SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. (KTIV) - When you take a trip to Siouxland Freedom Park, in South Sioux City, Nebraska, you'll see tributes to the service and sacrifice of Siouxland's military men and women. That includes a dog park named for a Navy SEAL dog handler killed in Afghanistan in 2011.
John Douangdara was a kindhearted and humble man that family members say would give you the shirt off of his back. The dog park stands as a memorial to his selflessness, and his sacrifice. "He got it right," said Chan Follen, Sister. "He figured out what he loved, he did what he loved."
Growing up in South Sioux City, Nebraska, Douangdara loved dogs. But, his love became a career during his first tour of duty in Sicily. "And, he started spending a lot of time in the kennels out there at (Naval Air Station) Sigonella," said Follen. "From there he grew relationships with the dog handlers. And, he ended up qualifying to be a dog handler."
Douangdara, and his dog Bart, were assigned to the Naval Special Operations Warfare group. On August 6th, 2011, the two were tasked to SEAL Team 6, in what would become their final mission. "They got a call to go out and help on a mission," said Follen. "A lot of it is classified still. All I know is that they went out to help on a mission, and their Chinook was shot down."
Still grieving, a friend approached the city council with an idea to honor Douangdara in a special way. One of the friends we grew up with actually went to the city council and said 'hey, we have a hometown hero that we just lost'," said Follen. "'It's fitting that we already have a dog park in Freedom Park. Why don't we name it after him since he's a dog handler?' And, they did."
But, Douangdara's family thought there should be something more. "We were grateful that the park was named after him, but we wanted something more than that," said Follen. "Something that would draw us to the park. Not just to bring the dogs out here, but something to remind us of him. And, so, it blossomed into a statue."
The statue, which shows Douangdara kneeling, with Bart beside him, also serves as a place for Douangdara's family to gather, reflect and remember. "He's buried in Arlington, so there are times that we can't go out and just reflect and spend time with him," said Follen. "So, having a little piece of him here really brings comfort to the family." So does the notion that Douangdara's memory lives on. "I hope the legacy is just keeping his name around," said Follen. "I want multiple generations to know who John Douangdara was. Not just John, but every service member that was near and dear to anybody in this nation."
You can see the half hour Siouxland Freedom Park special Saturday night at 6:30pm here on KTIV. It is a special program about the Freedom Park, its history, its future and how you can help. It is an effort to help raise funds to complete the interpretive center at the park. You can find out more and how you can make a donation right now at www.ktiv.com.