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Black John

By Terry D. Janes



I have been working closely with 702nd Tank Battalion "Red Devils" for years.  I knew about Fred Bodkin's pet rabbits who were enlisted in the U.S. Army and rode atop Fred's tank.  I had heard occasional cryptic references to Black John, and just assumed they meant 1st Sgt. John Suglio of A Company.  Only recently did I discover that Black John was a English black and brown mutt with one white paw who was named after 1st Sgt. Suglio!  One of A Company's men had paid an English Shilling for the dog to a kid in England.  When A Company landed in Normandy, Black John landed as well, as a stowaway.


Mike Szymanski said, "Only a dog.  But he was the smartest, funniest, bravest dog any tanker could want as a mascot.  He fought with us, slept with us, shared our victories and losses, ate our K-Rations, drank a little of our French wine we commandeered.  He kept the men's morale up!  He would ride in the tank with us, up in the turret.  He went from one tank to another.  Everyone liked him.  Whenever we moved, we were always asking, "Who has Black John?"  Here we are in the middle of the war, and we were more worried about that dog than we were ourselves.  Tankers very often slept under their tanks at night as protection from incoming German artillery.  Black John would come in under my tank and crawl around and lay his head on my shoulder as if he were glad to see me.  He was a great morale builder!  Black John got good at sniffing out the enemy.  Black John would go on patrol with infantrymen of the 317th Regiment.  The infantry told us that Black John would be out ahead of them, and if he stood still on point, there were always Germans close by.  Sometimes in the tank, he would growl, and we'd pet him and say, "It's okay buddy!"  He could tell when the enemy was near.  In September when we ran low on gas, Black John took off with a French Poodle.  During the night, we were given orders to move out and set up in a different location to assist the division artillery with indirect fire.  The next day we realized Black John was missing.  We had left him back in the other area, and couldn't go back for him.  We were pretty upset.


We were out there eating our K-Rations the next night when the Old Man comes up and says, "I don't want any of you to leave this area.  There's going to be a court martial."  Everyone was looking at each other in confusion.  No one was A.W.O.L.  The Old Man hollered, "Sgt. Suglio, bring in the prisoner"  Suglio comes in the tent carrying Black John.  Everyone started cheering and Black John gave us all kisses in return.  The Old Man said, "Black John, as of today you are a private!"  We found out later that he had come back to the area we had been before.  When he couldn't find us, he had gone onto the road where they were bringing up our ammo and equipment on the Red Ball Express trucks.  Some other G.I.'s had picked him up and brought him forward to the depot.  Charlie Fox had driven our equipment truck to the depot and saw Black John, and said, "Gee, that's A Company's dog!"  So, Charlie brought him back to us.  Our morale went up 100%.  Black John was with us all the way to the Battle of The Bulge.  He was in Sgt. George Williams tank when it got hit.  They bailed out real fast and tossed Black John out too.  He got out of the tank, and was hit by machine gun fire.  Black John was killed.  He was a great dog!  A real tanker!"


The date was, February 18, 1945.  The location was Bollendorf, Germany.  Two of Black John's A Company buddies also died that day when "Rollin Rhino III" was hit broadside by an anti-tank gun hidden in the forest.  Those men were T/4 Joe De Laurentis and P F.C Tondreau.  Cpl. Daniels and Cpl. Edwards were severely wounded and sent Stateside.  The men of A Company mourned them all.  For thousands of years dog has been man's best friend.  Black John was a friend, a Red Devil Tanker and a Blue Ridge Infantry Scout.  I sincerely hope that somewhere in France, is a great-grandson of this dog, and that his genes live on.  I know Black John is in heaven with his buddies Joe De Laurentis and Tondreau and all the others who died serving their country.  May he, and they rest in peace.




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