By Debbie Gregory.
Earlier this month, a brave U.S. canine warrior was awarded the PDSA Dicken Medal — the animal equivalent of the British Victoria Cross, the highest military honor for valor in the U.K. at Wellington Barracks in London, England.
U.S.Marine dog Lucca served on 400 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. She served under two handlers, Gunnery Sgt. Chris Willingham and Corporal Juan Rodriguez, before a hidden bomb resulted in the loss of one of her legs, ending her six-year military career. Just prior to the blast, Lucca had already sniffed out 30 pounds of explosives.
But what a career she had! The 12-year-old German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix, trained to sniff out weapons and explosives, never lost a single soldier on her watch.
Willingham specialized in the training of military dogs when he and 2-year-old Lucca first met.
“She had a lot of expression in her face, with these intently focused eyes. You could tell she was trying to figure me out right away,” Willingham recalled about their meeting.
Lucca again looked intently at Willingham as he put the Dickin Medal around her neck.
Her handler at the time of the explosion, Corporal Rodriguez, said that Lucca had saved his life many times. Ever loyal in return, Rodriguez never left Lucca’s side during the emergency surgery, and slept alongside her during her recovery at a U.S. base in Kandahar.
Lucca’s bandage had the U.S. Marine Corps motto – semper fi, or “always loyal” hand written on it.
Since entering her well-deserved retirement, Lucca was adopted by her original trainer and handler, Chris Willingham and his family.
“She enjoys family walks and loves getting into the water,” Willingham said. “Other than that, just laying on the couch, relaxing and kind of just enjoying her retirement.”