When the scraggly little pup made his way onto the grounds of Yale University, no one could be sure from where he’d come. Brindle-patched, with a stub for a tail, the pooch was obviously hungry and without a home. At the time, Yale University was the training site for First Company Governor’s Foot Guard, who would later be inducted into the 102nd Infantry Battalion of the 26th Yankee Division, and then mobilized to the Eastern European trenches of WWI.
But before all that, a (then) Private John Conroy was the first to discover the hound, which was sniffing about the camp’s garbage bins. Immediately taken by the dog, Conroy named him “Stubby,” after his nub of a tail, and took him in. Remarkably, Stubby took well to military life. As the men on the training field adapted to the army ways, so did Stubby. He learned all the bugle calls, marching drills, daily routines and even developed his own version of the salute. Stubby would bring his right paw up to his right eyebrow whenever Soldiers around him saluted. If that’s not awesome, I don’t know what is.
The little dog had an enormous influence on the troops, and his keenness in drill and his skill in executing a salute eventually landed him a home in the camp (against regulation, as animals were forbidden, which is also very cool.)
Soon the men at the camp completed their training and were ready to ship off to battle. But Pvt. Conroy was not ready to give up his new-found partner, and so he did what anyone else would do; he smuggled Stubby onto the transport, then onto the train, then onto the transport ship.
Hiding mostly in the ship’s coal bin until the men were further out to sea, Stubby was loved by all who met him. Conroy could keep Stubby a secret no more, and soon allowed him onto the deck. The sailors and other soldiers got used to the little guy and he was even given a pair of dog tags.
When the ship reached the end of its journey, Stubby was again snuck along, until Conroy’s commanding officer discovered the hidden bundle. Again, Stubby was able to impress. When the CO learned of not only the dog’s military training, but his ability to salute, Stubby was wholly permitted to accompany the men into France. The men were issued special orders naming Stubby the division’s official mascot.
On February 5th, 1918, Yankee Division reached the muddy, frigid trenches of the front. They were to relieve a badly embattled battalion of British. Stubby quickly acclimated to the foreign, danger-ridden environment, learning to shrug off the booms of heavy artillery and gunfire. He was a miracle, even taking shrapnel from a grenade thrown by a retreating German, also to later survive a deadly, surprise mustard gas attack.
Just like other US Soldiers, when Stubby was wounded, he was sent to the Red Cross field and recovery hospital. He astounded the nurses and doctors and provided invaluable morale for the injured there. The veteran would trot up and down the hallways, visiting patients and others, cheering them all. After a much needed spell of rest, Stubby was well enough, and the battle-hardened mutt made his way back to the lines.
The dog’s near-death experience with the mustard gas left him supersensitive to even the slightest exposure. One morning, as the rest of his men slept in the mud, Stubby alerted on the scent of gas. Unknown to the US Soldiers, the Germans had commenced a massive mustard gas attack on their position. The second he picked up the smell, Stubby went into action, barking at and biting the men all the way up the trench. Eventually, Stubby was able to wake the right person and the gas alarm was rung, saving countless American lives. As soon as the alarm sounded, Stubby booked it for the rear to avoid the chemicals until it was all clear for him to return.
Stubby participated in 17 battles during his time in the field. His overt sense of smell and hearing allowed him to howl early warnings in cases of gas or artillery strikes (he could hear the whizzing of shells long before others.) Stubby also became a master at finding lost soldiers, either bogged down in the trenches or caught-up in “no man’s land.” Whenever English was spoken or shouted, and he detected fear in the voice, he would scurry in that direction. If Stubby found wounded, he would bark until medics located them. If he found the lost, he would guide them to safety. In the states, Stubby’s actions made the front page of every major newspaper.
One day, he was sniffing about in no man’s land when he heard some commotion from behind a bush. Not easily fooled, Stubby rounded the shrub to sort out what was going down. There he spied a German spy, plotting artillery coordinates for the Allied trench system. Stubby began to growl. The German turned, and having no idea who Stubby was, tried to call him over to quiet him. Stubby was not convinced, and attacked the man, biting at his hands and face. The German got up to run, but Stubby clenched down hard on his rear and struggled with him long enough for several American Soldiers to approach. When the good guys saw what had occurred, they began to cheer. It was the first time anyone had seen a dog capture an enemy spy on the battlefield. Again, Stubby saved the lives of countless men. When the Americans brought the German spy back to camp they stripped the prisoner of his Iron Cross and pinned it to the dog’s jacket.
Catching wind of his exploits and his preternatural instincts under fire, the commander of the 102d promoted Stubby to the rank of Sergeant. He was now officially the first war dog to be given rank of any kind in the U.S. military. The little mutt even outranked his handler, (now) Cpl. Conroy.
After the Yankees recaptured the French town of Château-Thierry, the women of the village made Stubby a uniform, which he would proudly wear and pin his medals to from then on. On his way home from the war, he led a pass and review parade (his first of many) and spent some quality time with President Woodrow Wilson. He would go on to meet two other presidents; Harding and Coolidge.
In 1921, Robert Conroy and Stubby went to school at Georgetown University Law where the little Sergeant was asked to be the school’s mascot. Stubby of course took the offer and could be seen for years at sports events, especially at halftime, pushing a ball around the field with his nose. He would also go on to lead many parades throughout the country and was accepted as a national hero. In his older years, the famous Charles Ayer Whipple painted Stubby’s portrait and later, Stubby had his photograph taken with General John “Black Jack” Pershing and the first lady.
When it was all said and done, Stubby had been awarded a dozen medals for heroism. He was also given lifetime memberships with the American Legion, the Red Cross and even the Y.M.C.A. In 1926, Stubby died in Conroy’s arms. His remains are featured in The Price of Freedom: Americans at War exhibit at the Smithsonian. Stubby’s strength, courage and above-all, his ability to rally his fellow brethren earned him a place in our long, long list of American heroes.Show