William and the War Dogs: The Oral History of William Garbo

Margaret Dudley

One morning we fall out for breakfast, and they asked if anyone liked dogs and liked to work with dogs and had hunting dogs and so forth. I raised my hand, I volunteered, which is something you shouldn’t do. Well, I did. I’ve always lived dangerously, I guess.

Army PFC William Garbo of Laurel, Mississippi was 17 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He signed up for the draft as soon as he turned 18 and had just graduated high school when he was drafted. After fourteen weeks of basic training, the young man accidentally volunteered to work with K9 units and reported to San Carlos in California to begin training with the War Dogs. He was placed in the 26th War Dogs platoon and shipped out on Mother’s Day of 1944 for New Guinea.

Garbo’s unit landed and made their way to Aitape and the New Guinea jungle, where Garbo learned the value of the dogs amidst the realities of war. On his first patrol, the scout dog’s warning stopped his platoon in time to watch a company of Japanese cross their path. Garbo sent his messenger dog Teddy back to camp with the enemy location. Due to frequent rain, Teddy had to cross a raging river to deliver the message.

When he got to the river, I found out later he jumped in the water—it was raging from rain in the mountains—and the river just took him away. He disappeared. And my other handler said that in a very short time, he managed to get across the river and come back up the river to the origin, and he gave the message, and we did get artillery in on that position.

Map of New Guinea. Aitape, where Garbo's unit was headed, is marked in purple.

Later, Garbo was reassigned to the 112th Cavalry Division, where he served as part of a machine gun squad until the end of the war. His unit participated in the Battle of Druniumor River, a 45-day series of attacks and counterattacks against Japanese forces attempting to retake Aitape. Once relieved from the battle by fresh troops, the 112th Cavalry was sent to the Philippines to assist in the invasion and capture of Leyte. The unit played a role in the capture of Baker Hill, after which Garbo himself was medically evacuated. He had contracted an infection from the constant wet conditions in the jungle, but luckily was released after only a month. Determined not to be absent from his comrades on the front for long, he then hitchhiked back to his unit in Manila and rejoined the fighting in Luzon.

Image from Nations Online Project. The green arrow provides a visual reference for the distance between Aitape and Manila.

I was standing there…wondering where my outfit is. I was waiting for someone coming through with a Jeep or something, so I could ask where the 112th Cavalry was. A jeep came flying down through there, and they passed me just so fast I couldn’t stop them. And then they backed up and said, ‘Garbo.’ And it was from my troop. Now that’s a piece of luck.

The 112th continued to the Santa Maria Mountains to scout out the Japanese movements and attempt to cut off their supply line on the river. During one attempt to relocate their outpost, Garbo’s unit found themselves caught in a Japanese ambush, and later came under artillery fire which severely wounded Garbo. He was once again evacuated, this time to a hospital in Antipolo. Luckily, he made a speedy recovery and managed to rejoin his unit shortly before the bombs dropped on Japan, forcing Japanese surrender and ending the war. Garbo witnessed the signing of the peace agreement aboard the U.S.S. Missouri before serving as part of the occupation force off the Tokyo peninsula. Eventually, William Garbo earned enough points to return home, arriving in Seattle on Christmas Ever 1945, and was formally discharged in January of 1946.

Find the oral history HERE and listen to Garbo’s full story in his own words.

Click here to check out our YouTube channel for more information about the War Dogs program.

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Ruth Ann Hattori, Marketing Director of the National Museum of the Pacific War