Stubby – a World War I hero
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While soldiers were training for deployment during World War I, a pit bull mix dog with a stubby tail wandered into the encampment in Connecticut. He befriended the soldiers, who called him Stubby.
In October 1917 when the unit shipped out for France, his adopted person, Private Robert Conroy, smuggled Stubby aboard the troop ship S.S. Minnesota, wrapped in an overcoat.
When the troops landed in France, soldiers were not supposed to have brought pets with them, but according to one story Stubby proved himself to the commanding officer by saluting correctly when ordered to by Conroy.
Sergeant Stubby at the front
His early assignments included trotting up and down the line in the trenches to lift spirits and boost morale, as well as giving early warning about incoming attacks.
In April 1918, Stubby participated in routing the Germans from the town of Schieprey, where he was wounded in one leg with shrapnel from a grenade.
And when his unit recaptured the town of Chateau Thierry, the women of the town made him a chamois blanket embroidered with the flags of the allies, his wound stripe, three service chevrons and what were by now his numerous medals.
In the Argonne, Stubby ferreted out a German spy who was hiding in one of the Allied trenches, and held him by the seat of his pants, keeping him pinned until his comrades arrived to complete the capture.
He was also gassed a few times and, when Conroy, now a corporal, was wounded, Stubby accompanied him to the hospital, where he went from bed to bed visiting the soldiers and playing his part as a therapy dog. He was beloved for the way he comforted soldiers who had been wounded in the fighting – lying down with them and refusing to leave them.
When Conroy was discharged from the hospital, Stubby went back to the front with him until the war ended and his unit was shipped back to the United States. Once again Stubby had to be “smuggled” aboard the ship – but this time it was no secret that he was on board. The dog had become renowned as a hero.
A hero’s welcome
Back home, Stubby was a celebrity wherever he went. He was made a lifetime member of the American legion, and he marched in every legion parade and attended every legion convention.
Stubby met three presidents of the United States – Wilson, Harding and Coolidge – and was a lifetime member of the Red Cross, recruiting members for them and for the YMCA, as well as helping to sell victory bonds.
He was given a hero’s welcome wherever he went, as seen, for example, in this report in the New York Times on New Year’s Eve, 1922:
For the first time since Copeland Townsend acquired the Hotel Majestic, the hard and fast rule prohibiting dogs in the hotel was waived yesterday for Stubby, the famous mascot of New England’s veteran Twenty-Sixth (Yankee) Division, who arrived there en route to Washington. At the capital they will be unofficially attached to American Legion headquarters while his owner, J. Robert Conroy of New Britain, Conn., completes his vocational training courses at Georgetown University. New York Times, Sunday, December 31, 1922
Medals and honors
Stubby’s official dress uniform, with medals on both sides
In 1921 General Pershing (photo right), who had been the supreme commander of American Forces during the war, awarded Stubby a specially commissioned gold hero dog’s medal.
No other dog has received as many decorations as Sergeant Stubby. He was awarded three Service Stripes, the Yankee Division YD Patch, the French Medal Battle of Verdun, the 1st Annual American Legion Convention, the New Haven WW1 Veterans Medal, the Republic of France Grande War Medal, the St. Mihiel Campaign Medal, a Purple Heart, and the Chateau Thierry Campaign Medal.
When Conroy went to Georgetown to study law, Stubby became the mascot for the football team. At half time he would push a football around the field, to the delight of the crowd, in what is said to have been the origin of today’s Half-Time Show.
In 1925, Stubby had his portrait painted by Charles Ayer Whipple, official artist to the capital in Washington, D.C. That portrait currently hangs in the regimental museum in New Haven.
The following year, in April 1926, Stubby died peacefully at home. His obituary in the New York Times ran 15 paragraphs and was entitled “Stubby of A.E.F. Enters Valhalla.” His remains were given to the Smithsonian.
To this day, Stubby, a pit bull mix, remains the most decorated animal in history.
In the decades that followed, pit bulls became known as “America’s family pet,” the most popular dog in the country. Across the Atlantic, in the U.K., they were equally popular, known there as nanny dogs because of how good they were with children.
Ironically, their reputation for strength and loyalty to their person made them also a favorite with people who would use them for bad ends, and they were conscripted into the underworld of dog fighting. Today, they are feared as dangerous dogs, even banned in some cities and counties. But it is not their nature that has changed; simply the perceptions of people who have never personally encountered them.
For his part, Stubby continues to be honored by the Connecticut Military Department. And many other pit bulls are regularly honored as heroes and therapy dogs all over the world.