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Four-legged 'Santa' a savior during Battle of the Bulge

Tucked between dollar bills, nestled next to a black-and-white photograph of his wife Gloria, Stan Saltz pulls out a second snapshot, the one of him as a 19-year-old Army private and survivor of the bloodiest battle in the second World War.

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But the photo isn’t about the Florida resident. It’s about the German shepherd, a four-legged member of the German Army who, by Saltz’s account, saved him and everyone in his squad as they fought Germans in subzero temperatures in the woods of Belgium.

Seventy-three years later, Saltz, now a Delray Beach retiree, still tears up over the picture of his buddy, the one he named Santa.

Sunday, Saltz was among friends who could relate, He and other survivors of the Battle of the Bulge gathered in West Palm Beach for the anniversary of the battle’s beginning on Dec. 16, 1944.

Their select group is shrinking rapidly as the generation ages. They were youngsters that December so long ago, but now Saltz is 92. The local events’ organizer, George Fisher, is 94.

This chapter of Battle of the Bulge veterans began in 1998 with 425 former soldiers. In a time when other chapters across the country are folding as survivors’ numbers dwindle. Florida’s Southeast Chapter stands as the nation’s vanguard with 123.

As Fisher likes to say, “Many of us may not remember what we had for lunch, but we will never forget the 10 below zero, the snow and the horrors of frontline infantry combat.”

On Dec. 16, 1944, three German armies began what would be their last major offensive campaign on the Western Front. Adolf Hitler intended to split the Allied armies in northwest Europe by a surprise push through the Ardennes Forest.

Saltz walked 27 miles with the Army’s 75th Infantry, enticed to continue with the promise of a truck down the road that never materialized. They arrived on Christmas Eve, in time for Saltz to relieve a soldier in what was left of the 106th.

“He gave me a hug and took off. Didn’t even tell me where ‘Jerry’ was,” Saltz recalled. “Must’ve been maybe a half hour later. I’m in the foxhole. And I heard this – “ at this point, Saltz makes a low, quiet growl.

Saltz got up for a look and found a German police dog that didn’t seem long for this world.

“He was bloodied up by his master. His tongue was hanging out. His eyes were glazing over,” Saltz said. 

Saltz brought the dog into the foxhole with him, gave him water, fed him K-rations and named him Santa. “He lapped it up and never left my side,” he said.

Not only did Santa stick around. He also alerted Saltz every time a German soldier was nearby. He wouldn’t make a sound, but he would tug on Saltz’s pant leg. “He was very smart.”

“He could smell a German half a mile away,” Saltz said. “Everyone wanted to go on patrol with Saltz. Why? Because Santa was there.”

When Saltz was hit by shrapnel above his right eye and rushed down the hill for medical care, Santa went with and didn’t even let the nurse near the man until Saltz told Santa to sit and stay while she stitched him up. They both promptly returned to the front line.

Against all odds, the Allies held the line at a steep price: 81,000 American casualties including 19,000 dead. But none were from Saltz’s squad.

“My life and my squad were saved by a German Army police dog,” Saltz said.

The Battle of the Bulge ended on Jan. 25, 1945. And shortly after, Saltz, still bandaged at his temple, and Santa posed for a photo.

Saltz says God sent Santa to him that Christmas Eve, and he was gone just as abruptly by February or March, hopping off a train full of troops to do his business on solid ground. The train then headed out without him.

“We cried for a week,” Saltz said.

In another breath, Saltz will tell you that same year he became an atheist “when I saw Dachau.”

Saltz came home. Married Gloria who stayed with him until she died 67 years later. He went on to work in the food service industry. The couple had two children and four grandchildren, but no dogs. 

“Nobody could replace (Santa),” he said.

Thief breaks into home, only steals family dog

A Newton family says their home was broken into on Friday, but the most bizarre part of the theft is that the burglar only took one thing from the house -- the family's dog.

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The situation has the family wondering who would've done something like this, and what their motivations may have been. They are now offering a large reward for whomever can bring their beloved dog back home.

"My kids are having a hard time, and it's Christmas, it's around Christmas. I don't understand why would anyone do this," said Vanessa Kelly. "This dog is not just a dog, he's part of our family. He's like a child. He's my child."

Home is not the same for this family now that their 1-year-old, 10-pound Havanese dog is missing.

Vanessa Kelly and Andres Zuneiga say they discovered their dog Maxi was gone when they came home on Friday and he didn't come to the door. 

Their other dogs, they say, looked shaken up -- one was acting shy and vomiting --when they discovered footprints in the back yard and a screen door that had been tampered with.

They believe the thieves came in through the back and went out the front. Neighbors told them they saw two young men chasing the dog down the block and a suspicious car nearby.

"I don't feel safe in my own house. I mean they came in and stole our little dog. It's unbelievable," Zuneiga said. 

The couple says they don't know why someone would've targeted them, but they find it suspicious that the thieves took nothing but the dog.

The family says that, regardless of why someone would want to take their dog, they just want their family member back, and they're willing to pay.

"We are holding onto hope, we're offering a high reward. If this was a joke, it's fine. We understand. We won't present charges. Just bring our dog back and let's move on," Kelly and Zuneiga said.

Newton Police are aware of the theft and are investigating this puzzling incident.

Florida man offers $10,000 reward for return of pet monkey

A Broward County family is offering a $10,000 reward for the return of their 3-month-old capuchin monkey stolen from their home.

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Carl Minix said someone broke into his house through a bedroom window while he and his wife were out to dinner, and took their exotic pet named Henry but nothing else, WSVN in Miami reported. 

Minix said he spent about $9,000 on Henry, including the time and expense of getting a state permit. "I worked a long time to be able to get him," he said.But it's about more than money to Minix.

"That’s my child," he said. 

Minix hired investigator Jamie Katz to help in the search.

"Just give him up. There's no questions asked," Katz said. "They’re will be no charges, no anything. We just want Henry back."

Boston bans plastic bags

Boston is the latest city to ban plastic bags after Mayor Marty Walsh announced on Sunday he signed a city-wide ordinance.

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Walsh told Boston 25 News he signed the ban on Friday after the City Council unanimously had approved it last month.

Walsh says he supports the ban because of it's environmental benefits, but that he's still concerned about the impact this will have on the poor.

The ban encourages shoppers to use reusable bags or pay a $.05 fee for compostable plastic bags or paper bags.

Paper bags without handles would still be free and businesses would keep all bag fee proceeds.

The ban will go into effect next fall.

Walsh spoke about his concerns regarding the ban while attending the Christmas in the City event, and pointed out the ban affected local families. 

"We're here today at Christmas in the City, many of these families that are here are on a fixed income, a dollar a bag or fifty cents a bag, five cents a bag on top of all the other charges that people have to pay -- that adds up.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

'I think 'The Walking Dead' started like this’: Twitter reacts to Atlanta airport shutdown

A power outage was reported at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport around 1 p.m. Sunday.

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Reports from the scene describe a swirling mass of people trying to get cellphone signals in a darkened airport.

Online, people began posting photos and video they said were taken at the scene.

Other people reacted with a skepticism of Atlanta infrastructure, especially this year.

And of course, there were jokes.

For more information, check out the rest of the AJC’s coverage of the power loss.

Team owner to put Carolina Panthers up for sale amid sexual misconduct investigation

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson will put the team up for sale, the team announced Sunday.

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The Panthers released a statement from Richardson via Twitter Sunday night that read in part:"There has been no greater mission or purpose in my life than to have brought an NFL franchise to Charlotte. The obstacles back then were significant, and some even questions whether our community could or would support professional football. But I always knew that if given the chance, The Carolinas would rise to the occasion."

Check back with wsoctv.com for updates on this developing story.

Penguin chick hatches at National Aviary

The National Aviary got an early gift this holiday season, and it’s just a little bigger than a golf ball.

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An African penguin chick hatched at the North Side institution Saturday, right on schedule, the aviary said.

It’s the first of two eggs to hatch for parents Sidney and Bette, who will care for the chick while still incubating the second egg, which is expected to hatch in the next few days.

The aviary will leave the chick in the nest for the first three weeks as it’s nourished first by an attached yolk sac and then partially digested fish provided by its parents.

After that, the aviary will move it – and its younger sibling – indoors to be cared for by experts until they’re old enough to join the colony in the Penguin Point exhibit, which is home to 20 African penguins.

Fans have been able to watch the incubation of the egg on a nest cam provided by the aviary.

Injured linebacker Ryan Shazier cheers on Steelers at Heinz Field

Ryan Shazier is out of the hospital, at least temporarily.

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The injured Steelers linebacker is in a suite at Heinz Field this afternoon watching his teammates take on the Patriots.

The team showed him on the Jumbotron, eliciting a roar from the crowd.

Shazier has been ruled out for the season after he injured his spine making a tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals Dec. 4.

Sunday marks his first public appearance outside the hospital since his injury, which required spinal stabilization surgery.

Father sentenced to 6 months in jail after beating infant 

A man who broke more than 20 bones in his infant daughter was sentenced to jail on Friday.

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Richard A. Root, 21, beat his 2-month-old daughter in March because he said he was stressed and had not gotten enough sleep, according to The OshKosh Northwestern.

Root shook the 2-month-old and knelt on her legs while changing her diaper, according to court records. She suffered multiple broken bones, injuries to her face and brain bleeds, doctors said. 

She was taken to the hospital where she was treated and released to a family member, according to the Northwestern.

Root was sentenced to six months in jail and seven years of probation for child neglect resulting in great bodily harm. He is also supposed to undergo counseling.

'Unknown' veteran's funeral draws hundreds of strangers 

He may have been an unknown soldier in life, but Glenn McCoy Shelton’s death brought hundreds of strangers together to honor the former Marine with a dignified sendoff.

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Shelton, 68, a Vietnam veteran and a Purple Heart recipient, died Nov. 26, WXIN reported.

Indiana Funeral Care organized Saturday’s gathering by spreading the word on social media.

According to his obituary, his “family information is unknown.”

"He fought for us so we could stand here today and so I thought, he was abandoned in life at some point but we don't want him to be abandoned in death," Sara Thompson, general manager for Indiana Funeral Care, told WTHR.

“Essentially, we have date of birth and his last known address and that is essentially it. We were able to find out he is a veteran and that he is a Marine, served in Vietnam and during that time was awarded a Purple Heart," Thompson told WTHR.

Birth indexes in Kentucky list a Glenn McCoy Shelton, an African-American born April 16, 1949, in Louisville. Reached by telephone Sunday afternoon by Cox Media Group, Thompson confirmed this was the same person. According to a Virginia marriage certificate, Shelton was the son of Alvin John Shelton and Christine Elizabeth Bright. His first marriage, on June 5, 1981 in Roanoke, Virginia, was to a divorcee, Selma Jean Chilous Davis.

Shelton’s mother died in 2001.

Because Shelton had no direct relatives who contacted the funeral home, Indiana Funeral Care arranged the ceremony. It had to move the site of the service to the Allison Christian Church in Indianapolis “due to overwhelming support by the community,” the funeral home noted in a Facebook post.

“It’s just absolutely wonderful,” Russell Pryor, commander for the VFW District 11, told WXIN. “It shows me that no matter when you served, who you served with or where you served, we’re here to support you.”

Shelton was buried at the Indiana Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Madison. Because Shelton was one of 361,794 veterans to receive a Purple Heart, his funeral services were paid for, WTHR reported.

People who attended Saturday’s event received a dog tag with Shelton’s name engraved, WXIN reported.

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