There are many heroes in the archives of history. While we never want to diminish the importance of our human heroes, it’s important to also remember the animal heroes of war. Horses, cats, dolphins and even rats were called to duty. In nearly every war, the military relied on animals to locate bombs and landmines, act as sentries, carry important messages and more.
Dogs were especially important in times of war, not only for their ability to inspire soldiers, but their ability to serve as soldiers. World War I saw the biggest concentration of dogs in the service – over a million dogs served with the Allies and Axis powers.
While many animals have served and died in wars, one canine hero stands out in the annals of American history: an American Pit Bull Terrier mix named Stubby.
In 1917, Stubby was found as a stray on the Yale University campus. He was adopted by Cpl John Robert Conroy and was smuggled to France in World War I.
When Stubby arrived in France with Cpl Conroy, they entered combat with the 102nd Infantry Regiment at Chemin des Dames. They were under fire night and day for over a month. But it wasn’t until April, 1918 that Stubby was seriously injured by a German hand grenade. He was sent to the rear to recover, quickly serving to inspire other wounded men.
After he recovered from the injury on his foreleg and chest, he was returned to the trenches with two wound stripes. He was the first dog to be awarded the rank of Sergeant through combat.
Morale of the soldiers improved wherever Stubby resided. Stubby not only improved morale, he proved himself to be an important member of the team. He warned soldiers of incoming fire and poison-gas attacks, and located soldiers injured on the battlefield. Once, he even sniffed out a German spy in the trenches and held him by the seat of his pants until soldiers could find him!
In the trenches, he gave early warning of artillery fire since he could hear the whine of incoming fire long before the soldiers.
After Stubby experienced a mustard gas attack, he returned to the front lines determined to use his incredible sense of smell to give early warning of mustard gas attacks. The military even created a specially designed gas mask to protect him!
He inspired loyalty and hope among fellow soldiers. Like all dogs, he had a unique ability to keep soldiers calm during traumatic events. Much like all soldiers, he engaged in battles (17 battles, to be exact, along with four offenses).
Not only did he serve his fellow soldiers on the Western Front for 18 months, 17 battles, and four offenses; he served as inspiration for Americans back home. Newspapers (that were just as unsure of his breed back then as current journalists are today) referred to him as “mixed breed”, “Bull Terrier”, and “Boston Terrier”.
After the war, Stubby returned to America with Conroy and after ten years, died in his owner’s arms in 1926. Thanks to Stubby’s bravery, he will continue his mission to serve as inspiration for military dog handlers around the world.