After Pearl Harbor, the United States military embarked on a campaign against Japan on islands dotted across the Pacific Ocean. Battling an entrenched, determined enemy is difficult no matter the situation. The type of jungle warfare that was necessary to succeed against the Japanese was completely foreign to American forces. The Marine Corps decided on a new approach for the problems the jungle terrain presented. The documentary War Dogs of the Pacific tells the story of how successful that plan turned out to be, and the heartwarming relationships that developed as a result.
This documentary does a good job providing background information about the history of the war dog program. I was shocked to learn that families volunteered their pets to be used in the dog platoons. These dogs were enlisted and went through training, just like their human counterparts.
In an amusing segment, World War II dog handlers recall how they were recruited to join this upstart program. One man was a horse trainer before the war, so because he had at one point in his life worked with animals it was assumed he would be a natural dog handler. Another man was a veterinary student when the war began, so after he joined the Marines he became commander of the 3rd Dog Platoon. One soldier recalled being asked if he knew anything about dogs. He said that back home he had a cocker spaniel. Just like that he became a Marine dog handler.
A good amount of attention is given to the training the dogs received. The veterans who were interviewed for this documentary offered insight into how their first goal was just to get to know the dog and become friendly with him or her. After that came obedience training, and finally specialized training. Learning about how the dogs were trained to not bark and the different roles that were available (scout dogs, messengers, mine detection) is incredibly fascinating.
The dogs and their handlers are first deployed to Guam. The documentary spends a good deal of time letting viewers get emotionally invested in the dogs and the relationships between the dog and handler. When dogs are killed, the audience feels a real sense of loss.
From a technical perspective, the production values are high quality. In a really cool effect, the shots of the man's face being interviewed would often fade into a picture of the same man's face, from WWII, alongside his dog. Nathan Wang composed a beautifully poignant score. Harris Done wrote, directed, and wielded the camera for this documentary, and he is clearly passionate about this subject. "It will tug at the heartstrings of anyone who has ever loved a dog," Done states.
This documentary really works because it delves deeply into the relationship between the men and their dogs. Countless lives are saved because of the effectiveness of the dogs on the battlefield. The men and the dogs share a bond that can only be forged in the most extreme of circumstances, but this documentary does an outstanding job of capturing that bond and exposing it for an audience. The tagline for this documentary is, "They earned the title 'Man's Best Friend'," and after shedding tears on multiple occasions while watching War Dogs of the Pacific, I cannot think of anything more appropriate to say about those courageous dogs.