Michigan family gives final farewell to aging Marine war dog

(WOOD/CNN) — A Marine war dog who served his country in Afghanistan received his final farewell Saturday.

Rico was a 12-and-a-half year old German shepherd and a proud member of the Beckley family.

“Rico’s not just an animal. He’s not just a dog. He’s a United States Marine,” said Russ Beckley Sr.

Age has caught up with Rico — his sight, his hearing, even his hips. All that of a dog who’s lived a long life.

But pictures from years before show the war dog at his finest. Rico spent two tours in Afghanistan as a combat tracker alongside Russ and Tommy’s son, Russ Junior.

“You learn to sleep on your back with your cell phone on your chest wondering where they’re at, or how things are going,” Beckley said.

The pair, which shared a bed rack for more than a year, would both survive the war.

Today, Russ Junior is still an active duty Marine, living in North Carolina with a wife and kids. Upon Rico’s retirement in 2012, he went to live with his handler’s parents in Saugatuck, Michigan.

But now, four years later, came perhaps the toughest decision Russ Senior ever had to make. “Rico has honored us and it’s time for me to honor him by letting him go.”

Before saying their final farewell to the loyal Marine dog — complete with a 21-gun salute, Taps and a flag-draped coffin, after more than a year apart, old partners on the battlefield were reunited Friday.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” said Russ Beckley Jr. “There was not a moment that it wasn’t his mission or his goal to be by my side. I was everything to him and he was everything to me.

“Rico was always there for me. Now I’m gonna be there for him,” he said.

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