Memorial Day: Saluting the Dogs of War
By: Jeff Noce, i4C Innovations President
From acting as morale-boosting mascots to tracking enemy troops to carrying messages in battle, thousands of dogs have served our nation’s military in various capacities.
Today, more than 2,500 military working dogs sniff out drugs, detect explosives, and protect their handlers around the world. Like their human counterparts, these heroic canines put their lives on the line to ensure our freedom.
With Memorial Day here, it’s the perfect time to honor their bravery and sacrifice. Below are five notable examples that represent the valor and courage exhibited by our nation’s military dogs.
A brindle bulldog mix, Sergeant Stubby was the most decorated dog of World War I and is believed to be the only dog promoted to the rank of sergeant through combat.
Along with his owner, Corporal Robert Conroy, Stubby served with the 102nd Infantry Regiment in France for 18 months, participating in four offensives and 17 battles. He was injured twice, once by shrapnel and once by mustard gas. He quickly learned to identify the whine of incoming artillery shells, warning his unit of poison gas attacks. Stubby also once caught a German spy by the seat of his pants and held him until American soldiers arrived.
Upon his return home, Stubby became a celebrity, leading parades throughout the country and meeting three presidents. When he died in 1926, the New York Times ran a half-page obituary. His body was preserved and presented to the Smithsonian in 1956, where it is currently on display in the “Price of Freedom” exhibit.
It wasn’t until 1958 that the military trained its first sentry dogs. Prior to that time, private citizens often donated dogs for duty. Such was the case for Chips, a German Shepherd-Collie-Siberian Husky mix owned by Edward J. Wren.
When Wren donated Chips in 1942, he could not have known that the dog would become the most decorated war dog of World War II. The next year, during the invasion of Sicily, Chips and his handler, Private John P. Rowell, were pinned down on the beach by Italian machine gunners. Breaking away from Rowell, Chips attacked the gunners, forcing them into the open where they surrendered to US troops. Later that same day, he helped take 10 Italians prisoner.
His actions earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart, all of which were later revoked because of a policy that prevented official commendation of animals. His unit unofficially awarded him a theater ribbon with an arrowhead for an assault landing, and eight battle stars for his campaigns.
Smoky’s story proves that when it comes to bravery, size doesn’t matter. The Yorkshire Terrier, an “unofficial” WWII war dog, weighed only four pounds and stood seven inches tall.
Found by an American soldier in a New Guinea foxhole in 1944, Smoky was later sold to another GI, Corporal William A. Wynne. Over the next two years, she accompanied Wynne everywhere, including combat flights in the Pacific. She was credited with 12 combat missions and awarded eight battle stars. Smoky also helped build a crucial Allied airfield by running a telegraph wire through a pipe that was 70 feet long and eight inches in diameter.
“Corporal” Smoky died in 1957 at the age of 14. In 2005, a bronze life-sized sculpture of Smoky sitting in a GI helmet was unveiled at her final resting place.
Nemo, a German Shepherd Dog, served in the United States Air Force and was stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base during the Viet Nam War. On the morning of December 4, 1966, the Viet Cong attacked the base. That evening, Nemo was released on the enemy and suffered a gunshot wound to the nose and lost an eye.
Despite severe injuries, Nemo crawled to his handler, Airman Robert A. Throneburg, who was also wounded in the attack. Nemo laid across Throneburg, guarding him until medics arrived. Both dog and human survived, and Nemo was credited with saving his handler’s life.
Nemo was retired to Lackland Air Force Base where he continued working as a recruiting dog until his death in 1972.