Milwaukee VA Medical Center
A dog named Hobo: A Vietnam Vet remembers
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 an Air Force friend, who sent him extra photos of Hobo he 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.
“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.”
Michalowski joined the Air Force in 1970. After a couple weeks leave in 1971, he was boarding an airplane in Milwaukee that would eventually take him to Vietnam.
He was 19.
“We had no way of knowing what would happen or what we would get into,” he said. “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.”
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.
“Let’s put it this way: 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, and it took two more days to be able to get him to work with me.
“He was probably looking at me and thinking, ‘You’re not Joe! You ain’t Joe!’ 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. Then, when we got off, it was another four hours taking care of the dog, 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.
“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 we’d go back to the kennel to play with them.”
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.
Michalowski heard the dogs would be given to the South Vietnamese Army or euthanized.
“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.
“I only had one photo of him. I destroyed all my pictures from Vietnam because I didn’t want to remember anymore, save for that photo. My wife stopped me. I burned all the rest.”
About five years ago he helped raise money for a K-9 memorial in Menomonee Falls where he talked about his partner from so many decades ago. And then, a few days back, he was scrolling through a K-9 Facebook page and saw a familiar face.
“I remember faces and nicknames from the military, but not full names. I asked him if he remembered me.”
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.”
Back in Vietnam, they were simply known as the “Skis” – easier that way when there are three Polish troops in the unit.
“I was Ski or Big Ski, (Michalowski) was Ski 2, and there was another guy, he was Ski 3. Otherwise, when they said, ‘Ski,’ we’d all look,” Kozikowski said.
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 adopted 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.”
Kozikowski stayed active-duty Air Force until 1993 before retiring as a master sergeant.
The two have talked back and forth on Facebook, and he 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!” he said. “Hobo, he’ll be waiting for me.”