Thursday, June 9, 2016

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” ― Roger A. Caras

I read recently of the death of the last hero dog that worked the 9/11 tragedy.  There were many dogs that helped, but the last one’s death reminded me of one of the most famous war dogs of all time, Sgt. Stubby, a hero of World War I.  Sergeant Stubby was a stray, homeless mutt who saved more lives, saw more combat, and performed more feats of heroic awesomeness than most people could ever hope to accomplish.  The so-pathetic-it's-adorable little dog was taken in by a soldier named John Robert Conroy, who named the pup "Stubby" on account of the thing's little stumpy gimp tail. Conroy started leaving food out and let the little guy sleep in the barracks from time to time.  After just a few weeks of hanging around the drill field, watching the soldiers do their thing, Stubby learned the bugle calls, could execute the marching maneuvers with the men, and was trained to salute superior officers by raising his forepaw to his brow.  Private Stubby had free reign to drink out of any toilet bowl on the Yale campus during training, and when the order came down for the 102nd to ship out to battle Conroy just stuffed the dog into his greatcoat and smuggled him on board a ship bound for France. Once the transport was under way, Conroy brought the dog out onto the deck, and the sailors had a machinists' mate make him a set of dog tags to match the ones worn by the soldiers. 
     This is where it gets good. Stubby became the official mascot of the American Expeditionary Force, and did his part to raise morale of the war-weary soldiers on the front lines.  Stubby also participated in 17 battles and four major offensives – including the St. Mihel, Meuse-Argonne, Aisne-Marne, and Champagne Marne campaigns. In February 1918, while fighting in a heated sector north of Soissons, Stubby found himself under constant artillery and sniper fire for over a month straight with no respite, responding by howling and barking in "a battle rage" every time gunshots started ringing out. He was wounded in action later that month in a chemical weapons attack, when the Germans launched some mustard gas that poisoned the little dog so hard it nearly died.  But this was a pit bull, and it would take more than a lung full of poison gas to slow him down. Instead of dying, Stubby became more hardcore – he could now sniff out mustard gas before it became lethal. From that point on, any time a gas canister exploded near American lines, Stubby would run up and down the trenches barking and biting men until they put their gas masks on, an act that saved countless lives. 
    In addition to providing early warning for chemical attacks, Stubby could also use his supersonic dog-hearing to detect artillery fire before the shells started exploding – a trait that earned him the gratitude of many men who probably would have been blown up if it wasn't for this little guy's warnings.   Also, as soon as the Germans would go over the top, Stubby would sniff them coming and run over and bite the nearest American sentry until that guy sounded the alarm. It didn't take long for the doughboys to learn that if the dog started going crazy it was time to hit the deck.   Stubby the Combat Canine spent a lot of his free time running around through No Man's Land looking for wounded and dying Allied soldiers to rescue. According to first-hand accounts, this dog could hear English being spoken and he'd immediately run over and check out the wounded man. If the soldier was able to walk, Stubby would lead him back to friendly lines. If the guy was wounded too badly to move, Stubby would stand there and bark until a medic arrived.   Stubby the War Dog was wounded in combat in April 1918, when he was hit with a German hand grenade while participating in the assault on the German town of Schieprey. Despite receiving shrapnel wounds to his forelimbs and chest, Stubby survived the grenade blast, lived through some emergency surgery, and spent his convalescence time cheering up the wounded men in the field hospital. He returned to action a few months later and helped participate in the liberation of Chateau Thierry. The men of the 102nd made Stubby a jacket designed to look like an American military uniform, and then they decorated it with Stubby's name, rank, and medals – medals that included the Purple Heart, the Republic of France Grande War Medal, the Medal of Verdun, and medals for every campaign in which he'd served.  But this hero dog wasn't done yet. While serving in the Argonne Forest during the Meuse-Argonne campaign of September 1918, Stubby was patrolling the trenches when he discovered a camouflaged German spy hiding out mapping the Allied trenches. Stubby started barking and wouldn’t stop. The German turned and ran for it. That was just the opportunity Stubby was looking for. The dog ran this guy down from behind, launched itself like a hair-covered missile, and bit into his calf, dropping the spy to the ground. Then Stubby bit the dude on the butt and locked his jaws shut, refusing to let him move in any way at all until Americans showed up to arrest him. For his actions, Stubby the Butt-Biting Hero Dog was given a battlefield promotion to the rank of Sergeant, which meant that the dog now outranked his owner, who was only a Corporal by this point. Stubby became the first dog to be promoted to a rank and when the Americans brought the German spy back to camp they stripped the prisoner of his Iron Cross and pinned the German military medal on the dog's jacket instead.
     After the war, Sergeant Stubby was smuggled back to the states, where he was an instant celebrity. He was inducted into the American Legion, offered free food for life from the YMCA, and wherever he went on war bonds promotion tours, five-star hotels would relax their "no dogs allowed" policy for the canine war hero. He went to the White House twice, met three presidents, and in 1921 the American overall commander "Black Jack" Pershing personally pinned a one-of-a-kind "Dog Hero Gold Medal" on Stubby's military jacket.
     Sergeant Stubby, American war hero dog, died in 1926, at the (approximate) age of ten. Nowadays he is stuffed and featured with his own exhibit at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History.  That was some dog, and I’m proud of him even if he was before my time.  What a hero.
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