One unusual World War I hero fought in seventeen battles, received a gold medal from the Supreme Commander of the Armed Services John “Blackjack” Pershing, and was honored by three presidents. He even has an exhibit in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.
His name is Sgt. Stubby, and he is a dog.
Stubby, a brindle and white pit bull-terrier mix with a stub tail, was adopted by Pvt. Robert Conroy after the pup wandered onto the military training ground of Yale University in the spring of 1917. Dogs were forbidden in military camps, but Stubby so lifted the morale of the soldiers that officials allowed him to stay.
Stubby was smart. He learned the meaning of the different bugle calls and marched with the soldiers on drill, keeping step with them. He even learned to salute by lifting his right paw to his right brow, following the lead of his fellow soldiers and saluting when they did so.
When the troops shipped out to France on the USS Minnesota, Pvt. Conroy smuggled Stubby aboard, hiding the dog in a coal bin until the ship was far at sea. Once on deck, Stubby quickly won the hearts of the sailors just as he had won over the soldiers. When the commanding officer discovered a dog on board ship, Stubby saluted, and the CO laughed then allowed Stubby to stay and participate in training drills.
When the regiment went to the frontlines of the Western Front, Stubby went with them, this time with a special order from the Colonel. Stubby quickly became the mascot of the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee division, and he soon proved his heroism.
During heavy fire, Stubby ran back and forth among the trenches, locating injured soldiers and barking until help arrived or leading others away from approaching bombs and shelling to safely (he could hear the bombs approach). His first injury was when he was exposed to poison gas and had to be sent to the field hospital. After he returned to the regiment, he was highly sensitive to the tiniest, trace odor of gas. Once, during an early morning gas launch while most of the soldiers were asleep, Stubby sniffed the odor of gas and ran through the trench barking and biting the legs of the troops until everyone was awake and able to don their gas masks. He saved their lives.
Stubby was also deemed a hero when he caught a German soldier crawling in the Allied trenches making maps. Stubby barked and clamped his teeth onto the enemy spy’s leg until his comrades arrived to take the spy into custody. For this act of heroism Stubby was promoted to Sergeant by the CO of the 102nd Infantry. He now outranked Conroy who had been promoted to Corporal.
Before the war was over, Stubby was injured again, this time by shrapnel from a grenade. He was sent to the Red Cross Recovery Hospital where he received treatment for chest and leg wounds. While recuperating, Stubby visited the other patients and cheered them, maintaining his role a morale-booster even when he was injured himself.
After the war, while still in France, Stubby lead the review parade of the American troops past President Woodrow Wilson. Later, he won lifetime membership in the American Legion and the American Red Cross. He marched in Legion parades and met Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Stubby’s person, Cpl. Conroy, attended Georgetown University where Stubby amused football fans during halftime by nudging the football around the field. Georgetown’s canine mascots still keep this tradition.
Stubby was awarded many medals, chevrons, and pins for his heroism, including a gold medal from the Humane Society. He wore his medals on a blanket “uniform” made during the war by the women of Chateau-Thierry, France. Today his uniform is displayed at the Smithsonian Institute in “The Price of Freedom” collection.
Sgt. Stubby died on March 16, 1926. His service to his country paved the road for military and civilian recognition of the value of canines in combat and for the creation, during World War II, of the first K-9 Corps. Sgt. Stubby is the “Grandfather of American War Dogs”.
This article also appears in our May 2011 newsletter.
3 thoughts on “Sgt. Stubby: World War I Hero”
For more information on Stubby and the history of the 26th “Yankee” Division, visit Soldier’s Mail and read letters home from the front lines.
Thanks for the link. I loved this story and after doing research on Stubby, decided to post my own version. Your “Ever Faithful” post let me know Stubby had his own gas mask. I had wondered about that since he saved the soldiers during a gas attack. I used to teach high school and always taught 10th graders the book All Quiet on the Western Front, which so eloquently describes gas attacks. I love imagining Stubby saving all those men. Thanks.