- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
“It was added that Chips, three years old, ‘had already met Mr. Churchill and General Eisenhower and was anxious to bite Hitler” — NY Times, January 23, 1944
There have been, throughout history, dogs who’ve received notice for their outstanding service during times of war (many of whom we’ll be meeting in this series). Indeed, World War II history is chock full of war dog stories. According to H.I. Brock’s article “Mentioned in Dispatches” which ran in 1944, war dog activity on the front was regularly reported in Army dispatches. But only a fair few have actually been awarded medals of valor for their heroics and Chips is one such soldier.
According to war-dog lore, Chips, a shepherd, husky and collie mix, was donated to the Army by his owner, Edward J. Wren of Pleasantville, NY. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American Kennel Club, along with a group called “Dogs for Defense,” appealed to the general public, asking folks to offer their pets for service in the war effort. Chips, 3-years-old at the time, was sent to Front Royal for training as a sentry dog in 1942.
But the heart-stopping events that launched this war dog into the front-page headlines took place on the beaches of Sicily:
Chips had gone ashore … with Pvt. John R. Rowell holding his leash. When enemy machine gunners opened fire on our men from a camouflaged pillbox, Chips was let go. He charged.”
According to the NY Times, on Nov. 19 1944 Chips was awarded the Silver Star (and the Purple Heart) for “courageous action in single-handedly eliminating a dangerous machine-gun nest and causing the surrender of its crew.”
Other accounts of the attack say that “[Chips] sustained minor injuries including scalp wounds and powder burns, “… showing that a vicious fight had taken place inside the hut and that the soldiers had attempted to shoot the dog with a revolver.”
However, later the War Department launched an inquiry into these awards since Army regulations forbid giving such decorations to animals. One article reports that Chips’s medals were taken away, and that no other “military dog has received official decoration since.”
But, perhaps Chips wasn’t quite so disappointed. At least his owner, Mrs. Edward J. Wren of Pleasantville, N.Y., didn’t think so:
[Wren] said she thought dogs ought to have medals, but she had a feeling Chips himself would have preferred a pound of hamburger.”
Chips was honorably discharged from the Army and it’s said he returned home to New York, but died only 7 months later as a result of injuries sustained during his tour, he was six years old.
Like so many other war heroes, Chips has been forever immortalized in a novel based on his life, Chips The War Dog and in a made-for-TV movie which premiered on the Disney channel in 1990 by the same name.