Pictured at Christmas 1948 are (row 1, L to R) Janice Geyer Graham, Beebe G. Redman, Henrietta Geyer, Vernon Geyer, Eunice Geyer Fulcher, Ernest Fulcher; (row 2, L to R) Vernon Geyer, Jr., Mickey Dawson Geyer, Kenneth L. Geyer, Sr., and Cliff Geyer. In front is the family pet and World War II Devil Dog “Tipper.”
Many Chatham residents served in Warld War II, but one of the most unusual veterans was Tipper the dog.
The call went out shortly after the conflict began for dogs to be trained for military service. The Vernon Geyer family of Whittle Street had an intelligent German Shepherd that they decided could help with the country's defense.
A dog carrier crate was sent to the Geyers who shipped Tipper by rail from the Chatham Train Station.
Vernon's son, Kenneth L. “Tommy” Geyer, was recently going through family papers and could not find Tipper's service record. As a dog lover, his interest soon became a quest.
Contacts at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas produced no results. But it was a call to the Veteran's Administration office in Roanoke that got his dander up.
“They told me that records were not kept on dogs because they were not veterans. They were treated like equipment,” said Geyer. “That made me mad.”
This response sent him on a mission that eventually caught the attention of Congressman Virgil H. Goode Jr.'s office in Washington.
Geyer received a letter from the Congressman on January 16 which was accompanied by the official record book for “Sergeant Tipper.”
“I must tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed reading the official record book for Sergeant Tipper,” wrote Goode. “He must have been a great dog. My wife and I are dog and cat lovers, and I have made a copy of the official record book for Sergeant Tipper and will share it with her.”
Tipper's service record was provided by the Modern Military Record Unit at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
Tipper's record book was just that — a book issued by the U.S. Marine Corps. His date of enlistment was February 10, 1945. He serial number was 647.
A book was opened for each dog when they reported to the Dog Detachment Training Center for duty. The book was carried by the man in charge of the dog and followed the dog during transfers.
Tipper's service record listed him as a German Shepherd male, born in January 1943. His training experience included basic obedience and messenger training.
After induction, he joined the War Dog Training School at Camp Lejeune, N.C. On May 12, 1945, Tipper sailed aboard the SS Kit Carson from San Francisco, Calif., to Guam. There he apparently helped sniff out snipers in the jungle.
Length of service governed promotions and Tipper progressed from private, to corporal and then to sergeant. He received an honorable discharge on May 16, 1946.
The Geyers were notified that Tipper was coming home. He would arrive at the Chatham Depot at 10:30 or 11:30 p.m., although a train did not make a regular stop in Chatham.
But that night, as Vernon and Kenneth waited, the train stopped. The door opened to a rail car and standing beside the railroad employee was Tipper.
He jumped from the car, greeted the Geyers, and went home with them as if he had never been gone.
Kenneth Geyer's family of Chatham owned Sergeant Tipper, a member of the Devil Dogs in World War II.
Vernon Geyer had to sign a statement that he would assume repsonsibility for any actions of the dog resulting from his military training. He had to agree to hold the U.S. government harmless for any judgments imposed if the dog caused injuries or damage. The statement was notarized by Claude DeBoe.
Tipper lived to be 15 or 16 years old.
“He was the baby sitter for most of the kids on Whittle Street,” said Kenneth. “He was never dangerous.”
Although not supposed to give commands that would cause Tipper to demonstrate his training, the children often called upon him to crawl, jump and track.
Kenneth and his sister, Janice, were young enough to still be at home and knew the dog well, but “he was my father's dog,” said Kenneth.
Vernon Geyer worked at the Chatham Post Office. Tipper went with him to work each morning.
“He came home and stayed most of the day, but went back to the post office in time to come home with Dad when he got off work,” said Kenneth.
“He was a great dog, well known around town, and deserves to be recognized as a veteran,” he added.
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