A base and its dog

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
In the decade of the 1940s, the winds of change swept across the entire world. The Bataan Peninsula fell, which began the forcible transfer of 76,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war - in what would be called the Bataan Death March. The Battle of Midway effectively halted the Japanese naval advance in the Pacific.

It was also the time when a "clumsy-footed" pup wandered onto Rapid City Air Base, S.D.

The dog, who would come to be known as Bismarck, "weighed about 50 pounds and 'was a sad looking thing' of mixed ancestry," according to retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. William E. Aisenbrey, formerly of the 28th Medical Group.

According to the legend surrounding Bismarck, he was brought to Rapid City Air Base by either a transient B-17 crew in training or by a fighter pilot who acquired the dog on a refueling stop in Bismarck, N.D. Regardless of his origin; Bismarck was quickly adopted as the base mascot, and given free access to the entire facility.

"Not only was he their mascot, I personally think he was a connection to home," said Paul Marcello, 28th Bomb Wing historian. "Bismarck was something non-military they could hold onto and cherish. He was good for morale."

Aisenbrey, in his tell-all article entitled, Myths and Facts about Bismarck: The Dog, Not the City, Not the Iron Chancellor, said he first saw "Ol' Biz" in February 1951. After finishing technical training he found himself travelling to his first assignment at Rapid City Air Base. Aisenbrey wrote that he met Bismarck while taking the bus to base, and had regarded him as, "the ugliest member of the canine world" he had ever seen.

"I patted him on his Saint Bernard-looking head, and he responded by what appeared to be belching, emitting an awful breath, and wagging his tail," Aisenbrey wrote. "Bismarck got off the bus near the Armament and Electronics barracks. (In the modern Air Force, barracks are referred to as dormitories). Little did I know I was to see that dog again, again, and again."

With Aisenbrey working in the veterinary clinic, he quickly developed a rapport with the dog that was recognized and loved by nearly everyone on base.

"Over the ensuing months, 'Ol' Biz' was brought in by loving G.I.s with nothing too seriously wrong with the dog," he said. "We were aware of the dog's affinity for beer and hot dogs. He had a large appetite. He was a real beggar, but you couldn't help but love the dog."

The longer Bismarck stayed on Ellsworth, the more his legend grew, Marcello said.

"A lot of Bismarck's story is conjecture, but that's what makes up some of the best stories," Marcello said. "But, there is no doubt how loved that dog was."

He was a shaggy, black-and-white dog with "sad eyes and droopy ears," said Aisenbrey. During his tenure on base, Bismarck was often seen drinking beer and associating with enlisted servicemembers - as he showed a marked disdain for officers. His obituary, featured in the Sept. 14, 1951 edition of the base newspaper - The Outpost, said he rose to the rank of master sergeant., while still maintaining an active social life.

"In past years, he was promoted to master sergeant, complete with a set of orders and dog tags," the obituary stated. "He was busted to corporal for chasing a member of his opposite sex through the NCO Mess Club and then rose to master sergeant again by time in grade."

Bismarck's lecherous and alcoholic ways seemed to only endear him with the servicemembers. He was often seen at Rapid City bars, lapping a drink from a glass and listening to servicemembers discussing their aircraft. However, his carefree lifestyle began to take its toll.

"As he approached the twilight of his life, Bismarck seemed to have joined the canine branch of alcoholics anonymous," the obituary stated. "He no longer embraced Bacchus but instead contented himself with sharing the candy bars and ice cream of Airmen in the PX or the bowling alley."

After developing a muscle infection, which was untreatable, Bismarck was euthanized in 1951. He was approximately 10 years old.

In the time following his death, the legend surrounding Bismarck grew by leaps and bounds. Some said he was buried underneath the base flagpole, others said his final resting place was at the end of the flightline on what is now Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. In reality, however, Bismarck's remains were simply incinerated as was the common practice at the time.

"Bismarck was never buried, and there was no military ceremony at the runway's end," Aisenbrey said.

Aisenbrey never told other service members what had happened to Bismarck.

"I knew better," he said. "I held my own counsel because nobody would believe me anyhow. If they did they might have lynched me, as the hound was extremely popular with the troops."

To this day, Bismarck's legacy lives on in the road and gate on Ellsworth that were named in his honor. As Rodney Delos Peterson, formerly of the Ellsworth Intelligence Section, wrote in his poem, The Saga of Sergeant Bismarck:

Yes, you live in our hearts, dear Bismarck,
so we've dedicated to you a spot.
The legend of Bismarck continues,
because we loved you a lot.