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The legacy of MWD Nemo and Robert ‘Bob’ Thorneburg

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Kate Anderson

Vietnam War Veteran Airman Robert ‘Bob’ Throneburg and his partner, Military Working Dog Nemo, have an enduring legacy within the working dog community. On April 2, Throneburg’s family came to see the impacts of this legacy in person when they visited the 341st Training Squadron.

During this visit, Susan Throneburg-Brislin, daughter of Bob Thorneburg, and her family saw the 341st TRS from a different perspective. The Brislin’s learned the special capabilities of the 341st TRS, the world of the Military Working Dog, and saw the legacy left by the late Throneburg and MWD Nemo.

As a child, Jett Brislin, grandson of Throneburg, found a book with MWDs that included Nemo during a book fair, marking the beginning of his realization of how well his grandfather’s story was known. “I never understood how many people knew,” Jett said, “when we walked in the theater, and they asked who knew Nemo and everybody said they know who Nemo is. I never realized; everybody knows.”

During the MWD handler course, students hear Nemo’s Story as a part of their curriculum. Nemo A534 was a German Shepherd who served during the Vietnam War with his handler, Bob Throneburg. The story demonstrates the bravery of MWDs, their handlers and the partnership between handler and dog.

For the Brislin family, Throneburg was just "dad" and "grandpa;" however, throughout their time at the 341st TRS, they saw he was so much more to the MWD community.

While Throneburg’s story is well known throughout the MWD community, the details were not shared at home. Susan said, “It’s not something that we ever talked about growing up, but even after I learned more about it, no one ever really knew. It was like, ‘Oh my dad is in the Air Force, cool’ but I don’t think we ever went into detail.”

Throughout the years, Susan and her father grew close, and his passing in 2020 hit the entire family hard. The connections she had to the MWD community through her father resulted in the invitation to see the impact Throneburg made.

Christopher Dion, of the Airmen Heritage Foundation, said, “In the canine community, there is no mistaking, they know Bob Throneburg and Nemo… one of the biggest impacts that he has on the story of the Air Force canine handler is the way people look at the Air Force. We are warriors,” he said referring to MWD handlers.

During the visit, the Brislin family saw MWD training in action, the Holland Military Working Dog Hospital and the Security Forces Museum where there is a MWD kennel display dedicated to Throneburg and the authentic kennel where Nemo lived following his service in Vietnam.

Susan has deep-rooted connections to the canine world through her experience in veterinarian care and got the opportunity to see the top medical care provided to MWDs at the Holland Military Working Dog Hospital. “You can see the teamwork and the passion which is a huge deal to me,” she said, “especially working with a veterinarian, working in the medical field, it really does take a team to make things work.”

The Brislin family was presented with a gift from the 341st TRS at the end of the tour. It was a brick from Nemo’s original kennel along with a certificate of authenticity.

MWDs provide a special capability to the armed services. They are all trained here, at the 341st TRS, where Nemo’s story is told.

The 341st TRS is home to the MWD training, breeding, and adoption programs. All MWD handlers, from all the military branches are trained here. The squadron has approximately 800 dogs in its care at any time.

Nemo and Throneburg’s story is one that will not be forgotten.

On December 4, 1966, Throneburg and Nemo were out on patrol. During this patrol, Nemo alerted the Airmen to nearby combatants and hostile fire erupted. Both Throneburg and Nemo were struck during the attack; however, despite his severe injuries, Nemo guarded his handler until medical help arrived. Nemo is credited for saving Throneburg’s life during this attack and they were reunited before leaving Vietnam.

Nemo recovered from his wounds and was one of the first K-9s retired from service. He returned to Lackland Air Force Base where he worked as a recruiting dog. Nemo died in December 1972 and his kennel was designated a memorial to remember the bravery of Military Working Dogs.

Nemo’s memorial was dedicated on November 15, 2005, and in 2013 it was relocated to the Security Forces Museum where it can be seen today.