Visiting America’s most obscure National Monument

Yesterday I visited one of the most obscure national monuments in the nation: the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument, located on the grounds of Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

The national monument—which is best described as a national memorial—is the only one managed by the Department of Defense (in conjunction with the Airmen Heritage Foundation) and one of only two Treasured Places that are located on an active military installation (the other is Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial).

While the national monument was designated as a rider in the FY2008 Defense appropriations bill, it wasn’t opened to the public until late 2013. Well, open to the members of the public that can pass a background check and obtain a visitor pass from the military base, at least. Luckily, there’s a law that allows for reasonable public access for visitors—and their dogs—to the national monument. That said, you’ll want to give yourself some extra time to wait for the required background check before you can gain access to the site.

A “daytrip” to San Antonio

As one of the most obscure national monuments in the country—and with my travel focused on completing my National Parks quest—I didn’t have it on my radar until I decided to tackle the Treasured Places list. So I really kicked myself for not having included it the last three times we were recently in the San Antonio area.

Side view of the main bronze sculptures with the Not Forgotten Fountain at the far left.

As the second-from-last Treasured Place I needed to visit to finish, and with a deadline to finish approaching, I needed to get there soon. After weighing the options of driving versus flying, it become obvious that it would be a lot cheaper, and much quicker, to fly. So I booked the cheapest ticket I could find to fly from Phoenix to San Antonio, along with the cheapest return ticket I could find for later the same day. I would be taking a “daytrip” to San Antonio, just to finish this one weird little national monument.

Visiting the National Monument

This is definitely one of the more unusual national monuments you’ll visit. While it’s less than a mile to the memorial site from the Valley Hi entrance to Lackland AFB, you’ll need to spend some time in the “Visitor Center” to receive your visitor pass. Make sure you bring your drivers license and don’t have any warrants. Once through the front gate, it’s a quick drive to the parking area and an equally short walk to the site itself. And, truth be told, it’s also a relatively quick site to visit. You’ll need just a few minutes to experience everything this national monument has to offer.

The main bronze sculptures are on a granite platform showcasing a soldier flanked by four different breeds of military dogs, which is shadowed by a large granite wall. On one side of the wall is some descriptive text, while the backside features photos of military dogs in combat action. But the highlight of the site is tucked into a corner of the 3000-square foot plaza. Named the Not Forgotten Fountain, it depicts a Vietnam soldier pouring water from his canteen into his helmet to create a water dish for his dog—a moving tribute.

While the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument isn’t likely to top anyone’s “Must Visit” list, it’s still a simple but well done memorial to an interesting subject. I hadn’t really considered the role that dogs had played in military actions. And if you love dogs, you’ll have a hard time not spending a few contemplative moments at the fountain.

A few final thoughts

First, it’s a bit weird to fly to another city only to return a few hours later. I’m used to only having carry-ons for most of my trips, but it’s weird when you bring the smallest backpack you own and it’s still essentially empty. I could have literally just carried everything I brought with me in my hands.

Similarly, I was asked several times by random strangers what brought me to San Antonio. I can’t imagine what went through their heads when I answered that I had flown in specifically to see the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument. I am 100% certain that no one besides the guards at Lackland had ever heard of it before, but I got absolutely zero follow up questions. Answering that question was a total conversation killer.

I would have been pretty disappointed had this been the last site I needed to visit to complete the Treasured Places list. No offense, but yeah…it’s just a memorial. But luckily, I had saved one spot I had been wanting to visit for well over a decade—a place I’ll visit next week!

Having already visited San Antonio a number of times, and without much time to explore beyond the city, I made just a few stops. After lunch and beverages at Blue Star Brewing, I visited Menger Bar (one of the oldest bars in Texas—and where Teddy Roosevelt recruited Rough Riders). I then made a quick stop at San Pedro Springs Park, the second oldest park in the US and the origin site for the settlement that became San Antonio. From there it was back to the airport to fly home!

If you missed the short video of the National Monument above, scroll back up and check it out.

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