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Canine Connection: The tale of a soldier and his dog

A German shepherd military working dog. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Dietrich/Released)

Dennis Boldt can describe in great detail his World War II experiences. He served in the U.S. Army in an anti-aircraft unit. Later, he was a Jeep driver assigned to military officers who he transported regularly along the Autobahn.

But all conversations with the 98-year-old about being part of the Allied Forces in the European Theater will eventually lead to stories about his unit’s beloved canine member.

Herman — a medium-size breed, white with black spots — was not only at Boldt’s side overseas, but after the war ended, the dog returned with him to rural Mountain Lake.

Boldt began an interview about his recent honor from Blue Earth County Fair Board by describing his not-very-high rank, private first class.

“I never spoke with Patton, but I saw him when I brought officers to meetings … I got to witness history.”

Herman, on the other hand, had a close-up-and-personal encounter with the powerful general’s bull terrier, William the Conqueror. It happened on a day when Boldt’s Jeep was parked near a building where Patton was meeting with his top brass.

A staff member assigned to care for Patton’s pet brought “Willie” outside for some fresh air. Herman leaped out of the Jeep and went directly for the other dog. The two animals stood nose to nose and went round and round.

“My Herman was an Alpha; he was telling Willie ‘I am the boss, not you.'”

The officer responsible for the bull terrier approached Boldt and asked the worried young soldier, “‘Is this your dog?'”

“I said, ‘yes sir’ and he said, ‘that’s a damn good dog you have there, but you better take care of him.'”

From then on, I tied him up with a rope when we were in the Jeep.”

At that time, the soldier-dog duo had been together for a couple of years. Boldt’s eyes sparkled as he described how the two met in 1944, shortly after D-Day.

He and two of his Army buddies had been headed down a muddy road toward a bombed-out French village. Their orders were to look for enemy soldiers hiding out in the rubble.

What they found was a bedraggled little pup. After he crawled out of a deep rut formed by retreating German artillery, the short-legged dog valiantly tried to keep up with the American soldiers.

“He realized his existence depended on us,” Boldt recalled.

“Every time I would turn around, he would still be following us. So, I picked him up and put him in the pocket of my raincoat.”

Boldt and his buddies readily shared their rations with the friendly pup. He remained unnamed for several days after the unit adopted him. A soldier from New York with a heavy Bronx accent then offered his suggestion.

“McCarthy said ‘Let’s call him Hooiman the Gooiman.'”

Boldt, who is German-American, persuaded his unit to choose a variant of the silly moniker. They agreed to name the pup “Herman” — the Teutonic name for warrior.

Mike McLaughlin, Blue Earth County veteran services officer, said there’s a long history of soldiers connecting with canines that were displaced or lost during wartime.

“Dogs are definitely a nice distraction,” McLaughlin said.

“We had that sort of thing when I was in Iraq … There were some feral ones that hung around the outposts. Soldiers would give them names, feed them some of their rations.

“They don’t ask you for anything or to go anywhere … at a time when you are being told to go above and beyond (your duty), dogs are just there. They are a kind of meditation or therapy,” McLaughlin said.

In his online posts, military veteran Bill Howard describes how canines’ superior senses and unfailing loyalty make them valuable assets to troops navigating treacherous and unpredictable war zones.

In 2015, there were 2,500 military working dogs, or MWDs, in active duty. These dogs fulfill a variety of roles on and off the battlefield, including detection and tracking, scouting and acting as sentries.

Herman was not classified as a MWD; however, more than once his sharp hearing warned the unit of approaching danger, Boldt said.

As 1945 neared its close, most of his unit’s soldiers had been honorably discharged from the military.

Boldt, who had no dependents and who didn’t have enough credits to be sent home, was required to stay as part of the Allies’ occupation forces. Because he was the last of the dog’s caretakers, a plan was put in place for Boldt’s last day in Europe.

“Before I boarded a ship for home, I would let Herman go free.”

Turns out the duo did not have to bid au revior to each other in France.

“I kept Herman with me.”

When Boldt got aboard, he discovered other soldiers with dogs. The ship’s officers allowed them to keep the animals at their sides. Their owners had specific orders to follow including arrangements for when and where the animals were to be fed.

“That was the first time Herman had his own rations.”

Their adventures continued on the ocean voyage. The ship’s original course had been to cross over the North Atlantic.

“It was December. The weather was rough.”

There was “terrible seasickness” for most aboard, but not for an animal with four sea legs.

“Herman was not affected.

“The captain realized it was futile, so we went back … cut over to Bermuda and then went back up the Coast.

“I turned 21 in Bermuda on Christmas Day. I was wearing shorts.”

A week later, the ship arrived in New York City.

“On New Year’s Day, 1946, I saw the Statue of Liberty.”

Boldt received his discharge, was mustered out and had a hot shower — the first in a long time.

“A real shower. Herman got cleaned up, too. That’s when I saw how truly white his fur was.”

The Army gave the discharged soldier a one-way ticket for a train ride home. They got onboard and headed west toward Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.

Boldt and Herman’s trip breezed along until they hit the Wisconsin-Minnesota border. Because of dairy quarantines at the time, Herman was not immediately allowed into Boldt’s home state.

“He needed a clean bill of health.”

A helpful Wisconsin resident offered the name of a veterinarian’s office about 60 miles from the train depot.

“We got in a taxi and headed to Tomah,” Boldt said.

After a vet checked Herman over, he signed the appropriate papers Boldt needed.

“He gave it to me for free.”

Boldt returned to the depot, where he was told Herman must be in a cage or wear a muzzle to ride on the train. He had neither, so man and dog took a second taxi ride to Tomah.

“I found a harness maker … He didn’t have a muzzle on hand, so he made me one for no charge.”

Then it was back to the depot, where Boldt was seated in a passenger car and Herman was put in baggage.

“When we reached the Mankato depot, the train stopped. Herman broke his harness (and ran off).

Boldt called and called for the dog, but to no avail. That night, he slept on the floor of the depot.

“It was January and it was cold.”

The next morning, he went to Kreske’s Dime Store to get a bite to eat before resuming his search for Herman.

Boldt was having some French toast when he felt his legs being thumped by a wagging tail.

“There was Herman in the store — he had found me.

“I rode in the baggage car with him until we reached Mountain Lake.”

When they arrived at his hometown depot, Boldt’s father was there to greet them.

“Dad had been watching all of the trains for me. That day was the first time I had ever been hugged by my father.”

About two years later, Boldt married a young woman he’d met while on his way to the town’s theater with a friend. The sister of his friend’s date, that young woman was invited along to the show.

“People asked me what was the movie about and I would say ‘I don’t know. I was watching Juanita.'”

Their wedding was July 2, 1948. Juanita died in 2018. Caroline Johnson, of Aitkin, is one of the Boldts’ seven children. She and her siblings who live in Minnesota attended the ceremony honoring their father Saturday at the Blue Earth County Fair.

Johnson said her father had several dogs after Herman’s death around 1954.

“Mostly he’s had hunting dogs, German shorthairs. And I remember a family dog named George.

Boldt said one of his dogs, a pointer, may have been more intelligent than Herman.

“She was really good at driving at game birds. He would just kinda dig around until he found something.”

In 1999, Dennis and Juanita traveled to Europe and visited some of the sites where he had been stationed.

On the trip, Dennis was able to reunite with a Luxembourg villager his unit had befriended during the war. The man had been a budding photographer at the end of the war.

“We weren’t supposed to have photographs taken of our guns, but we’d let him take pictures of us,” Dennis said.

During their reunion, the man showed the couple an album that included World War II photos of Dennis. Herman is at his side.


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