They were buddies who’d been in the service together and been through a lot – seeing active duty in four deployments.

Soldiers come to know they can depend on each other in those circumstances, and it’s a bond that never dies even when one of the buddies does.

Air Force Sgt. Kyle Smith is tough, but saying goodbye to his best friend was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.”

He was with his buddy when he died and was one of the soldiers who draped an American flag over the body.

They’d gone to McDonald’s for a Big Mac and then Smith went on the painful final mission – taking his K9 partner, Bodza, to the veterinary hospital to be euthanized.

Smith adopted Bodza after the canine was retired from active duty and had to make the difficult decision when the canine grew ill.

“I hugged him and told him I loved him and I was going to miss him,” Smith said of the photo that is bringing tears to the eyes of dog lovers around the world who could relate to the pain of having to say goodbye to a beloved animal.

“He was just goofy. He liked running around and just being a dog.”

Dogs have served in the military since at least World War II, serving as sentries, scouts and trackers in search and rescue operations when the retire from active duty on the front.

The dogs were returned to the U.S. to be adopted, usually by their military partners until they were designated “expendable equipment” in the Vietnam War and euthanized or turned over to the South Vietnamese Army.

Human veterans of that war lobbied Congress to end that practice and President Clinton signed the law making adoption possible and providing a happy ending for the military partners.

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