Marine family bids final farewell to beloved combat dog

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SAUGATUCK, Mich. (WOOD) — If one were to measure a dog’s life simply in numbers, Marine K-9 Rico couldn’t be bested.

He served two tours in Afghanistan. Been a part of more than 240 missions. Survived some 30 firefights. And has lived for 12-and-a-half-years.

But as any dog owner knows — especially Rico’s wartime partner, Marine Staff Sgt. Russ Beckley Jr. — it’s about much more than a military record.

“There was not a moment when it wasn’t his mission or his goal to be by my side. I was everything to him. And he was everything to me,” Beckley Jr. told 24 Hour News 8 Friday.

Friday, after more than a year apart, Beckley Jr. was finally reunited with Rico. The patriotic pup retired from the service in 2012, and has living in Saugatuck with Beckley’s parents, Tammy and Russ Beckley Sr., while Russ Jr. continues his service.

But it isn’t hard to see — Rico is in poor health. Time has slowly taken its toll on him. So on Saturday morning, the Beckley family made the difficult decision to put him down — and say their final farewell.

And they did so with honor. Both Russ Jr. and  Russ Sr. offered parting words as a crowd of dozens surrounded in tribute outside their family home.

Then, inside, with family by his side, Rico took his last breath.

“Mainly I was thinking about how loyal he was to our family. To my son. To myself. And to our country,” Russ Sr. said of that last moment with Rico. “He just kinda melted into my arms and we had a very nice goodbye.”

“I thanked Rico. For everything that he’s done for me. And I told him that I loved him,” Russ Jr. said.

What followed was a true military send-off. Russ Jr. lowered the American flag to half-staff. Visitors paid their respects at a homemade memorial. And then, father and son — both dressed in their Marine blues — carried out the war dog in a flag-draped coffin.

It was a send-off fitting for the family’s American hero. And for Russ Jr., the one who served alongside him — there’s the comfort of knowing that, someday, they will see each other again.

“I can just imagine one day, seeing my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father and my mother, standing there with Rico. And we will all be together again,” Russ Jr. told 24 Hour News 8 Saturday.

The Beckley’s are a four-generation Marine Corps family — five, if you count Rico. Russ Jr. earned a Purple Heart in 2011 after he was injured in combat.

Immediately after the service, the family drove Rico to Grand Rapids to be cremated. They plan to create a special place to honor him inside their home.

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