Chips: Decorated War Hero

Chips became famous in history as the most decorated dog hero of WWII but his medals were later taken away because he was considered equipment and not a soldier who risked his life to save fellow soldiers.

During World War II, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, thousands of patriotic pet owners across America donated their dogs to the K-9 Corps for the war effort. Chips, a German shepherd mix, was one of the first dogs to be shipped overseas.

Chips, three years old at the time, was donated by the Wren family of Pleasantville, NY and was sent to Front Royal, Virginia for training as a sentry dog in 1942. Spirited and quick to learn, Chips served bravely with General Patton's Seventh Army in Africa, Italy and other parts of Europe.

In the invasion landing at Casablanca, Chips and his handler Private John Rowell were among the first to go ashore while bombers attacked from above. Rowell quickly dug a foxhole for him and his dog - the holes were barely deep enough to protect them from the fragments that whizzed over them. When the planes left, Rowell leaped up and began deepening his hole to make it safer before the planes returned. Chips soon caught on to the idea and began scooping his own foxhole deeper.

In the fighting that followed, Chips marched with the battalion by day and stood guard at night. In January 1943, Chips was one of four dogs who patrolled the wired encampment where President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stayed while attending the historic Casablanca Conference.

In July 1943, Chips and his battalion landed on the shore of southern Sicily near Licata in Operation Husky. As the platoon worked its way inland they came under fire from a disguised pillbox (a dug-in guard post). The soldiers immediately hit the ground. Chips broke free from Rowell and launched himself right into the pillbox. Rowell later said, "Then there was an awful lot of noise and the firing stopped." The men heard someone inside the nest fire a pistol. Rowell said he then "saw one Italian soldier come out with Chips at his throat. I called him off before he could kill the man. Three others followed, holding their hands above their heads." Chips sustained minor injuries including a wound and powder burns from the bullet that grazed his scalp. Chips was treated, returned to duty that night and helped capture ten more Italians.

Within days the story of Chips' heroism swept through the division and the brave dog was awarded the Silver Star for valor and the Purple Heart for his wounds. The platoon's commander, Major General Lucian K. Truscott, put in a recommendation that Chips receive the Distinguished Service Cross for “courageous action in single-handedly eliminating a dangerous machine gun nest and causing surrender of its crew.” War Department regulations prohibited the awarding of decoration to animals, who were considered military equipment, but the commander's attitude was "regulations be damned". He waived them and on November 19 in Italy Truscott personally awarded Chips the Distinguished Service Cross.

In July 1944, newspapers published stories about Chips' heroism and the medals he received. The War Department got word of this and conducted an investigation. Three months later, Chips' medals were taken away. To honor Chips, his unit (the 3rd Infantry Division) unofficially awarded the brave dog a theater ribbon with an arrowhead for an assault landing, and battle stars for each of his eight campaigns.

Chips greeted by his owners upon his return to the US - Dec 1945

In the fall of 1945, Chips was given an honorable discharge and was taken back to Front Royal where he was retrained so he could return to the Wren family. When Mrs. Wren was asked about Chips' medals, she said she thought dogs ought to have medals, but she had a feeling Chips himself would have preferred a pound of hamburger.

Chips died a few months later at the age of six and was buried at the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery. In 1990, Disney made a TV movie based on his life entitled Chips, the War Dog.