Hidden History: Sergeant Stubby, the dog that went to war

Date: 
Sat, 2017/10/07
By: 
Ethan Castro

It is hopefully a fundamental truth that war represents the absolute worst of humanity. By all means, it must be avoided at all costs, and this TechNews writer will never endorse it on a matter of principle. However, times of war also inadvertently bring out stories of individual human triumph and glory. This article is not about one of those stories; at least, it is not about a HUMAN achieving triumph and glory in a time of war. Instead, this week’s edition of Hidden History is going to bring attention to one of World War I (WWI)’s forgotten heroes, the Boston terrier Sergeant Stubby (and yes, that is an official military rank) and how he would go on to become the most decorated war dog of the Great War.

Stubby’s story begins in 1917 with him being found as a stray dog on the grounds of Yale University (located in New Haven, Connecticut). At the time, the U.S. was preparing for its entry into World War I, and the 102nd Infantry Regiment were using the grounds of Yale as a training site. Stubby quickly learned the routines of the army during his time there, learning the daily bugle calls, marching formations, and even learning to raise his front paw to salute superior officers. It was at this time that Corporal Robert Conroy found Stubby, took a fondness for the intrepid little dog, and eventually hid Stubby under his overcoat for the overseas trip to the front-lines of France. When Stubby was discovered by Conroy’s commanding officer, Conroy gave the simple verbal command to “present arms.” Stubby then raised his front paw to salute the commanding officer, and from that point on, Stubby was officially allowed to accompany the 102nd.

Stubby would go on to serve with the 102nd Infantry Regiment for 18 months and survive a total of 17 battles, at times being under constant artillery shelling and sniper fire for months straight. Eyewitness accounts report Stubby responding to artillery with a barking “battle rage”  and never succumbing to the maddening insanity that trench warfare brought onto so many. Despite being wounded in his foreleg by a German hand grenade as well as falling victim to a mustard gas attack, Stubby would continue to serve on the frontlines as a morale booster and mascot for the American troops. However, he also proved himself an indispensable war asset as he remained with Corporal Conroy and the 102nd.

Notably, Stubby’s survival of a mustard gas attack allowed him to use his keen canine sense of smell to detect incoming gas attacks and warn his fellow soldiers to equip their gas masks by frantically barking and biting ankles across the friendly trench lines. Stubby could also hear the whine of incoming artillery shells before humans could, so he became a reliable early warning system that it was time to duck for cover. Finally, Stubby was also recorded to have ventured into the dreaded no man’s land between friendly and hostile trench lines to search for wounded allied soldiers and staying by their sides before medics could arrive. Between all of these efforts, countless French and American lives were saved by the bravery of this little dog.

During the Meuse-Argonne campaign of September, 1918, Stubby detected a camouflaged German spy attempting to map out the allied trenches. With the fervor of a true American war hero, Stubby chased after this spy, biting into his calf and pinning him to the ground until other American soldiers could come and detain the enemy spy. It was for this action that Stubby was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, meaning he now outranked his human owner. Also amusingly, Sergeant Stubby would be given a chamois coat by the women of Chateay Thierry, a French commune that he helped liberate. This coat was decorated with Stubby’s name, rank, and numerous medals -- including a German Iron Cross taken from the spy he captured.

After the war, Sergeant Stubby would be smuggled back home by Corporal Conroy, where he became an instant celebrity. He would go on to meet Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Warren G. Harding, as well as be presented a gold medal from the Humane Education Society by General John J. Pershing. Stubby would later attend Georgetown University with Conroy, where he would become the predecessor to the Georgetown Hoyas’ team mascot (now a bulldog). During halftime at football games, Stubby would be given the football, and he would nudge the ball across the field for the amusement of spectators, possibly creating the first halftime show. A celebrated war hero and post-war celebrity, Stubby peacefully passed away in his sleep in 1926. He was later preserved and presented by Conroy to the Smithsonian Institution in 1956, and he is currently on display at West Haven Military Museum in Connecticut.

Although war is an absolutely tragic reality of history that must be avoided in the future at all costs, it has also given humans (and dogs) inspiring tales of heroism and bravery in the face of adversity that can perhaps inspire our own individual efforts to make the most of whatever adverse conditions we may face.