The anniversary of a major historical event is approaching, but many Americans have never heard of it. Lodi resident Joyce Harmon can't forget it.
"I have a library on it," she said.
Harmon has collected newspaper articles, photographs and books documenting the sacrifice of a shaggy black dog named Gander, not only because she grew up in Canada where the event holds great significance, but because her late husband had a direct role in the conflict.
Harmon was born in Nova Scotia and moved to California with her husband Ken Clarkson in 1949. She knew he had been a prisoner of war in China during World War II, but it was years before she knew any details of his experience.
Clarkson was a member of the Royal Rifles of Canada, who gathered in Gander, Newfoundland before being deployed to China in 1941. A stranger gave the soldiers a big shaggy black dog. The men adopted him as their mascot and named him for the town.
The Royal Rifles of Canada were deployed to the island of Hong Kong to reinforce the British garrison stationed there. As mascot, Gander came along.
Hours after landing, the Canadian troops were overrun by the Japanese, filling a local hospital with wounded men. Gander alerted men to attacks by barking and nudging the soldiers.
On Dec. 19, the fighting was harsh. Seven wounded soldiers lay on the ground, helpless to drag themselves to safety. A Japanese soldier pulled the key loose on a grenade. It rolled toward the group of men. Before it could reach them, however, Gander picked it up in his mouth and trotted away. He was killed when the grenade exploded a moment later. The men were safe.
But on Dec. 25, they could not fight any more. They had lasted three weeks with no reinforcements, but now had to surrender. The men remained prisoners until the war's end in 1945.
There was little food, only a teaspoon of meat a month, along with rotted fish and thin rice. Many died while imprisoned in Sham Shui Po Barracks in Hong Kong, as their emaciated bodies could not handle the work they were forced to do.
"They were under unbelievable conditions. It's hard to believe humans could treat other humans that way," Harmon said.
Of the 2,500 men originally captured, only 50 were eventually released, rehabilitated and discharged from the military. But that group would stay in touch for the rest of their lives.
Harmon attended many reunions of that group with her husband, and continued to attend after his death in 1976. They remembered Gander fondly, and were still grateful for his sacrifice.
Years later, after many hours of work by these veterans, Gander was awarded the Dickin Medal. The ceremony was held on Oct. 27, 2000. Another Newfoundland dog stood in for Gander to receive the medal.
Harmon was shocked to learn so few Americans know Gander's story.
Canadian students study the hardships of Canadian soldiers imprisoned and forced to work in Hong Kong and Japan during WWII. They even raise money for annual trips to see the memorials in China. Though there is no national day of remembrance for Gander, he is not forgotten by the Canadian people.
American students learn about American battles and American heroes, as they should, said Harmon. But Americans have very little knowledge of military history that is still honored in Canada to this day.
"I hope they learn from it. Canada and the United States are next-door neighbors. We may be a quiet and peaceful country, but we have our history," she said.