A four-legged soldier and a Marine confined to a wheelchair are helping each other heal at McGuire Veterans Hospital in Richmond, Va.
Yeager, a 7-year-old black Labrador, has completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Iraq and sniffed out more than 100 improvised explosive devices.
The heroic dog saved countless lives and has been awarded two Purple Heart military medals, but in April 2012 his heart was broken when his handler, Lance Cpl. Abraham Tarwoe, was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
The explosion also injured Yeager. The dog took shrapnel to the nose and chest, and he lost part of an ear.
But the loss of his handler was the hardest for Yeager. At Tarwoe’s memorial service, the dog lay down beside the Marine’s cross and refused to leave.
"They had to pull him away," Marine Sgt. David Tupper told WTVR. "Since he was also injured, it was kind of like a two-way street. He lost his handler, but was also going through recovery with it."
But, thanks to Tupper, Yeager isn't going through recovery alone.
Tupper is also has recuperating from combat-related injuries he suffered in Afghanistan, and for the past year, Yeager has been his constant canine companion.
"The day I went to receive him, he wouldn’t leave my side," Tupper said. "He climbed into the passenger seat into my lap."
Since then, Yeager has provided Tupper with support and helped him perform simple tasks.
"He helps me through the doors if it's a tight squeeze," Tupper said. "He'll get on my lap if we're going down a hill and kind of make sure I'm not going too fast. He gets worried. Recently, kayaking — when I'm doing flips — he gets real nervous and tries to get in the water to come to me."
Tupper says the pair's loyalty to each other is helping them heal from both physical and emotional wounds.
"Semper Fi," he said, quoting the Marine Corps motto. "Always faithful. We pass that along."
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