Sergeant Stubby: World War I Dog Hero

A stray puppy became famous for saving lives and lifting spirits during World War I. He made history by becoming the first US dog to be given a rank - Sergeant Stubby.

In 1917, a stray puppy wandered around the fields of Yale University where soldiers prepared to fight in World War I. Private John Robert Conroy, who developed a fondness for the dog, brought him to his camp and named him Stubby because of his stumpy tail. Animals were forbidden but Stubby was allowed to stay due to his positive effect on morale. Stubby soon became the mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, 26th Yankee Division. He learned the bugle calls, the drills and even how to salute. When ordered to "Present Arms" (military talk to salute), Stubby would sit down, raise his right paw to his eye and hold it there until ordered to "Order Arms" (lower a salute).

When it came time for the division to ship out to France aboard the SS Minnesota, Conroy and his fellow soldiers did not want to leave Stubby behind. They smuggled him aboard and hid him in a coal bin until the ship was far at sea. Stubby was then brought out on deck where the sailors were soon won over by him. When the ship arrived in France, the dog was once again smuggled on land and kept out of sight until discovered by the commanding officer. The CO was not about to allow the dog to stay but changed his mind after Stubby impressed him with a salute - he was officially allowed to follow the men to the front lines as their mascot.

Stubby was more than a mascot. He was a hero. He entered combat in February 1918 and served 18 months with the 102nd Infantry. He participated in 17 battles and four major offensives. In his first year of battle Stubby was exposed to mustard gas and almost died. He was taken to a nearby field hospital where he soon recovered. Back at the trenches, Stubby - now sensitive to the smallest trace of gas - was able to warn the soldiers of gas attacks, allowing them to mask up before the gas became lethal. Stubby also alerted the men of incoming artillery shells due to his keen sense of hearing, located injured soldiers for the medics to tend to, and even captured a German spy. He bit the German, knocked him down and kept him down until the soldiers arrived. Stubby was promoted to the rank of Sergeant by the commanding officer for his brave act, the first dog to be given rank in the US. Stubby was wounded a second time in combat when hit during a grenade attack, receiving a large amount of shrapnel in his leg and chest. He needed surgery, and during his convalescence time in a Red Cross Recovery Hospital he visited wounded men, lifting their spirits.

Now-Corporal Conroy & Sergeant Stubby

At the end of the war, Conroy smuggled Stubby back to the States. Stubby was greeted with a hero's welcome and became an instant celebrity. He led several military parades, visited the White House, met Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Harding and Coolidge, and was given a membership in the American Legion and the YMCA. He was also awarded numerous medals for his heroism, including the purple heart.

Sergeant Stubby passed away in his sleep in 1926. His obituary appeared in the New York Times, half a page long. His body was preserved and put on display in the Smithsonian Institute, along with his medals.