World War I sparked a fighting frenzy around the globe, plucking young soldiers from their homes and putting them in the line of fire. Many of them didn’t have a choice, as they were drafted when the war broke out. That wasn’t the case for one United States solider though… one with four legs!
A stray puppy was watching as the United States Army train for war, no doubt confused by what he saw. But when this four-legged hero found himself face-to-face with front line action, he did something so unexpected that his name went down in history…
During the summer of 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand sent European nations into mass hysteria. Eventually it was more than Europe touched by the heinous crime…Countries fought their neighbors in epic battles that eventually became known as World War I. The United States declared neutrality, but as the fighting raged on, the country couldn’t help but get sucked in.
In April of 1917, the United States joined Britain, France, and Russia (the Allied Powers). More than two million U.S. soldiers were drafted, trained, and sent to fight in France.
Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum
The United States Army didn’t want to send its men out to battle unprepared, so officials held three-month-long basic training camps across the nation to prepare the youth for combat.
Utilizing any space they could occupy, soldiers spent their days marching, exercising, filling their ranks, and learning warfare techniques. It was a grueling business.
National Museum of American History
It was when the new recruits of the 102nd Infantry began their basic training in the squares of Yale University that they gained an admirer. He observed their routine from the sidelines and desperately wanted to be a part of it all.
It was a stray mutt who wandered around campus, hungry and homeless. The pit bull mix, thought to be just under a year old, went unnoticed by the college students, but he did not go unnoticed by the 102nd Infantry.
The men began to play with the stray as a distraction from their bleak future. Day in and day out, the short and stocky mutt came around, so they gave him a name: Stubby!
One man in particular grew very fond of Stubby. Private John Robert Conroy, a 25-year-old orphan, found a friend in the abandoned pooch. There was just one problem, though: soldiers were forbidden from having pets.
The ranking officers saw how Stubby boosted moral, so they let him stick around as a mascot. Stubby was fed scraps by the soldiers and was even allowed to go inside and drink from the toilets when he was thirsty.
Stubby wanted to be with them all the time. When the soldiers jogged and marched in formation, Stubby was right there beside them.
Even more impressive, Stubby learned how to respond to bugle calls and drills. Unfortunately, the time came when training was over. It was time to go to war.
Conroy couldn’t bare the thought of abandoning Stubby. He couldn’t leave for war without his best friend. He planed to go against Army orders and smuggle Stubby onto the USS Minnesota and across the Atlantic.
All of the privates vowed to keep Stubby a secret from the officers. Stubby would hide in coal bins, under military blankets, or even in Conroy’s coat.
The machinist on board even engraved dog tags for Stubby since he was “one of them.” Still, the reality was that Conroy couldn’t keep him a secret forever, and the vessel was nearing France.
The Wild Geese
Stubby was secretly moved from the USS Minnesota to Conroy’s assigned base. He could conceal him for a little bit, but eventually Conroy’s commanding officer discovered the little dog.
It was a serious risk, but he just couldn’t leave the pooch behind. He was in violation of army regulations, and Stubby was at risk of being let a stray.
Despite being in a lot of trouble, Conroy had an idea. As a last ditch effort, he showed his commanding officers just how special the dog was. Conroy said, “Present arms!” and Stubby threw up his paw as if to salute.
The officers thought Stubby was a delight and agreed to let him stay, but Conroy had to keep Stubby with him at all times, and that meant putting him in the middle of the war.
For years, France had succumbed to terrible and dangerous trench warfare. Even seasoned soldiers were dropping like flies — how would the dog survive?
For eight grueling months, the soldiers engaged in combat surrounded by the harsh trench environment. Lucky for them, Stubby didn’t mind. The pooch actually chased away the rats that ate the soldier’s rations and carried diseases!
The fighting was under control until one day in February, 1918. The Americans were under attack as the Germans bombarded them for a month straight. Stubby wasn’t afraid though. He jumped into action alongside his military friends.
Stubby learned to detect incoming artillery quicker than human ears could. He barked and warned the soldiers to take cover. When it was time to enter “No Man’s Land,” Stubby jumped the barrier to find injured soldiers, able to tell the difference between American and German voices.
As the fighting continued, tactics of warfare became more gruesome. Deadly mustard gas began filling the trenches, and gas masks were in short supply. It was then that Stubby’s lungs became damaged by the harsh chemicals.
Stubby was evacuated to a field hospital. He was badly injured, but the doctors made his health a top priority. Stubby was a fighter and determined to return to his troop. Thankfully he made a full recovery.
Conroy wanted to make sure the little dog was protected, so he made him his own gas mask. In true Stubby fashion, it only took one time for him to learn his lesson. Now, when a gas attack loomed, Stubby detected the odor immediately.
Time and time again, Stubby proved he was a loyal member of their unit. Soldiers made him medals for his bravery and women from a liberated French village made him a leather coat to keep him warm.
All That Is Interesting
Being truly fearless, Stubby did something that earned him the honor of being the first dog inducted into the military — and as a sergeant no less!
One day, an undetected German spy was stalking the troops. Without hesitation, Stubby attacked, sinking his teeth into the German’s uniform. He wouldn’t let go until the spy was captured!
By the war’s end, Sergeant Stubby had more medals than he could count and earned more respect than anyone in his unit. He had survived a total of 17 battles and received many honors, including a Purple Heart.
Sergeant Stubby became the U.S. Army Yankee Division’s mascot and “spokes-dog” for war bond sales. He was also honored and praised by three different U.S. presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Warren G. Harding.
Eventually, Private Robert Conroy enrolled in law school at Georgetown University, where he and Sergeant Stubby lived a relaxed life.
When Conroy joined the football team, Sergeant Stubby was right there to rally the players and even took the field at half-time as the official football mascot.
For many years, Stubby lived on as a symbol of freedom, hope, and patriotism. He was glorified by all who met him and thanked by those who were honored to fight alongside him. Sargent Stubby was the definition of a true American Hero.