In this touching farewell in Muskegon, Michigan, Marine Corporal Jeff DeYoung bids his goodbye to Cena, his bomb-sniffing Labrador and brother-in-arms, to his final rest. Diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, Cena’s story transcends service, embodying the profound bond and silent sacrifices of military K-9 units. This tribute honors not just Cena but all four-legged heroes in the line of duty.
A Bond Beyond the Battlefield
In the sad surroundings of Muskegon, Michigan, on July 26, 2017, a heartrending scene unfolded as Corporal Jeff DeYoung carried Cena, a 10-year-old black Labrador Retriever and retired Combat Marine, aboard the USS LST 393. Cena, not just a service dog but a brother-in-arms and a steadfast friend, was suffering from an aggressive, painful form of terminal bone cancer. The decision to end his pain was as tricky as it was necessary.
Cena and DeYoung were more than just partners; they are brothers bound not by blood but by war, protecting each other in the rugged terrains of Afghanistan between 2009 and 2010. With his keen sense of smell, Cena would scout 50 yards ahead of DeYoung, safeguarding the team from the hidden dangers of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Their bond forged amidst the chaos of war, providing comfort in moments of loss and despair.
The Unseen Heroes: K-9 Units in the Military
The utilization of K-9 units in the military dates back to ancient times, with dogs serving alongside humans in various capacities, such as guards, trackers, and even warriors. In modern times, military dogs have played pivotal roles in major conflicts. Including World Wars I and II, where they served as messengers, guards, and more. Like many before him, Cena served diligently, saving countless lives by detecting IEDs and providing emotional support to the soldiers amidst the horrors of war.
Cena and DeYoung: Brothers in Arms
Their story is not just of service but of an unbreakable bond formed amidst the perils of war. Cena was affectionately nicknamed “Chicken” for his unique way of signaling IED detection by running away instead of lying down. Cena was DeYoung’s solace in times of unimaginable pain, especially when he lost seven friends in three weeks.
After their service, they were separated. This is a common practice intended to make the transition more accessible for the dog and the handler. However, their bond was too strong to be severed by time and distance. In 2014, after Cena’s retirement, they were reunited. Cena became part of DeYoung’s family and his pillar during tough times, including a divorce and career struggles.
A Hero’s Farewell
Cena’s farewell was not just a goodbye but a salute to his service and the service of all military dogs. The farewell ceremony, attended by hundreds, was a testament to the profound impact Cena had on many lives. The event, organized by the U.S. Marine Corps League, was graced by multiple motorcycle and Jeep convoys, with one coming from as far as 80 miles away. Cena, adorned in a custom-made decorated blue Marine vest, was honored by humans and a K-9 Salute Team, which howled in a final tribute to one of their own.
A Legacy Remembered
Cena’s story is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices military service dogs and their handlers made. It underscores the importance of recognizing and honoring their service. Hence, not viewing them merely as assets but as heroes who have served with unwavering loyalty and bravery. Cena’s legacy lives on. Not only in the memories of those who knew him but as a symbol of the unspoken, unbreakable bonds formed on the battlefield.
In Memory of Cena and All K-9 Heroes
Cena’s story is a beacon of awareness about the significant roles that K-9 units play in our military. It’s a call to action to support organizations working to reunite retired service dogs with their handlers. Hence, ensuring they receive the care, love, and honor they deserve after their service. Cena’s farewell was not just a goodbye, but a thank you. It was a salute to his service, loyalty, and the undying bond of friendship formed in the crucibles of war.
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