Livermore resident Mike Hurder was recently recognized through the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ (VFW) #stillserving campaign for his ongoing work with service dogs.
“(Mike) Hurder continues to give back by preserving the memory of, and advocating for, all military working dogs through his volunteer work with the Vietnam Dog Handler Association, Military Working Dog Team Support Association and the Military Working Dog Heritage Museum,” said Randi K. Law, VFW communications manager.
Hurder said he is touched by the recognition.
“I don’t do the honor thing very well,” he said. “And I don’t particularly think I am the prime example, but it does make me feel proud.”
In 1971, a 19-year-old Hurder was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam where he was assigned to the 34th infantry working as a K-9 handler. Together with his dog, Prince, much of Hurder’s job included patrolling the perimeter of his base camp and keeping the Viet Cong at bay.
After receiving three concussions in as many months and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder issues, Hurder was transported to Guam to recuperate and then sent home to Hyde Park, Massachusetts. He was not quite 21 years old. And his faithful companion, Prince, was euthanized, since there was no directive at the time for the government to pay to send military dogs home from war.
The times being what they were and Vietnam an especially controversial conflict, Hurder was not exactly met with open arms upon his arrival back in the states. The political climate and anti-war propaganda painted the servicemen in Vietnam as drug addicts and murderers. Hurder’s family believed what they were hearing and were hesitant to have their son back home.
“My parents were terrified that if I moved back in with them, God knows what I would do,” said Hurder. “I was in the hospital for about 30 days, and when I got home, I realized how scared my parents were.”
Hurder’s family didn’t want him staying at the house, so he subsequently took what little money he had and eventually ended up homeless on Boston Common for about six months.
Hurder became heavily involved with drugs and alcohol during that time. His father later came to regret asking Hurder to leave and set out to find him and bring him home. It was then that the process of healing, which ended up taking decades, began.
Through it all, Hurder found comfort from his own dogs. As he immersed himself in a variety of therapy programs, it was suggested that he get a service dog, especially since he was a prior handler.
“What didn’t click with me at the time was that these dogs, my pets, were already performing those services,” said Hurder. “When I had bad dreams, they wrapped themselves around my feet. I already had service dogs.”
But the suggestion did spur Hurder to do more for others like himself. In 1999, he began working with a branch of the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association to kick off a movement called Never Again, which eventually passed a bill protecting dogs like Prince. The bill stated that service animals would be brought home from wars and if/when they are retirement ready, they would be adopted. To date, thousands of dogs have been retired with their handlers.
“We are all very proud of that,” said Hurder.
It is those efforts and more, that earned Hurder his recent honors with #stillserving. He remains grateful for the recognition that serves as a constant reminder of his fellow veterans’ service.
“It’s important that we always remember the sacrifice that these guys gave up their lives for,” said Hurder. “We have taken the best years of our lives to serve America. These guys simply said ‘Ok, I’ll do my part’ during an important time in history. All this is not just to remind America of what people did, but it is for guys like me, who for a long time felt like outsiders … It took a while, but life is wonderful now. I feel very grateful.”
For more information on the #stillserving organization, visit www.vfw.org.