by Melody Keilig
Did you know that dogs have served alongside people in the military for centuries? In fact, the earliest documented history of dogs in battle was recorded as far back as the 7th century BC! Amazing, right?! Dogs have indeed been our best friends and greatest companions in good times and bad.
Military dogs weren’t officially recognized until March 13, 1942, when a private organization called Dogs for Defense was established to recruit dogs from the public for the U.S. military’s War Dog Program, also known as the K-9 Corps.
To honor our canine friends who have served in the military, check out these service dogs that made all the difference in the wars they fought in, and remind everyone of K-9 Veterans Day on March 13th!
Don’t let the name “Stubby” fool you: this small World War I military dog packed a punch. Not only did he lift the spirits of United States soldiers, but he also warned them of gas attacks and woke sleeping soldiers to alert them of possible attacks after dark. This Boston Terrier mix improved morale and effectiveness by guarding his human soldiers.
Serving in the 102nd Infantry, Sgt. Stubby became the most decorated war dog of WWI. In addition, he was given a lifetime membership from The American Red Cross, the YMCA, and the American Legion.
So how did the U.S. military find such talent and spirit with Stubby? It was all an accidental meeting that changed history. During military training on the Yale University campus in 1917, Stubby wandered onto the training field and befriended the recruits, even participating in some of the drills and learning how to salute with his right paw.
Sgt. Stubby in his decorated military uniform during WWI.
After becoming the unit’s unofficial mascot, Stubby bonded with Private J. Robert Conroy. As the 102nd Infantry, as part of the 26th “Yankee” Division, prepared to ship out to France, Pvt. Conroy snuck Stubby aboard the ship.
When the dog was discovered by the commanding officer, Pvt. Conroy asked him to allow Stubby to stay. The officer approved, and Stubby became the unit’s official mascot. After capturing a German spy hiding in the bushes mapping the Americans’ position, Stubby received his title of “Sergeant.”
The 102nd loved Sgt. Stubby, but his service was also appreciated by French locals, particularly in Château-Thierry. After the town's recapture by the Americans, a group of women sewed a chamois blanket with the flags of the Allies, Sgt. Stubby’s wound stripe, three service chevrons, and several honorary metals.
Let’s remember Sgt. Stubby and give him a big salute for his service!
Bing, the German Shepherd Paratrooper
During World War II, British forces had dogs serving alongside their paratroopers in the British Army. The local government in London encouraged people who could not afford to feed their pets due to rationing of food to temporarily give them up to help the war effort. A German Sheperd named Brian lent to the British Army would become one of many military dogs who landed in Normandy.
Nicknamed “Bing," the dog's first mission was on June 6, 1944, where he jumped out of a plane over Normandy on D-Day with Lance Corporal Ken Baily of the British 13th Parachute Battalion.
Brian, nicknamed “Bing,” serving with British forces during WWII.
Although Bing landed in a tree and became stuck for about two hours, he put his training to the test once he was back on the ground. He sniffed out hidden enemies, stood watch over the British forces and their allies after dark, and located threats like mines and other traps.
Bing and other “paradogs” were credited for saving numerous Allied lives. Although not all the paradogs survived, their service was greatly appreciated and honored.
After the war, Bing received the Dicken Medal, the United Kingdom’s highest honor for military animals. He was awarded the medal by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a British veterinary charity.
When Bing passed away in 1955, the former paradog was buried in a cemetery of honor for animals near London. He also has a life-like replica in the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces Museum in Duxford. The replica shows Bing wearing his parachute next to his medal of honor.
Sallie, Dog of the Civil War
In 1861, the captain of Pennsylvania’s 11th Volunteer Infantry, a regiment of the Union Army, was approached by a townsperson carrying a four-to-five week Staffordshire terrier puppy.
Even though the regiment was in the middle of a training exercise, the captain accepted the puppy. The men of the unit were drawn to the pup and named her “Sallie."
Sallie was fed and even played with the soldiers during the following months. She became a part of the regiment and answered the call to fight alongside her human companions.
The first battle Sallie fought in was at Cedar Mountain in 1862. According to the 11th Infantry, Sallie stayed by the color guard, who held the American flag at the front line into battle throughout the fight.
She continued to stay at the front with the color guard, but soldiers reported that Sallie would also run and bark at enemy forces. Her fighting spirit and position in the front line with the men holding the American flag boosted their morale through many other battles.
Sallie’s memorial in Gettysburg, in honor of her service in the Civil War.
During the Battle of Gettysburg, Sallie became separated from her unit when the men fell back during the first day of the fight. She was later spotted on the field, where she guarded the fallen soldiers. Sallie was found by a Union soldier from Massachusetts. He recognized Sallie as the dog from the 11th Infantry and returned her to them.
In May 1863, Sallie became wounded on the battlefield in Spotsylvania, Virginia. The soldiers patched her up and continued, with Sallie keeping up with the unit. In February 1865, during the Battle of Hatcher’s Run, she moved forward with the men on the front line, but this would be Sallie’s last fight.
As the second line moved in, Sallie became wounded again. Many of the soldiers were heartbroken to have lost her. After the Civil War ended, Sallie was honored by the Pennsylvania 11th Volunteer Infantry with her own memorial statue at Gettysburg.
Of course, these are only a few courageous dogs who fought alongside their human companions in times of war. We salute all the amazing dogs who have served in the past and present!
Their bravery provided inspiration and hope during the darkest times in history. For their service, we thank and salute them!