Knife River, MN (NNCNOW.com) - A small crowd had gathered outside the VFW Post 2720 in Deer River just after noon Thursday.
Moments before, they had been inside the Vet's Club, gathered around a unique memorial for a fallen soldier.
Like every Battlefield Cross, at its center was an inverted rifle.
"It represents a fallen soldier," said U.S. Army Sergeant Scott McDermond, who constructed the cross. "The harness is actually his very harness that he wore in Iraq. That was his collar; the inverted food bowl, and his leash, and then his urn," he listed, pointing to the objects.
The fallen soldier's name is Sam. Like U.S. Army Sergeant Scott McDermond, Sam was a combat veteran, and Sgt. McDermond's best friend.
But Sgt. McDermond says it was tougher for people not to get along with the 9 1/2–year–old German Shepherd Collie.
"He loved just about everybody he met; except ceiling fans," laughed McDermond, "he didn't like ceiling fans."
"He was my boy," reminisced a smiling Marcia McDermond, Scott's mother, who often watched Sam when Scott was away. "We couldn't get him to come in the house. You'd bring him in and he would pout. The dog could pout!"
Sgt. McDermond's military path led him to Sam after a number of deployments throughout Iraq ended in 2006 when he was injured by a suicide car bomber in Ramadi.
"From there I healed up; I made the decision that I want to go back, and I want to prevent it from happening to someone else," said McDermond.
A request to enter specialized search dog school took Sgt. McDermond to Lackland Air Force Base in '07.
Afterward, he joined the 97th Military Police Batallion K9 section, and was deployed once again to Iraq.
This time the explosive–sniffing Sam was by his side, and their training soon paid off when one day Sam responded to a threat outside their stationed camp's training grounds.
"By his response that means there's something there, and outside the training area means the instructors didn't put it there," said McDermond, "it was a half a pound of Iraqi C4, but there was no blasting cap."
Sam proved that day he could do his job, but soon after Sgt. McDermond said Sam's friendly misdemeanor, and intelligence, effectively halted his career as a bomb-sniffing dog.
In January of 2010, he was reevaluated for adoption, and Sgt. McDermond brought a very happy Sam home for an early retirement.
A few months ago, Sgt. McDermond left Sam with his mother Marcia while he went through advanced courses.
On March 16th, he got the call that Sam had been killed by a car on Highway 46.
"I blamed myself for days," said an emotional Marcia McDermond, "and he's telling me over the phone, 'Mom, it's not your fault.'"
While Sam's death came too soon, Sgt. McDermond was able to honor his friend's memory Thursday with an outdoor service led by the American Legion VFW Honor Guard, and National Honor Guard, complete with the folding of a flag, taps, and a gun salute.
...funeral services fit for a fallen hero, and in this case, one good boy.
Sergeant McDermond says it's not uncommon for animals in military service to be honored, but it is rare to see such services outside of a military base.