Monday, May 25, 2015

Remembering Sergeant Stubby, Hero Dog of World War I

I’ve blogged about Sergeant Stubby before, but that post was published all the way back in 2012 which, in Internet years, is so long ago that it might as well not even exist anymore. Since today is Memorial Day I wanted to blog about Sergeant Stubby again, because he was awesome. I mean, you really can’t write enough blog posts about Sergeant Stubby IMO. I would make this whole blog about Sergeant Stubby if I thought you guys would let me get away with it. Just kidding…not really.

Sergeant Stubby’s military career began when he befriended Corporal Robert Conroy, a member of the 102nd Infantry. The unit trained on the parade grounds of Yale University, where the dog lived as a stray. Conroy named the stray “Stubby” on account of its short, stubby tail, and as he and the other men got to know the animal, they realized it was smarter than the average dog. According to accounts, Stubby learned to identify the bugle calls, and taught himself to execute marching maneuvers alongside the men. Corporal Conroy even taught Stubby to salute his superior officers by raising his adorable little paw to his adorable little forehead – a trick that would eventually earn Stubby an official place with the 102nd, when he used it to charm Corporal Conroy’s own CO.

When the company shipped out, Conroy smuggled the dog aboard the troop ship and, when the ship reached France, Conroy smuggled the dog off again by stuffing him under his greatcoat. Stubby quickly became the official mascot of the 102nd, and while he certainly did his part to raise morale among the troops, that’s far from the only thing Stubby did. By the time he returned home at war’s end, Sergeant Stubby had become the most decorated dog of the entire war and remains, to this day, the only dog to achieve the rank of Sergeant through feats of heroism performed during combat.

During the 18 months that Stubby served in the trenches of France, he took part in 17 battles and four offensives, including those at Meuse-Argonne, St. Mihel, Champagne Marne, and Aisne-Marne. During February of 1918, Stubby found himself under heavy artillery and sniper fire for a full month; he became known for flying into “a battle rage,” barking and howling when enemy shots were fired. He sustained his first wound that very month, when he inhaled mustard gas and nearly died.

But Stubby didn’t die; instead, he became a badass mustard-gas-sniffing machine, taking it upon himself to warn the men whenever he smelled mustard gas in the trenches. No one knows how many lives Stubby saved by running through the trenches, barking and biting the soldiers to prompt them to put their gas masks on. Thanks to his ultrasensitive dog ears, Stubby saved countless more lives by warning the men of incoming artillery fire before the shells had a chance to explode. Stubby also learned to warn the American sentry when German troops were closing in for a ground attack. How did he do it? History insists that Stubby learned to tell the difference between the sounds of English and German being spoken, an ability he also used to help rescue wounded American soldiers stranded in No Man’s Land.

Stubby sustained his second wound in April 1918, when a German grenade peppered his chest and forelegs with shrapnel. He survived, and spent some time boosting morale in the field hospital during his convalescence. The French women of Chateau Thierry presented Stubby with his very own chamois coat, decorated with the flags of the Allied countries, to show their gratitude when the dog helped liberate the town. The men of his unit outfitted him with his very own American military uniform, from which he hung his many medals, including a Purple Heart, the Medal of Verdun, the Republic of France Grande War Medal.

Once, during the Meuse-Argonne campaign in September 1918, Stubby (literally) sniffed out a German spy on a mission to map the Allied trenches for the enemy. Stubby barked wildly, and when the German spy tried to run for it, Stubby chased the man down, dropped him with a bite to the leg, and then sank his teeth into the man’s rear end, holding him there he could be arrested. That’s how Stubby earned his promotion to Sergeant – and claimed the soldier’s German Iron Cross for his medal collection.

Corporal Conroy smuggled his dog/superior officer back to the States after the war, where fame and glory awaited him. Sergeant Stubby met three presidents, visited the White House twice, joined the American Legion, and enjoyed a lifetime supply of free dog food bestowed on him by the YMCA. When Corporal Conroy attended law school at Georgetown University, Sergeant Stubby accompanied him. He became the school football team’s mascot and inspired the team’s present-day mascot, a bulldog. During halftime at the team’s games, Sergeant Stubby entertained the crowd by pushing the ball around the field with his adorable nose. Some call this diversion the first-ever halftime show.

Sergeant Stubby died at the age of about 10 in 1926. His obituary in the New York Times was longer than those of many famous humans of the era. Corporal Conroy had the dog preserved via the magic of taxidermy, and donated him to the Smithsonian in 1956. Today, he can be seen at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.