Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: Sgt. Stubby, a Ct. stray turned war hero

By Rebecca Frankel Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent Stubby’s story begins much the same as so many other war dogs — as an orphaned puppy taken in by a young soldier. This abandoned bull terrier was  found by a private by the name of J. Robert Conroy, who discovered him wandering the streets of Hartford ...

Nationaal Archief/flickr
Nationaal Archief/flickr
Nationaal Archief/flickr

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

Stubby's story begins much the same as so many other war dogs -- as an orphaned puppy taken in by a young soldier. This abandoned bull terrier was  found by a private by the name of J. Robert Conroy, who discovered him wandering the streets of Hartford in 1917. And, after winning the affection of the rest of the soldiers in the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division during training at Camp Yale, Conroy sneaked the little dog onto the ship and went with the troops to France.

The canine stowaway was eventually discovered by Conroy's superiors, but Stubby managed to charm his way into becoming an official military dog. According to the Smithsonian, by that point Stubby had "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." As legend has it twas the salute that won over Conroy's supervising officer.

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

Stubby’s story begins much the same as so many other war dogs — as an orphaned puppy taken in by a young soldier. This abandoned bull terrier was  found by a private by the name of J. Robert Conroy, who discovered him wandering the streets of Hartford in 1917. And, after winning the affection of the rest of the soldiers in the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division during training at Camp Yale, Conroy sneaked the little dog onto the ship and went with the troops to France.

The canine stowaway was eventually discovered by Conroy’s superiors, but Stubby managed to charm his way into becoming an official military dog. According to the Smithsonian, by that point Stubby had “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.” As legend has it twas the salute that won over Conroy’s supervising officer.

The scrappy stray — named for the look of his wee tail — first became famous after saving his troops on the front line from being gassed, having survived an gas attack once himself, the war dog was highly attuned to the pernicious odor and able to alert the soldiers before any real harm was done. 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.”

Not only did he survive a bombing and shrapnel wounds — spending weeks recovering in the hospital — he even captured a German spy — singlehanded. Upon discovering the intruder he barked and kept the man from running by “seizing his prisoner by the breeches, Stubby held on until help arrived.”

Sgt. Stubby is perhaps the single most decorated war dog in U.S. history. He was the first dog ever to receive the rank of Sergeant and over the course of WWI he saw 17 battles, was awarded a slew of badges and medals, and eventually met three American Presidents — Harding, Wilson, and Coolidge (Coolidge hosted Stubby and Conroy at the White House in 1925). Stubby was a lifetime member of the American Red Cross, the American Legion, and the YMCA who pledged to Stubby “three bones a day and place to sleep for the rest of his life.”

Stubby never needed to take up the YMCA on its offer. As an old dog, he finally succumbed to illness and died in Conroy’s arms in 1926. His obituary not only graced the pages of the New York Times on April 4, 1926, but took up three large columns and featured his photo.

Stubby’s remains were preserved, and you can actually visit him at the Smithsonian museum still wearing all his medals, just as he used to wear them — pinned to the blanket made for him by the ladies of France who adored him so, that would become his life-long uniform.

In other war dog news: Kuwaiti “refugee” dogs looking for adoption in the States

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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