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It’s not just soldiers and veterans who deserve recognition on Memorial Day.
Their canine counterparts are often equally brave, said Kathleen Golden, associate curator in the division of Armed Forces history at the National Museum of American History in Washington.
“These dogs are fearless and they are saving a lot of soldiers’ lives,” Ms. Golden said. “They are four-legged soldiers, and they should receive as many accolades as the two-legged ones.”
Ms. Golden helped put together the exhibition The Price of Freedom: Americans at War, which has a World War I section. It features the original U.S. dog of war, Sgt. Stubby, who was the mascot of the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division in World War I. Stubby predated the formal K-9 program, which started during World War II, she said.
“When the exhibit was installed in 2004, we made sure Stubby was front and center, where he is today,” she said. “He is incredibly popular. He even has his own Facebook page.”
After Stubby died, he was stuffed and mounted (actually, his skin was placed over a plaster cast, and the rest of him was cremated and placed inside the cast), and was lent to the Red Cross Museum where he was on display for many years. He is 22 inches high by 26 inches wide and 11 inches deep.
On May 22, 1956, Army Cpl. J. Robert Conroy donated Stubby to the Smithsonian Institution, and he was put on display for several years in the National Museum, which is now the Arts and Industries Building, next to the Smithsonian Castle.
After that, Stubby went into a crate and stayed there for many years in one of the storage rooms of the Division of Armed Forces History in the American History building. That is where Ms. Golden met him, when she began working with that division in the late 1980s. Ms. Golden, a self-described dog lover, said he is one of her favorite artifacts in the Armed Forces history collections.
The “pit bull”-type dog showed up at training camp one day on the grounds of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. and was such a hit with the soldiers that he was allowed to stay (he would drill with them and even learned to salute), she said. The soldiers didn’t think twice about what breed of dog he was, but his square head, cropped ears, and short legs clearly would have placed him into the “pit bull”-type category, which up until last year was automatically categorized as dangerous in Ohio.
Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township) introduced House Bill 14, which changed state law in 2012 to no longer automatically classify “pit bulls” as dangerous dogs. Ohio’s current law is based on behavior and no longer on breed.
When it was time to ship off for Europe, Stubby went along for the ride to Newport News, Va., and was smuggled by Private Conroy aboard the SS Minnesota. Upon discovery by Private Conroy’s commanding officer, the story goes, Stubby saluted him, and the commanding officer was so impressed that he allowed Stubby to remain with the troops, where he stayed for 18 months. Stubby entered combat on Feb. 5, 1918, at Chemin des Dames and went on to participate in four offensives and 17 battles.
Stubby took to soldiering quite well, joining the men in the trenches. He was gassed once and wounded in the leg with shrapnel by retreating Germans, and once he disappeared for a while, only to resurface with the French forces who returned him to his unit. Stubby even captured a Hun (that’s WWI slang for a German soldier), Ms. Golden said.
As the story goes, the soldier called to Stubby, but Stubby 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 U.S. soldiers arrived. For capturing an enemy spy, Stubby was put in for a promotion to the rank of Sergeant by the commander of the 102nd Infantry. He became the first dog to be given rank in the United States Armed Forces.
When the war ended, Stubby returned to the states with Mr. Conroy and to a certain amount of celebrity. Mr. Conroy enrolled at Georgetown University to study law, and Stubby became the mascot for the Hoyas. There were visits to the White House, a meeting with General John J. Pershing, parades galore, and even a vaudeville appearance, Ms. Golden said.
“Stubby touched the hearts of many, the hero dog who followed his buddies to war,” she said.
When he died in 1926, his obituary ran in several newspapers, including The New York Times.
Now, Stubby is again enjoying a certain amount of popularity.
“In the past few years, I have received numerous inquiries about Stubby from children’s book authors, aspiring screenwriters, and even ‘pit-bull’ advocates who see Stubby as a role model,” she said.
When he was alive during World War I, the whole controversy about “pit bulls” didn’t exist. No one really knew what breed he was because he was a stray, she said.
“We don’t view Stubby that way; we view him as a war hero,” Ms. Golden said.
Contact Tanya Irwin at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6066 and on Twitter at @TanyaIrwin.