Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sgt. Stubby, the War Dog


In late 1918, a group of American soldiers from the 102nd Regiment of the 26th "Yankee" Division were patrolling the area around their foxholes in the Argonne Forest of northeastern France, near the Belgian border.  The density of the woodlands made infiltration by spies and reconnaissance troops relatively easy, as so patrols were required to sweep the area for any German presence.  One of the patrolling troops that day was Private John Robert Conroy from Connecticut, who was unique among the soldiers of the 102nd because when he shipped off to war, he brought his dog, a tiny terrier mix named Stubby.  During the patrol, Stubby broke free without warning, and immediately darted off into the underbrush, barking as he went.  Conroy and other American soldiers followed him, and when they found Stubby, his jaws were clamped around buttocks of a German infiltrator, who was mapping out the American trenches when he was surprised by Stubby.  The spy attempted to flee, but Stubby tripped him up by nipping at his heels.  The American soldiers quickly disarmed and captured the insurgent, but it reportedly took quite a bit of convincing before Stubby would let go of the man's rear end.

Stubby was a stray mutt only a year before, when he wandered in to the 102nd's mustering camp on the grounds of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.  Conroy adopted him and the little dog became very popular with the Connecticut men, and when they shipped out for France in October of 1917, Conroy smuggled Stubby aboard the troop ship SS Minnesota, by hiding the small dog under his greatcoat.   

Despite the fact that the US at the time had no official combat dog program, Stubby was adopted as the mascot of the 102nd by the time they were sent to the front in February of 1918.  His presence not only increased morale, but had practical advantages as well; Stubby could hear the whistling of falling bombs before his human counterparts would, and would warn them of the incoming dangers.  Stubby could also smell gas attacks, and his warnings gave the soldiers more time to put on their gas masks (and to help him with his own); this ability grew even more acute after Stubby survived a mustard gas attack, enhancing his sensitivity to the specific odor.

American soldiers in Seicheprey
In April of 1918, the American Expeditionary Force - of which the 102nd was a part - had its first major test during the German assault on the French hamlet of Seicheprey, Lorraine, on the border with Germany.  The Americans did not perform to the best of their abilities; confusion and poor command decisions allowed the German assault to sieze the village, but they withdrew in the face of approaching American reinforcements.  Stubby, in his exuberance, bounded ahead a little too far and was wounded in one of his forelegs. 

The Americans redeemed themselves with a major victory in the capture of Chateau Thierry on July 18, and in the wake of that victory, some of the appreciative women of that town sewed a chamois uniform jersey of sorts for Stubby, on which he could hang his medals and commendations.  The 102nd also took part in the Meuse-Argonnes offensive in the autumn - the same action in which Sergeant Alvin York famously earned his Medal of Honor - and this was when Stubby ran off and captured his spy; the German's captured Iron Cross was awarded to Stubby, who wore it on his uniform for years.  As a reward for capturing an enemy combatant without any assistance, General 'Black Jack' Pershing, the commander of the US contingent of Meuse-Argonne, promoted Stubby to the rank of Sergeant, meaning that, if he could speak, he would have had the right to give orders to the soldiers who accompanied him.

After Armistice, Private Conroy returned home to Connecticut, once again smuggling Stubby back with him on the troop ship.  "Sgt. Stubby", as he was now known, achieved a certain amount of celebrity due to his heroics, and was given lifetime memberships to the YMCA and Red Cross.  He marched in numerous parades, appeared in fund-raising and recruitment drives for the Red Cross, and met with three separate US Presidents.  His list of awards include the Yankee Division's YD patch, a Wound Stripe, a gold medal from the Humane Society, and the French Grande War Medal.  When Conroy later attended Georgetown University in Washington, DC, Stubby became one of the early mascots for their sports teams. 




Stubby eventually died in 1926.  His remains are currently on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, as part of a display called The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.  For those interested, it's on the eastern side of the third floor.

Links and Sources:

"The Price of Freedom: Americans at War" exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum, retrieved May 6, 2012.  The specific page for Stubby's display is here.
"Stubby the Military Dog", Connecticut Military Department, retrieved May 6, 2012.

Stone, Barry, The Diggers' Menagerie: Mates, Mascots and Marvels - True Stories of Animals Who Went to War, HarperCollins Australia, 2012.
Garden, Joe, et. al., The Dangerous Book for Dogs, Random House Digital, 2007.
Goodavage, Maria, Soldier Dogs, Penguin, 2012.




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