This is a story I did for the Springfield News-Sun as part of my journalism practicum. As I’ve been telling everyone I talk to about covering this story, it’s easily one of the best stories I’ve covered yet. I haven’t posted a ‘people’ story in a while, and so in light of the fact that I will be covering another veteran’s story this weekend, I thought I’d post this one. Enjoy!
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One little puppy is making a huge impact in the life of local Marine veteran, Cpl. Larry Barnett, and he hasn’t even been with his new owner for a full day yet.
Members of the Ohio Patriot Guard, a motorcycle group dedicated to honoring veterans, escorted “Lil General” to Barnett Saturday afternoon, meeting at the VFW Post #8673 in Springfield for a gifting ceremony.
The Patriot Guard is best known nationwide for escorting funerals of fallen soldiers, especially where protesters are present, as well as escorting military canines that had to be put down. District 7 Captain Forrest Rayburn said that this was the first time they had ever done an escort like this, and when State Captain Bob Woods contacted him about doing it, he immediately said yes.
“[Lil General] is just as important to our military as our military is,” Rayburn said. “He’s here for a reason.”
Cpl. Barnett is a 1973-1978 veteran of the Vietnam War. He helped evacuate Americans and South Vietnamese refugees before the fall of Saigon in 1975. He was also in one of the choppers that was shot down during the MAYAGUEZ incident that same year. He was recently diagnosed with what he called “a pretty good case of PTSD”.
Receiving “Lil General” is an amazing gift, he said. “I think I’m the happiest man on the planet. I’m walking about this high off the ground.” He smiled as he gestured “this high” with his hands.
Even more amazing, Barnett says, is the story of how the dog was made available to him.
On September 17, Kansas Patriot Guard rider Michael Jones was involved in a serious motorcycle accident that landed him in the hospital and claimed the life of his therapy dog and riding partner, a Papillon named General. Jones carried General in a pouch around his chest when he went on rides, and he went by the name “General’s Driver”. The two were well-known for their work with “Run for The Wall” – an organization that rides for POW-MIA soldiers, as well as veterans, nation-wide.
When Dan Hoffman, a veteran in South Carolina who breeds and trains Papillons as PTSD therapy dogs, heard about General’s death, he offered Jones a new puppy. However, Jones is still in rehabilitation from the accident and is unable to care for the puppy. Because the puppy was close to the age when therapy dogs bond best with their owner, Jones opted to donate him to another veteran in need.
“It was kind of being in the right place at the right time,” Barnett said.
Three months ago, Barnett’s primary care provider suggested that getting a service dog would be beneficial for him, further reinforcing what he said he and his wife had already been considering.
When Barnett learned that he would be receiving the puppy from Hoffman, with whom he had served alongside in combat, he called and asked how he could honor Jones for the donation. He told them he wanted to name the puppy with something Jones wanted.
“Instantly, Michael said, ‘General’,” said Art Graham, a connection of the Jones family.
Hence the name, “Lil General”.
Every day, about 22 veterans will commit suicide across the United States. And there have been over 60 veteran suicides in Ohio this year alone.
“Larry was almost one of those,” said Graham, tears forming as he said it.
“Now Larry’s got a dog that will love him unconditionally and give him orders – the general can order the corporal around, and make sure that he’s safe and doesn’t become one of the 22.”
Barnett called Lil General a little bundle of healing, saying that the VA should more strongly consider the use of therapy dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD. He and his family are looking forward to watching the 12-week-old puppy grow and be his “little buddy”.