In the “Devil Dog” sidebar of my post about BSL last week, I alluded to the fact that Sergeant Stubby, a pit bull mix, was the most decorated dog in military history. This being Memorial Day, it seemed fitting to devote a post to him. I’d read a little about Stubby before, but until I started browsing around, I had no idea just how heroic — and popular — he was.
A Prototype Bomb Sniffing, Search & Rescue Dog
It was 1917, and America had just entered World War I. In New Haven, Connecticut, where new recruits to the 102nd Infantry were training on the Yale University campus, a four-legged volunteer wandered in and cozied up to a private named J. Robert Conroy.
Stubby, named for his truncated tail, soon fell in with the recruits’ training routines. According to the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution:
He learned the bugle calls, the drills, and even a modified dog salute as he put his right paw on his right eyebrow when a salute was executed by his fellow soldiers.
Conroy smuggled the new recruit aboard the troop ship S.S. Minnesota and took him to France. Discovered by Pvt. Conroy’s commanding officer, Stubby was allowed to stay after impressing the CO with a salute.
Stubby accompanied Conroy’s division to the front lines as their official mascot. An early exposure to poison gas left the dog sensitive to the smell of even traces of the airborne weapon. He alerted the soldiers to a morning gas attack by running through the trench, barking and biting at them.
According to the same National Museum of American History writeup:
Stubby also had a talent for locating wounded men between the trenches of the opposing armies; he would listen for the sound of English and then go to the location, barking until paramedics arrived or leading the lost soldiers back to the safety of the trenches. He even caught a German soldier mapping out the layout of the Allied trenches. The soldier called to Stubby, but he put his ears back and began to bark. As the German ran, Stubby bit him on the legs, causing the soldier to trip and fall. He continued to attack the man until the United States soldiers arrived.
This last feat of courage earned Stubby his promotion to the rank of Sergeant by the commander of the 102nd Infantry. He was the first dog to be thus honored in the United States Armed Forces.
By the end of the war, Stubby had taken schrapnel and served in 17 battles.
Post-War Recognition & a Sports Career)
Stubby met three U.S. presidents, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. He was given a gold medal by General Pershing, the supreme commander of American forces during WWI. He was made a lifetime member of the American Legion, the Red Cross and the YMCA. The Y offered him three bones a day and a place to sleep for the rest of his life.
Stubby didn’t need a place to sleep. He had a permanent home with his wartime pal. He accompanied Conroy to Georgetown University, where he (Conroy, not Stubby) earned a law degree. Stubby, always more athletic than intellectual, became the football team’s mascot, joining a long list of Georgetown Hoyas. According to the Connecticut Military Department site devoted to him:
Between the halves he would nudge a football around the field much to the delight of the crowd.
This little trick with the football became a standard feature of the repertoire of Georgetown mascots throughout the 20s and 30s and is thought by some to be the origin of the half time show.
Okay, I admit this is almost my favorite part. Stubby got a wonderfully whimsical three-column obituary in the New York Times, reproduced on the Connecticut Military Department’s Stubby site:
Early in life Stubby longed for a career. Realizing the value of education, the brindle and white “bull terrier” abandoned his nomadic life for that of a student. Selecting Yale University as his alma mater, he was soon recognized there as a prodigy. His progress, however, was interrupted.
Though delighted with his intellectual environment and his frolics in the huge [Yale] Bowl, Stubby came to the conclusion that he ought to do his bit by his country. It was hard, after five peregrinating years, during which he had often been hungry and cold, to leave the only scene of peace and hospitality he had ever found. But in such a time, when men were parting from mothers and wives to defend the honor of Uncle Sam, was he, a mere wanderer without dependents, to think of self?
As for his final days, though some suggested he should be laid to rest in Arlington, Stubby was stuffed and put on display in the Smithsonian Institution.
Undignified? That was just the fashion of the day. I’ve written about other famous dogs who underwent the same fate; it was a sign of respect. And how cool is it that you can see the originals of all Stubby’s medals and awards?