Valor Friday

| April 17, 2020

“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!” Once again, Mason has outdone himself. Today, on his unusual awards series, he pays homage to several Military Working Dogs. Read on..

Mason

Another in the series of unusual military valor awards, today I’ll be highlighting the literal dogs of war.

Animals have been used by the military for centuries. Soldiers mounted on horseback, Hannibal and his elephants, and messenger pigeons receive their very name from their role in passing messages between military posts. Cats have also long found a home aboard naval vessels where they caught mice and rats and provided comfort to the crew. The US Navy has even used marine mammals like dolphins and sea lions to find and clear mines. Rats are used in parts of the world to clear land mines. Similarly, dogs good for hunting were most surely employed by soldiers through the years.

The modern military working animal is the dog. During WWII several hundred dogs of a variety of breeds were used in the Pacific Theater in the island hopping fight against the Japanese. In the European Theater and after WWII, primarily during Vietnam, the US military utilized dogs as sentries. The program’s success has led to the constant use of canines in military roles since.

Today, military working dogs (MWD) are deployed throughout the world. They are used as sentries, as police dogs, and can be trained for a variety of scent identifications (explosives and drugs for example).

Just recently one hero dog was invited to the White House. President Trump received the dog Conan, a member of the Army’s SFOD-D, after the dog participated in the successful raid that led to the death of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Conan had been injured during the raid. There had been attempts to get him awarded a Purple Heart, but as of this writing, the policy prohibiting animals from receiving military honors remains in effect.

The Brits developed their own animal bravery award. In 1943 Maria Dickin, who had founded the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (the British equivalent of the Humane Society), began awarding a gallantry medal to military animals. Since 1943 the Dickin Medal, considered to be equal to the UK’s highest personal decoration the Victoria Cross, has only been awarded 71 times.


Dickin Medal

Recipients of the Dickin Medal include several pigeons for undertaking important flights. Many of these birds flew hundreds of miles or hours at a time, at speeds up to 20 miles per hour, and are credited with saving hundreds of men.

The dogs that have received the honor include Mali, Kuga, Judy, Punch and Judy (not the same Judy), and Theo. Mali, a British Special Boat Service dog in Afghanistan worked for eight hours in battle alerting on enemy locations, despite being wounded three times by grenade fire. Kuga, an Australian Army dog also in Afghanistan, held a bite on an enemy combatant despite being shot five times. Judy was a dog in a Japanese POW camp, keeping up the spirits of Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen interned there. Punch and Judy were two dogs that saved the life of some British officers in Palestine when they were attacked by a nationalist.
Theo and his handler had set a new record during their 2011 Afghanistan deployment for bomb finds with the British Army. Theo’s handler, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker was killed by a sniper while on patrol. Theo was brought back to base by his fellow soldiers and died later that day from an apparent seizure (having never had one before). As Tasker’s mom said, “I think Theo died of a broken heart, nobody will convince me any different.” The game Diablo 3 has an artifact in it known as the Tasker & Theo, which increases the effectiveness of pets. The in-game artifact is accompanied with this heartbreaking story; “The master and his hound were the most famed hunters of their day. He died fighting beside his favorite dog, just as the way he would have wanted it. His loyal companion soon followed.”

Sergeant Stubby

Sergeant Stubby is perhaps one of the most well known of war dogs. Not surprising, since he’s been described as the most decorated dog of the First World War.

Stubby was a brindle-colored Boston Terrier or American Bulldog of indeterminate specific breed. He’d been found wandering the Yale campus in the summer of 1917 by members of the 102nd Infantry Regiment (part of the 26th Infantry Division) training there.

Stubby hung around the drilling troops and Corporal James Conroy took a particular liking to him. Conroy even trained the dog to salute. Stubby learned the bugle calls, drills, and raised his right paw to his brow when the other soldiers executed a salute.

When Conroy and the rest of the 102nd shipped out for France, Conroy snuck Stubby aboard the troop ship. Disembarking, Conroy hid the small dog under his overcoat. It was some time before Conroy’s commanding officer caught wind of the dog. Confronting the man and dog about the issue, Stubby promptly saluted the officer. Officers through time immemorial can appreciate a solid military bearing, so Stubby was allowed to stay.

Stubby and the 102nd Infantry were sent to the trenches of France. Conroy was given special orders for Stubby so that he could be brought to the trenches as the 102nd’s official mascot. During the war, they participated in 17 battles over four campaigns in eight months. Stubby’s first month of combat, beginning in February 1918, saw him under constant fire day and night. In April of that year Stubby was wounded in the front leg by grenade fire as they pursued retreating Germans.

Stubby was exposed to mustard gas, as many of his fellow soldiers were. He had been sent from the front to recuperate at an aid station and returned to the trenches with a specially constructed gas mask. He became the men’s best early warning of a gas attack, as Stubby apparently did not want to be hit with the blistering agent again.

One early morning, when most of the troops were asleep, Stubby picked up the scent of mustard gas. He ran through the trench barking and biting at the men to alert them to the hazard, doubtlessly saving lives.

Stubby also could hear the incoming German shells before the humans could. His fellow soldiers learned quickly to pay attention to the sharp little dog.

For those trapped in No Man’s Land, Stubby was a true lifesaver. He’d crawl out of the trenches, and head towards where he heard English being spoken. Once he found a wounded soldier he’d bark for the medics, who had learned to follow Stubby’s instincts, and then continue on his patrol.

In perhaps one of the most unbelievable stories, Stubby is credited with single-handedly capturing an enemy spy. You read that right, this tiny little terrier captured an enemy soldier.

Stubby came across an enemy soldier who had been reconnoitering the Allied trenches. The German soldier initially called out to Stubby, but the valiant little mutt put his ears back and began barking. The soldier started to run back to his lines, but Stubby was having none of that. He chased the man, biting at his legs, ultimately tripping him. Once he had the man on the ground, Stubby pressed his attack, continuing to bite the German until American soldiers, hearing the racket, came to Stubby’s assistance.

For his capture of the enemy spy, the regimental commander officially recommended Stubby for promotion to Sergeant. He became the first dog to officially hold rank in the US armed forces.

Towards the end of the war, Sgt Stubby was again wounded in battle, this time taking significant shrapnel from a grenade to his chest and legs. Evacuated to a field hospital and then to a Red Cross hospital, he was operated on and returned to duty in the hospital. His duties now included visiting other injured soldiers in the hospitals, becoming what would probably be called a therapy dog now.

After the war, Conroy smuggled Stubby home once again. He often marched in parades, leading his troops in their march. This included a pass and review ceremony for President Wilson, whom he met later that day. Stubby would later be twice invited to the White House and visited with both Presidents Harding and Coolidge. Stubby even received a medal from the Humane Society, with General of the Armies John Pershing presenting it.

When Conroy began attending Georgetown University, Stubby became the mascot for the Georgetown Hoyas. Stubby passed away in his sleep in 1926. His remains were preserved and he and all his medals are on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. His story was even the subject of a 2018 animated film.

Rags

Rags was another scrappy little stray. Found on the streets of Paris by American doughboy Private James Donovan. Rags got his name from Donovan since he initially mistook the dog for a pile of rags.

Late in returning to post, Donovan told the sentries that he’d been out searching for the dog, who was the mascot for Donovan’s unit the 1st Infantry Division. That became the pup’s life. Donovan was only allowed to keep the pet by his CO because he was getting sent to the front shortly.

Similar to Sgt Stubby, Donovan trained Rags to salute, by raising his right front paw to his brow. Any time the pup saw soldiers marching, he’d salute the column. Rags would also, and for many years after the war, come to the flag pole during the sounding of the daily retreat and salute as the flag was lowered.

While on base he did what any good soldier without a post does; He wandered around to the various chow halls and found the ones most to his liking. Finding his favorites, the staff there would leave food and water out for him. It was during one of these forays that Rags was involved in a fight with the pet cat of one of the division’s officers, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt Jr. After that incident, Donovan was required to restrain Rags.

Pvt Donovan was a Signal Corps man. His job was to maintain the field phone lines. When the lines were cut, until they could be repaired/replaced, a runner would be needed. Runners would leave the trench to send messages to other trenches or to higher commands. Life was miserable and deadly in the trenches and certain death outside them. Unsurprisingly, runners were frequently injured or killed while carrying their communiques.

Donovan trained the mixed-terrier Rags to carry messages tied to his collar. In July 1918, this saved the life of Donovan and 42 men of his company when they got cut off from Allied lines and were surrounded by Germans.

A message calling for artillery strikes and reinforcements was tied to Rags and he was sent out. The resulting barrage knocked back the enemy forces and allowed reinforcing men to come to their aid, rescuing the stranded unit. The 1st Division soon all knew about the hero dog.

In his early days at the front, first coming under enemy shell fire, Rags initially just mimicked his fellow soldiers and dropped to the ground when the sound of an incoming round was heard. Quickly they noticed that Rags was able to hear the rounds further out than they could when he’d drop to the ground and splay out his legs. Like Stubby, Rags became the foot soldiers’ best early warning of enemy artillery.

In late-September and early-October, Rags again was credited with saving scores of American lives. He ferried numerous messages, one on October 2nd called in an artillery barrage that led to the capture of an important objective.

A week later, on October 9th, Rags and Donovan were victims of enemy shell fire and a gas attack. Rags’ right front paw, right ear, and right eye were damaged by splinters and he had been gassed. Donovan had been more seriously wounded, taking in a large amount of the poison gas.

Evacuated to an aid station, the pair were kept together as they were removed from the front to a hospital. Whenever it was questioned why a dog was receiving medical care, “Orders from headquarters” would be invoked.

Donovan was so injured, he was immediately returned to the US, with Rags by his side. At Fort Sheridan in Chicago, Rags’ health improved while Donovan remained in hospital. Rags would wait at the door to the hospital every morning until he was let in to visit with his master. In between visits, Rags wandered the post and visited the various mess halls that were to his liking. He was so well known that the installation commander had a collar made for the dog inscribed with “1st Division Rags”.

Unfortunately, Donovan never recovered from his wounds, dying some time in 1919. The orphaned dog became the post dog, residing in the base fire house. He’d still come to the hospital every morning. Finally a staff member had the idea to take him in to see the empty bed of his friend and comrade. He eventually got the message that his master was gone and stopped coming to the hospital.

Major Raymond Hardenbergh and his family bonded with Rags after being posted at Ft Sheridan. Rags hadn’t been around many females and Major Hardenbergh’s daughters and Rags became very close. They officially adopted the mutt, leaving a single military family in stewardship of him.

Hardenbergh would always introduce Rags as “A real war dog who had been wounded in battle.” After being transferred to Governor’s Island, NY, Rags was reunited with some soldiers he’d served with in France. This led to Rags becoming a local celebrity, with many articles being written about him in New York newspapers. He marched in parades with his former 1st Division cohorts and participated in battle reenactments.

In 1936, after being transferred to Washington, D.C., Rags died. He was at least 20 years old. He was buried in a pet cemetery in Maryland.

Philly

Philly was a stray female, mixed breed dog that served on the front lines with Company A, 315th Infantry, 79th Infantry Division. When the division deployed to France for the war in 1917, Philly came with as their mascot.

Once at the front, Philly was adept at alerting her comrades to enemy sneak attacks. She was so good at giving warning of enemy attacks that the Germans put a 50 deutschemark bounty on her head. That’s roughly equivalent to $175 in today’s money.

Wounded and gassed during battle she still somehow found time to give birth to four pups in France. At the conclusion of hostilities, she marched in the victory parade with the 315th Infantry.

Philly lived until 1932. As with Stubby, she was taxidermied. She was on display at the Philadelphia History Museum until the bright lights started to fade her coat. She is still part of the collection, but on limited display.

Chips

A German Shepard-Husky-Collie mix, Chips was donated to the US Army during the early days of World War II after biting a garbage collector. Trained at the War Dog Training Center at Front Royal Virginia, Chips was assigned to Private John Rowell and the 3rd Infantry Division. Chips would later serve at least one other handler, Corporal William Hauk.

Trained as a sentry, Chips and Rowell served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany. She was even a sentry at a meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill in 1943 at Casablanca. He got to meet both world leaders.

In late 1943, when the division was coming ashore at Salerno, Italy, Rowell and Chips were pinned down by enemy machine gun fire on the beach. Chips broke away from his handler and without hesitation jumped into the pillbox. He began attacking the four men inside. The American soldiers heard yelling and a single pistol shot. Out came one soldier with Chips at his throat. The remaining three men came out of their bunker surrendering to the Americans.

During his assault, Chips’ scalp was wounded and he had some powder burns, but he remained in the fight. Chips’ company commander recommended him for the Distinguished Service Cross for “courageous action in single-handedly eliminating a dangerous machine gun nest and causing the surrender of its crew.” In early 1944 the heroic dog was awarded the DSC, the country’s second highest award for combat bravery for this act.

DSC

Returning to duty by that same evening, Chips alerted on some Italian soldiers attempting to sneak into camp. He then helped to take the ten Italian soldiers prisoner.

Receiving the Silver Star and Purple Heart under orders from the 3rd Division Commanding General, Chips ultimately participated in eight campaigns in the European-African-Middle-East Theater. His comrades gave him the EAME Campaign Medal with eight battle stars and an arrowhead device (for the amphibious landing at Salerno).

Silver Star

Purple Heart

EAME Medal

Word of Chips’ exploits spread through the division and beyond. The Associated Press released a story on his being awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart, noting that General Truscott pinned the medals on Chips’ collar, which already contained the DSC.

It’s unclear if Chips was officially stripped of his medals, but there was a series of complaints from William Thomas, national commander of the Order of the Purple Heart, about dogs receiving the same awards as men after the story of Chips’ medals made it to the states. At the very least, if they didn’t remove his awards, the policy was enacted that the US Army would no longer be awarding medals to dogs.

Late in the war, Chips got to meet General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower. When the general bent down to pet the war dog, Chips bit him, as he’d been trained to do with unknown people.

After the war, Chips was mustered out of service. Returning to the states his handler reported “he doesn’t wag his tail as much.” It seems that the war dog couldn’t find happiness in peace. He died of kidney failure only seven months after returning to the States. He was buried in a pet cemetery in Hartsdale, NY.

In 2018, on the 75th anniversary of the Casablanca Conference which he’d helped secure, Chips was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal (a British award that’s seen as the animal equivalent of the UK’s highest award, the Victoria Cross).

In 2019, Robin Hutton (American writer, including the book War Animals: The Unsung Heroes of World War II) created the Animals in War & Peace Medal, designed to be the American equivalent of the Dickin Medal. Chips was one of the first nine recipients of the medal, one of five dogs in the inaugural group. His medal was received by the son of the family that had donated him to the Army.

Animals in War & Peace Medal

Dusty in here. Hand Salute. Ready, Two!

Thanks again, Mason.

Category: Guest Post, Valor

Comments (8)

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  1. Mustang Major says:

    I never suspected military dogs, as well as some birds, were recognized with valor awards. Thanks for posting.

    BTW: Makes me want to rethink owning two Shih Tzu dogs.

  2. 5th/77th FA says:

    Great write up Mason! Thanks Muchly I had known the story of Stubby and Rags but the others had fallen out of the memory banks. And yes, reading of these Hero K9s did stir up some dust.

    Gun Salute…PREPARE…FIRE!!! Dog Biscuits all around.

    As a rule, the more I learned about people, the better I love my Dogs. Check out Fort Robinson NE State Park for my info on Military Working Dogs. I’m hoping to make another trip out there this June. It’s a great place.

    • The Other Whitey says:

      Should you find yourself in California, the March Field Museum has a very cool war dog memorial. They also have an impressive fleet of aircraft outside and a smallish but very good indoor museum. Indoor exhibits include a section devoted to SAC nuclear alert forces, which has a cutaway cockpit section of a B-47 and crew simulator stations for a B-52. Their WWII section has a restored B-24 tail turret and a mock-up B-17 waist gun station. They also have an SR-71 and a P-59 Airacomet as centerpieces. I didn’t know any P-59s still existed until I saw that one.

  3. HT3 '83-'87 says:

    Dogs make good soldiers because they aren’t aware of their own mortality. They’re also loyal, brave, dependable, and will fight to the very end.

    I love dogs as much as anybody, and when I had evacuate for hurricane Irma in 2017 I took the ashes of my beloved Cleo. She was Golden-mix that was almost 16 when I had to put her down. I wept like a baby and I don’t care who knows.

    PS I got all teary-eyed typing that. She sits on my bookcase with all my other prized possessions…”I miss you girl”

  4. aGrimm says:

    At the Marines 1st Recon base in Danang (Camp Reasoner), we had a female mongrel Shepherd mix who was the best ratter I’ve ever seen. We kept a running total of her rat kills one month and she racked up 98 confirmed kills. Not exactly medal worthy work, but we saw her as a hero and great entertainment. Of course being female and a rat chasing mutt, she got named Ranger.

    Mason: I thoroughly enjoy your valor stories. Thanks so much.

  5. The Other Whitey says:

    I built a small diorama scene a year and a half ago—my first—depicting a Marine (my Uncle) in a cutoff t-shirt & flak jacket with a slung M14 greeting a pair of Vietnamese kids with his war dog. Its title plate says:

    Hearts & Minds
    PFCs McDaniel and Rex USMC
    Republic of Vietnam, 1966

    I gave it to my Mom, who was moved to tears at my attempt to honor her now-departed oldest brother. One of my aunts has requested a similar one, and my cousin (his son) has requested I do another one.

    Uncle Greg wasn’t terribly fond of Vietnam, though he believed in the mission, but he had nothing but compassion and sympathy for its people. Though I haven’t found any pictures, he described in some of his letters letting the local kids play with his dog. He hated to see kids stuck in a war zone and wanted to do what he could to make their lives even a little happier.