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 Peter Takes on History 

March 16, 1926

Sergeant Stubby

I think heroism doesn’t just inspire mythology but actually requires it. If heroes don’t exceed our human limits, we mere mortals are left questioning our own worth.
So, today, I will offer the story of a hero whose exploits have probably been exaggerated. But I’ll begin with indisputable facts.
This legendary American hero served in the first world war with the 102nd Infantry, 26th Division, American Expeditionary Forces. He participated in four major offenses and seventeen battles. Though seriously wounded twice during his 18 months in France he’s credited with saving the lives of hundreds of his fellow soldiers. He bravely tended to wounded doughboys in the heat of battle. His gallantry in the Argonne Forest earned this private a field promotion to the rank of sergeant.
He was a darling of the American Press and after his tour of duty he returned to a hero’s welcome. He led countless parades. He met three sitting Presidents and in 1921 received his service medal from General of the Armies John J. Pershing.
When Sergeant Stubby passed away the New York Times ran a half-page obituary chronicling his ten years of service; a short time unless measured, as it should be, in dog years.
Sergeant Stubby’s story began during the dog days of summer, 1917 when this brindle short-haired bull terrier mutt with a stubby bobbed tail, wandered into the Yale football stadium, the training ground for the recently mustered Yankee Division of the 102nd Infantry. One soldier, J. Robert Conroy, a 25-old private, gave the pup both the name Stubby and a home. When his division was shipped out, Conroy managed to sneak stubby onto the ship and hide him below deck. When Stubby was found out, the dog and his owner were brought before the ship’s captain. Luckily Conroy had taught Stubby to lift his right paw to a position above his right eye in a kind of salute. The captain, as the story goes, was disarmed and ordered a machinist’s mate to make Stubby a set of dog tags.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that a dog among troops was whimsical or even uncommon. Ancient armies from the Babylonians to the Romans, all used dogs in battle. At the start of WWI, America was the only combatant nation that didn’t have a K-9 corp. In the trenches Jack Russells chased rats, German Shepherds acted as sentries, Airdales were used to carry messages, Huskies pulled. Mastiff and Wolfhounds could literally drag wounded soldiers to safety.
Stubby was a natural “Dog of War.” His keen senses meant Stubby could provide advance warning to the others on the front line. He’d smell mustard gas or hear incoming mortars and run excitedly through the trenches warning his mates. It was said that he recognized the German language and could warn of advancing troops. He knew the difference between the khaki of friendlies and the grey of the German uniforms. He’d locate wounded Americans and bark for medics or simply provide warmth and comfort to the dying. It was said that his mere presence in the trenches improved morale.
When the Yankees liberated the town of Château-Thierry, appreciative local women sewed Sergeant Stubby a chamois cape that, as his exploits were recognized, filled with stripes, souvenirs and campaign medals.
Maybe his most heralded fete, the action that resulted in his promotion to Sergeant Stubby came in the Argonne Forest. Stubby was patrolling the trenches late one night when he came upon a German spy mapping the American position. According to the story, Stubby deployed both his bark and bite. As the Allied troops responded, the spy took off running. Stubby gave chase and brought him down with a bite to the calf. Stubby then zeroed in on the German’s buttocks and applied a mandibular manacle that immobilized the intruder until the American Soldiers arrived. The troops on the scene removed the Soldier’s Iron Cross and added it to Stubby’s collection.
Sergeant Stubby returned stateside with his human J Robert Conroy. He lived a hero’s life until this day in 1926 when he passed away in his sleep.
After spending the last five minutes personifying Sergeant Stubby, it feels inappropriate to say but, you can still see this famous K-9 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, stuffed, mounted and posed in a display called "The Price of Freedom.” illustrating both the price of freedom and the price of not having a will.

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