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Everyday Heroes: SERGEANT STUBBY

February 1, 2013

Last year, I wrote one of my monthly blogs about a heroic black bear that accomplished amazing feats under onerous conditions and circumstances. Black Bear #56 served as an example for all of us relative to how we confront adversity – a metaphor for humans during tough times. That blog post received so much positive feedback I decided at least one of my blogs every year should be about an animal whose heroic behavior can show us the way to Everyday Heroism.

This month, I write about Sergeant Stubby, a pit bull terrier. If this little guy’s accomplishments don’t inspire you, I don’t know what will. I hope you will share this post with your friends and family.

Thank you for your support of my blog about Everyday Heroes.

Sergeant Stubby

Gen. Pershing decorating Stubby. (Photo: The Times-Picayune, October 15, 1922)

Gen. Pershing decorating Stubby.
(Photo: The Times-Picayune, October 15, 1922)

Sergeant Stubby was a stray, homeless mutt who saved more lives, saw more combat, and performed more feats of heroism than most people could even contemplate.

This pit bull terrier started his humble life in New Haven, Connecticut.  Like most strays, he was hungry, cold, alone, and stranded. Living from garbage can to garbage can, without a roof over his head, this little canine happened to stumble onto the parade ground on the campus of Yale University, where it just so happened the men of the 102nd Regiment, 26th Infantry Division were training for their eventual deployment to fight in World War I. The dog was taken in by a soldier named John Robert Conroy, who named the pup “Stubby” because of his stumpy tail. Conroy started leaving food out and let Stubby sleep in the barracks from time to time. After just a few weeks of hanging around the drill field, watching the soldiers do their thing, Stubby learned bugle calls, could execute the marching maneuvers with the men, and was trained to salute superior officers by raising his forepaw to his brow.

Private Stubby had free reign to drink out of any toilet bowl on the Yale campus, and when the order came down for the 102nd to ship out to battle, Conroy stuffed the dog inside his greatcoat and smuggled him on board a ship bound for France. Once the transport was under way, Conroy brought the dog out on deck. A machinists’ mate made him a set of dog tags to match the ones worn by the soldiers. When Conroy got a little sloppy and Stubby was discovered by Conroy’s commanding officer, Conroy gave the order to “Present Arms.”  Stubby saluted the officer, who was immediately won over and allowed Stubby to follow Yankee Division out to the battlefront.

Stubby became the official mascot of the American Expeditionary Force and did his part to raise morale among the war-weary soldiers on the front lines. Stubby also participated in 17 battles and four major offensives – including the St. Mihel, Meuse- Argonne, Aisne-Marne, and Champagne Marne campaigns. In February 1918, while fighting in a heated sector north of Soissons, Stubby found himself under constant artillery and sniper fire for over a month with no respite. He responded by howling and barking in “a battle rage” every time gunshots started ringing out. He nearly died later that month in a chemical weapons attack.

Because of his canine sense of smell, Stubby was able to detect the presence of mustard gas before it became lethal. From that point on, anytime a gas canister exploded near American lines, Stubby would run up and down the trenches barking and biting men until they put their gas masks on, an act that saved countless lives. Once his comrades were properly masked-up, Stubby would run and hide until the gas cloud cleared.

Stubby could also hear in-coming artillery fire before the shells started exploding and would give an early warning to the men in his unit. Even more incredibly, he could sense German ground attacks, and nip the nearest American sentry until that guy sounded the alarm.

Stubby also searched for wounded and dying Allied soldiers. According to first-hand accounts, the dog could hear English being spoken, and would immediately run over and check out the wounded man. If the soldier was able to walk, Stubby would lead him back to friendly lines. If the soldier couldn’t move, Stubby would stand there and bark until a medic arrived.

Stubby the War Dog was wounded in combat in April 1918, when he was hit with shrapnel from a German hand grenade while participating in the assault on the town of  Schieprey. Despite multiple wounds to his forelimbs and chest, Stubby survived, lived through emergency surgery, and spent convalescent time cheering up wounded men in the field hospital. He returned to action a few months later and helped participate in the liberation of Chateau Thierry.

The men of the 102nd made Stubby a jacket designed to look like an American military uniform. They decorated it with Stubby’s name, rank, and medals, including the Purple Heart, the Republic of France Grande War Medal, the Medal of Verdun, and medals for every campaign in which he’d served.

But Stubby wasn’t finished serving. While in the Argonne Forest during the Meuse-Argonne campaign of September 1918, Stubby was patrolling the trenches when he discovered a camouflaged German spy hiding out mapping the Allied trenches. The German spy tried to run away when the dog barked at him. Stubby ran the spy down, attacked him, and locked his jaws on the man, refusing to release him until Americans showed up to arrest him. For his actions, Stubby received a battlefield promotion to the rank of Sergeant, becoming the first dog to be promoted to that rank.

After the war, Sergeant Stubby was smuggled back to the states, where he was an instant celebrity. He was inducted into the American Legion, offered free food for life from the YMCA, and whenever he went out on war bond promotion tours, five-star hotels would relax their “no dogs allowed” policy for the canine war hero. He went to the White House twice, met three presidents, and in 1920, American General Pershing personally pinned a one-of-a-kind “Dog Hero Gold Medal” on Stubby’s military jacket.

When Robert Conroy attended Georgetown University Law School after the war, Sergeant Stubby went with him. The dog immediately became the official mascot of the football team, and to this day the University sports mascot is still a dog. In addition to hanging out with the players, it eventually became tradition to bring Stubby out during halftime of football games; he’d pump the crowd up by running around the field pushing the ball around with his nose.

Sergeant Stubby, American war hero dog, died in 1926, at the (approximate) age of ten. He is featured in his own exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.

If a little mutt can be this inspiring, what are each and every one of us waiting for?

Joseph Badal is the author of five thrillers, including Shell Game.  His next thriller, The Lone Wolf Agenda, will be released this spring.

Joe worked for nearly four decades in the financial services industry, including high-level executive positions in publicly traded institutions. Prior to his finance career, he  served in the U.S. Army, with overseas tours of duty, including in Vietnam and Greece. He received numerous military decorations.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. JL Greger permalink
    February 3, 2013 10:10 am

    Wonderful dog story.
    JL Greger

  2. February 4, 2013 7:40 am

    Wow! I enjoyed reading about “Stubby” the American War Hero! He was a true hero and an inspiration for all to follow. Thanks for sharing this particular American “hero”!

  3. February 6, 2013 2:30 pm

    Joseph – great job on this blog! I’m so glad I stopped by and took a moment to read it. I’ve Tweeted it and shared it on FB. Since I write a blog called “Angels, Miracles and Dogs” you can imagine this was right up my alley! And, God bless you for serving our country in the military. Cheers!

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