Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11th in America. It is a day of honoring those that have lived and died in our armed forces. The sacrifices our military men and women make to keep war from reaching American soil, cannot be exemplified in words. Although much can be spoken on our military’s war efforts alone, and I would love to write such an article; the focus of this blog is for the four-legged and so to stick with that theme, today I honor: Sargent Stubby.
July 1917, New Haven, Connecticut. A group of young National Guard soldiers from the Army’s 102nd infantry prepared for deployment into the Western Front of the world’s first war.
In the grassy area surrounding the Yale Bowl (then called “Camp Yale”) along Derby Avenue (the avenue now named 102nd Infantry Way), the 4,000 young men trained tirelessly, day after day.
On one of these July mornings a small stumpy Bull/Boston Terrier mix made his way onto the field as the men trained. When the short, barrel-shaped, brown and white brindled puppy with short stumpy tail came wandering through, the soldiers were not impressed at all by his stature. Clearly an owner-less stray, the pup would quickly begin hanging around the men and always with exceedingly friendly demeanor, walk up and down between the ranks, greeting each man as he drilled.
One soldier in particular, John Robert Conroy, became particularly fond of the mutt and took inseparable ownership of “Stubby,” or so the dog came to be called.
In the 3 months John would practice and train, Stubby became familiar with bugle calls, marching drills and would even raise his right paw to salute.
As training came to an end and deployment date came near, John became uneasy with having to leave his dog (as well as his unit’s unofficial mascot) behind. So he came up with a plan to bring Stubby along.
The first step in Conroy’s plan was to hide Stubby in his Army-issued Greatcoat.
US Army Greatcoat
Travelling first by rail to Newport News, VA to then board the SS Minnesota for France. John had successfully evaded the ship’s guards and was able to hide Stubby in the ship’s coal bin. Although Stubby’s hiding spot did not last long. The Commanding Officer quickly learned of the stow-away and upon meeting the four-legged foreigner, Stubby reportedly saluted the CO as the dog had understood to do when he saw other soldiers saluting.
This singular and simple event became one of the most significant moments in Stubby’s life. With the Commanding Officer’s wish to keep the canine as the company’s mascot; Stubby was free to roam about the ship and mingle with his buddies. One machinist even made Stubby his own set of military dog tags.
After arriving in France, Stubby was quick to prove his valor. In February 1918, the troops sat in their trenches in Chemin Des Dames, France. On one night, a German spy attempted to creep into the American’s line to release a gas bomb. However sleek and cunning the german thought he was being; he proved no match for Stubby. Having heard the man coming, Stubby quickly grabbed ahold of the man’s pants and did not release him until he had been subdued by his “fellow” soldiers.
The men remained in the Chemin trenches for some time, as was customary for warfare at that time. During these months the men would face gas attacks, artillery fire and more. Stubby was reported to duck when all the other men ducked, to prevent getting hit by artillery fire. Stubby would run up and down the trench, identifying injured friends and would reportedly bark un-ending until help would arrive.
Stubby became skilled at early detection of a gas attack and on one occasion while his unit lay asleep, Stubby ran up and down the trenches, barking and biting on the soldier’s clothing to wake them up. Thus saving the entire company from the impending attack.
Stubby was also able to slip through barbed wire and recover men who laid wounded in No Man’s Land (area between fronts.) He was reportedly able to distinguish German from English language and even able to differentiate German clothing from American clothing. Stubby was reported to be so savage towards the enemy troops that he would have to be restrained while bringing in prisoners of war.
The boost in morale that Stubby provided is something you would expect and hope for in a soldier’s dog. He was said to howl and bark with anger and rage as his fellows wailed from pain during firefights.
Stubby was injured by shrapnel from a German grenade in April, 1918 during a gruesome and bloody battle at Seicheprey, France. While recovering at the field hospital, Stubby continued his role as ‘morale booster.’
Stubby was also present for the battles, Chateau-Thierry and Marnes. In total, Stubby was present for 4 offensives, 17 battles, and having served overseas for 18 months.
Upon returning home, Stubby was inducted into the American Legion and given a lifetime membership to the YMCA, that included 3 bones per day. He is, to this day, the most decorated canine in US Military history. His actions along with other, French and German war dogs, led to the creation of official military K-9 units in 1942. Stubby met presidents Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Warren G. Harding.
When Conroy attended law school after his time in the military, of course, Stubby went too. It only seemed fitting that Georgetown University adopt Stubby as their mascot as well.
Stubby’s natural abilities saved the lives of dozens of men. He died in 1926 with John by his side. An entry from John’s personal journal helps depict the dogs gallantry in war:
“Over the top he went with the boys on many occasions, and the sight of the enemy was like a red flag to a bull. On one trip “over” he sank his teeth in the seat of a fleeing Hun’s trousers and did not let go. “Kamerad,” howled the Hun; but Stubby paid no attention, hanging on until the foe laid down and gave up to the Yanks.”
His brave heart and great deeds make him a true animal hero.