Through books, films, television, museums, and memorials, most of us have at least a passing knowledge of the stories of the brave men and women who served in World War II. Yet only a few know of the countless animals who also served.

One museum is hoping to change that. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans will be running a special exhibit celebrating the animals who were employed for service during the war. The exhibit, Loyal Forces: Animals in WW II, begins July 22 and runs through October 17, 2010. According to the museum, the exhibit “allows visitors to see another side of World War II, and demonstrates how lessons learned then continue to help us in the utilization of animals and their unique abilities today.”

Rightly or wrongly, countless animals were drafted to help the war effort. Pigeons, dogs, horses, and mules were used in the greatest numbers.  Some animals were celebrated as heroes, such as the pigeon Lady Astor, who delivered a vital message even after being shot. Many more suffered worse fates, including being killed or left behind in combat zones.

Some odd facts are highlighted in this new exhibit. For example, the Coast Guard used more horses than any other branch of the military during WWII — nearly 3,000 of them. Coast Guard personnel rode horses as they patrolled the nation’s shores. The museum also does not focus just on America’s military use of animals. According to the AP, the “first thing visitors will see in the special exhibits gallery is a German reconnaissance horse and soldier, representing the European theater.” There is also a slideshow  “about servicemen’s encounters with exotic animals — playing with monkeys, riding on elephants and camels.”

While there is something disturbing about animals being used to fight our wars, the National World War II Museum should be commended for honoring them. Otherwise, they would be forgotten, just like the vast majority of animals exploited by humankind.

Photo Credit: Public Domain