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L.A. THEN AND NOW

A Lonely Bid to Refurbish Long-Neglected Cemetery

May 04, 2003|Cecilia Rasmussen

By the mid-1970s, Ft. MacArthur had become part of Angels Gate Park, and its military dog cemetery had fallen into disrepair. Graves had been vandalized and tombstones toppled and broken.

A life-size bronze of a German shepherd guarding the graveyard had been stolen, as had plaques with dogs' names and service records.

Concerned over the degradation, a small group of military historians has waged a lonely, and so far unsuccessful, campaign to spruce it up.

"There should be enough passion and respect in this town for a better place for these war heroes, but all this cemetery gets is vandalized when it should have national status," said Steve Nelson, director of the Ft. MacArthur Museum.

Dennis Piotrowski, the museum's archivist, agreed. "We are very proud of our war dogs, our K-9 Commandos and sentries who in their own selfless way helped defend Los Angeles and America," he said. "This is why the cemetery is very special, and why we consider this sacred ground."

Few if any of the dogs died in battle. Instead, they were put to death upon retirement under a now-ended military policy that refused to place trained attack dogs in civilian homes.

-- Cecilia Rasmussen

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