Here's the story of how one dog rose to the rank of sergeant in the United States Army during World War I, as excerpted from When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain by Giles Milton, the basis for the podcast, Unknown History.
It was a most unusual way to join the US Army. But then again, he was a most unusual recruit. Stubby sauntered onto the Connecticut training ground of the 102nd Infantry Division, wagged his tail and signalled his desire to serve in the First World War. It was the beginning of a long and illustrious canine military career.
A Soldier’s Best Friend
Stubby was a brindle puppy with a short tail. Homeless and apparently ownerless, he was adopted by Private J. Robert Conroy and began training with the 102nd Infantry’s 26 Yankee Division.
He proved quick to learn. Within weeks he knew all the bugle calls and drills and had even learned to salute his superiors, placing his right paw on his right eyebrow.
The time soon came for the Infantry Division to sail for France. Stubby ought to have been left behind, but Private Conroy smuggled him aboard the SS Minnesota. He was kept hidden in a coal bin until the ship was far out at sea; he was then brought out and introduced to the sailors, who were amused by his canine salutes.
The Yankee Division headed for the front lines at Chemin des Dames, near Soissons, in the first week of February 1918. Stubby was allowed to accompany them as the division’s official mascot. Under constant fire for over a month, he soon became used to the noise of shelling.
Stubby’s first injury came not from gunfire but from poison gas. He was rushed to a field hospital and given emergency treatment. The gassing left him sensitive to even minute traces of the substance in the atmosphere. When the Infantry Division was the target of an early morning gas attack, the men were asleep and their lives were at great risk. But Stubby recognized the smell and ran through the trench barking and biting the soldiers in order to wake them. In doing so, he saved them from certain death.
On one occasion, while serving in the Argonne, Stubby stumbled across a German soldier-spy who was in the process of mapping the layout of the Allied trenches. He understood what the man was doing and began barking wildly.
The German spy realized that his cover was blown and started to run back to his own trenches. But Stubby chased after the man, gnawing his legs and causing him to fall to the ground. He then pressed home his attack until American troops arrived and captured the spy.
Stubby’s heroism in the face of extreme danger caused a sensation. He was immediately promoted to the rank of sergeant by the commander of the 102nd Infantry.
By the end of the war, Stubby had served in seventeen battles and four major offensives. He also played an important role in liberating Château-Thierry. The women of the town were so grateful that they made him a special chamois coat on which he could pin his many medals.
But what happened when Stubby returned from war?
To find out the answer, listen to the full episode of our new podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook.
Image courtesy of Nationaal Archief/Flickr.