War veteran shares story about tiger

‘Tuffy’ lived to a ripe age of 18. Photo/Special.

There have been numerous stories in the media of soldiers rescuing abandoned or stray dogs in Afghanistan and bringing them home to the United States, but what about a Bengal tiger?

That’s exactly what happened in 1963 during the Vietnam War when the U.S. Army 93rd Transportation Company donated their mascot, Tuffy, a 250-pound Bengal tiger to the Toledo, Ohio zoo.
Willard Womack, a soldier in the company, recalled the story to students at Whitewater Middle as the school’s keynote speaker during their Veterans Day celebration on November 11.
The U.S. Marine Corps Guard at the American Embassy in Bangkok had originally adopted the tiger cub.

After the tiger outgrew his first headquarters, the marines turned the cat over to the 93rd Transportation Company in Vietnam, whose pilots built him a pen, complete with swimming pool.
Soon the company became known as the Soc Trang Flying Tigers.
Just as the students were enthralled with the stories and messages that were shared by veterans during the celebration, Womack was also moved by the event.

“I was truly overwhelmed, and brought close to tears, as we walked in to that standing ovation. For a moment or two, as I stood there, I was wondering if I could remember any thing that I had been thinking about to say. My mind just went a little numb,” he wrote in an email to Bonnie Hicks, the school’s computer connections teacher who helped organize the celebration.
Tuffy died at the zoo in June 1980 at the ripe old age of 18.

Oddly enough, one of the school’s teachers had a connection with Tuffy.
Eighth grade language arts teacher Julie Thomas worked at the zoo while the tiger was there.
After telling Womack about her story, he sent her a photo of Tuffy that had been taken while he was still living with the 93rd Transportation Company.

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