Veterans

Vietnam Veteran’s 49-year-old memories of his canine partner

He only had one photo of "Hobo" until…

Gary Kunich

Mick never forgot his best friend from Vietnam – a dog named Hobo.

Kim "Mick" Michalowski still talks about his K-9 partner from 49 years ago, but only had one photo to remember his buddy. That is, until last week, when he reconnected on Facebook with an Air Force friend who sent him photos of Hobo he had kept all these years.


"When I got these photos, it was one of the best days for me," Michalowski said. "I'm not going to say it was the best day of my life because I have three children, a beautiful wife and grandchildren. But it just uplifted my spirits so much.


Kim "Mick" Michalowski and Hobo in Vietnam.

"You can ask my wife. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't talk about Hobo in the 46 years we've been married. Probably not a day goes by I don't tell someone about Hobo."

Pictured above are Kim Michalowski and his wife Yolanda at the dog memorial he helped build in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

Michalowski joined the Air Force in 1970.

"We had no way of knowing what would happen or what we would get into. I still remember that last moment, getting on the plane. I was looking back at my dad, thinking I would never see him again. It's one of the few times I saw my dad cry."

Jumped at the chance to be a K-9 handler

Michalowski was a security policeman originally stationed at Phu Cat Air Base. He moved to Cam Rhan Bay Air Base, where he jumped at the chance to become a K-9 handler.

Hobo, on the other hand, wasn't thrilled with his new partner.

"It took three and a half days for him to let me come into his kennel. He would jump at the gate, growling and snarling and stuff and would not let me in. I was finally able to get him muzzled and get him out. It took two more days to be able to get him to work with me.

"I still have scars on both my arms where he bit me, one on my left arm and another on my right wrist. One was from playing around and the other was me learning to be more careful."

They became inseparable after that, patrolling the perimeter of Cam Rhan Bay Air Base.

"We literally spent 11 to 12 hours a day together patrolling. When we got off, it was another four hours taking care of him, checking for ticks, feeding him and making sure he had plenty of water. My shift would end at 0600, but I wouldn't get back to my bunk until 10 o'clock.

Read his mail to Hobo

Ted Kozikowski and his K-9 partner, Congo, in Vietnam.

"I used to read my letters to my dog. Just having that ability to have someone to reach down and grab around the neck put me at ease. During the day I'd go back to the kennel to play with him."

Michalowski had some close calls with incoming rounds, but Hobo always made him feel better.

"I always felt safer with Hobo. He was going to do his job and detect something before I would."

Then it was time to go stateside.

"Up until my dad died, that was the worst day of my life. That dog was special to me. I took him out to the yard to work him around the obstacle course. I just hugged him real tight around the neck. I told him I loved him and was going to miss him."

Michalowski separated from the Air Force as a sergeant in 1974, then joined the Army Reserve in 1977, retiring as a command sergeant major.

But he never forgot Hobo.

About five years ago, he helped raise money for a K-9 memorial in Menomonee Falls. There, he talked about his partner from so many decades ago. And then he was scrolling through a K-9 Facebook page and saw a familiar face.

That was Ted Kozikowski. "It blew me away," Kozikowski said. "I remembered him right away. Veterans, we always want to go back to that stability in our life, whether we liked the military or not. It was an anchor of self-discipline and a camaraderie I've never experienced in the civilian world."

Family sent dog biscuits from the states

In Vietnam, they were known as the "Skis" – easier that way when there are two Polish troops in the unit. "I was Ski and Michalowski was Ski 2," Kozikowski says.

Like his buddy, Ski 2, he had an abiding love for his K-9 partner, Congo.

"That dog was a member of my family. My parents and my brother and sisters loved him too," Kozikowski said. "My care packages from home went from cookies to dog biscuits. There was not a thing that dog didn't know about me and my personal life. He knew me better than my family."

The two have talked back and forth on Facebook, and Ted was happy to share photos of Hobo with his buddy.

"I'm glad to do that. Those dogs meant everything to us," he said.

Michalowski shares the sentiment. "What do they call that term for dogs in heaven? The rainbow bridge? Hobo, he'll be waiting for me."

Michalowski receives his health care at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.