Vietnam War veteran Austin Maclin says working with dogs has continuously brought joy to his life
Vietnam War veteran Austin Maclin says working with dogs has continuously brought joy to his life.
Austin Maclin has had a special relationship with dogs since Sam saved his life.
He was patrolling an air base with his war dog, Sam, at his side, when suddenly, the German shepherd froze in his tracks.
“There was a booby trap,” said the Vietnam War veteran, who has called Lower Darnley home for the past 16 years.
“He heard the wind blowing over the wire. I touched it with my bayonet, and there’s a notch burnt out of it because it was electrified. It would have cooked me, but Sammy Bear heard the wind.”
Growing up in New Jersey, Maclin was 17 when he opted to join the service.
“I went to Lackland Air Force Base. They were looking for volunteers to be canine handlers. I said, ‘I would love to handle a dog’,” he recalled as he mimicked the way his hand shot up. “I had the best job in the world.”
His and Sam’s job was to keep people alive, and they did it well, he said.
After his time in the war came to an end, soldiers were instructed to leave their dogs in Vietnam, but Maclin had other plans.
“There was no way on God’s green earth I was going to leave my dog. I had a cousin who was an air force pilot flying C-141s. He said, ‘Kennel him up. We’ll get him out.’”
The pair made it successfully to the United States and stayed together until Maclin’s retirement from the air force in 1968, when Sam was given to another handler.
Maclin found out just how appreciative people were of his and Sam’s service when, this past summer, he was at the VA Hospital in Boston receiving radiation for cancer, believed to be a result of exposure to Agent Orange during the war.
“Guys would come up to me, thank me and say, ‘I don’t know how you guys would walk a dog all night in the dark with no one around you but your dog, but I’m alive because you guys did that.’”
He went through numerous sessions of radiation each day that left him feeling drained. However, Maclin found solace and a renewed energy by volunteering at the Angell Memorial Hospital, the largest animal hospital in the world.
Maclin made the 100-yard walk to spend time with the an- imals.
“I was the greeter there for the entire summer. It was perfect for me, and mentally it worked wonders.
“I needed to be around the animals. When people came through, I would calm the animal down and calm them down.”
He also endured a heart attack, a stroke and seizures as a result of being exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide in the 1960s.
But his response as to how he feels about those experiences?
“It’s life. We knew it was killing all foliage around us. None of us knew what Agent Orange was doing to us.”
Today, sitting at the table in his P.E.I. home, wearing his Vietnam Dog Handler hat, Maclin smiles as his German shepherd puppy lies obediently at his feet. Photos of his grandchildren, as well as of him and Sam cover the wall behind him.
“Look at this,” he says, gesturing to a sleeping Myaha. “You’re such a good baby, aren’t you, honey?’”
He and his wife of 46 years, Cheryl, who is originally from the Island, have lived here for the past 16 years.
Maclin said dogs have continuously brought joy and healing to his life.
“A dog’s whole purpose in life is to make you happy. Don’t ever miss an opportunity to tell that animal how much you love them.”
Vietnam War veteran Austin Maclin gives his German shepherd Myaha a kiss at his home in Lower Darnley. Maclin was a canine handler during the war and recruited dogs for the service in his last year before retiring in 1968.
Austin Maclin is shown with his war dog, Sam, during the Vietnam War in 1966.