camp Rimini during World War II. (US Army/Released)

David Armstrong sat through a small ceremony Tuesday in which he was presented with a congressional record commendation, when he gave a reaction that those who know him said was typical.

“It’s awfully nice, but I don’t think it’s necessary,” the 100-year-old Armstrong said while sitting in a wheelchair in a nice lawn adjoining his home adjacent to the Archie Bray Foundation. “Anybody could do it.”

It’s probably where he and the handful of people at the ceremony would disagree.

Armstrong is the last known survivor of Camp Rimini, where sled and pack dogs were trained during World War II. He was honored by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who read a tribute to him into the congressional record honoring his military service and for reaching the 100-year milestone.

Daines called Armstrong during the ceremony to thank him.

“I wish I could be there to shake your hand personally,” he said.

In the Dec. 19 tribute, Daines called Armstrong “a distinguished World War II veteran who played a pivotal role in the U.S. Army’s plan to liberate Norway from Nazi occupation; as well as number search and rescue missions across northern Europe.”

Armstrong came to Helena in early 1943 to begin training sled and pack dogs at Camp Rimini, one of two sites that produced dogs for the Army’s K-9 Corps during WWII. Armstrong was stationed in Newfoundland, where he and his dogs aided in recovering downed personnel and sensitive equipment from aircraft wreckage sites in Greenland and Baffin Island.

Daines noted that after the war, Armstrong and his wife, Alice, returned to Montana and started the annual “Race to the Sky,” which preserves the legacy of the soldiers and dogs who served at Camp Rimini. The race is described as one of the most challenging and beautiful sled dog races in the world. The event was initially called Montana’s Governor’s Cup Sled Dog Race in 1986, and the first 500-mile race was in February of that year. Race to the Sky has been an Iditarod qualifier. According to the race’s website, there is now a 300-mile distance race, the 100-mile junior continuous race and the 100-mile adult continuous race.

Daines mentioned that Armstrong also preserved the legacy with his 2008 memoir “Camp Rimini and Beyond.”

“On behalf of a grateful nation, I want to thank Dave for his service to our state and to our country,” Daines said.

Denny Lenoir, director of veteran and military affairs for Daines, presented Armstrong with the congressional record tribute and a “Challenge Coin,” which the senator gives to Montanans to honor them for special achievements. One side of the coin has Daines’ name with the Capitol building in the background and the other side has the seal of the U.S. Senate.

Friend Ken Rosenbaum called the honor “tremendous” and said he worked with Armstrong on the Race to the Sky.

“I’ve seen him stand on the sled,” he said.

Armstrong’s son, Mark, spoke on behalf of the family, saying they were “grateful” for the honor and praised his father.

“He was one of the best dads I could have ever asked for,” he said. “What he did after the war was pretty amazing.”

“He’s had a very interesting and rewarding life,” Mark Armstrong said.

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(c) 2021 the Independent Record

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