Featured Heroes: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class John Douangdara (1984-2011) and his Military War Dog Bart, as told through John's sister Chan Follen
John with his sister Chan
Growing up, John was an all-American kid. The boy-next-door type, he loved working with computers during his spare time in high school. "He built his first computer at a friend’s house whose dad operated a computer business from there. John also loved being on the debate team," his sister Chan begins. She recalls John being active in sports, particularly track and wrestling. "Unfortunately, he was not a lady’s man, but he had tons of friends and would have given the shirt off his back if someone needed it."
John graduated high school a term earlier than his classmates at the onset of 2003 and, from there, headed to boot camp. He decided to enlist in the Navy because of the growing relationship he had with his recruiter before his enlistment.
"John's first year in the service was very hard on him. He was homesick and kept telling me that he couldn’t wait for the next three years to go by so he could get out and come home. As a big sister, I told him to sit back and enjoy it. After all, he was stationed in Italy!"
After a period of time he started calling me from the military's dog kennels. He told me he was volunteering and helping with taking care of the dogs. Soon after, he called to let me know he was going to be in San Antonio, Texas training to be a dog handler.PO Douangdara and MWD Bart
"John never told us what he actually did when he started advancing in his military career. The only thing he would talk about was what his dogs were like. He loved his dogs," Chan says. "Up until John's passing the family always thought he was a [dog] handler and when deployed, he was patrolling the gates. It never crossed our minds that he was assigned to a SEAL team and how dangerous his deployments actually were. I think we took for granted how many times he had been deployed and how many times he came back. Since 2003, he had been deployed to Iraq three times and Afghanistan twice, passing away during his second tour in Afghanistan."
On the morning of August 6th 2011, Chan's family was informed personally by the United States Navy that John and his military working dog Bart had passed away in a Chinook [helicopter] downing in Afghanistan. "We were all devastated. I had just saw my brother two months earlier for my wedding."
After the news of John's death, we decided, as a family, that we needed to have something of John home with us since we knew his last wishes were to be laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with his fellow brothers.Memorial Statue for Freedom Park
There was a park being built in our hometown called, Siouxland Freedom Park, which was to honor past, present and future veterans. Before my brother's passing, I wanted to show my appreciation for his service by purchasing something and having it be a part of that park.
What started off as something small (the family was going to donate a bench in his honor) soon grew bigger. After John died, a family friend went before the city council and asked them if they would name the dog park section of Siouxland Freedom Park after my brother. "Our family did not know our friend did this so when he told us, it really made us feel like the community would never forget John. To have the honor of having a park named after him, a place that will be there long after we're gone, we felt the need to put something up of John that would compliment the dog park. That's when the decision of a statue was made."
The statue of John, lead dog handler for SEAL Team Six, and his Military War Dog Bart, was unveiled at Siouxland Freedom Park on Memorial Day of this year.
We knew [the statue] wasn’t going to fill the void of John being gone, but at the same time it comforted us knowing that we had something of him near our home. We don’t get to go to Arlington as often as we like, but this is a way of remembering and honoring him even though we are hundreds of miles away.