Meet Stubby. The Pitbull That Was Smuggled To France And Became A War Hero.

Meet Stubby. The Pitbull That Was Smuggled To France And Became A War Hero.

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Every Dog Has His Day

On July 6th 1921, three years after the end of the First World War, a crowd was gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate the veterans of the 26th Infantry Battalion. While the Boston based ‘Yankee Division’ was famous for their tenacity and bravery in the face of some of the war’s most difficult deployments, there was one soldier in particular that everyone had come to see. Described as “a little gun shy”, the soldier waited through a speech about his heroism before receiving a medal and flinching as his photograph was taken. Sergeant Stubby, now an official American hero, licked his chops and wagged his tail. [1]

The War To End All Wars

As long as dogs have been man’s best friend, so too have they often been his fellow soldier. But the Great War saw many terrifying changes to facilitate the new, industrial scale of warfare, and canine soldiers were no exception. The German’s were the first to recognize the potential of canines as sentries and scouts, and established the first military dog school in 1884. Germany entered the war with almost 7000 highly trained dogs, and by the peak of the conflict had almost 30,000 in service. By contrast, the U.S. had no such program, and attempt to borrow the sentry dogs trained by France failed spectacularly when they realized the dogs could only respond to commands in French. 

The sergeant’s story started four years earlier when a scruffy, ownerless pit bull-terrier wandered onto the field of Yale University’s football stadium. Like many parts of everyday life, the stadium had been repurposed for the war effort, and ‘Camp Yale’ was doing its best to train the soldiers of the 26th Division for deployment in France. At first, Stubby was an unremarkable sight for a soldier. Scrappy, homely, underfed and untested, but full of potential. It was there, hanging outside the stadium that first met Private J. Robert Conroy, and by the end of basic, the two were absolutely inseparable, war be damned. [2]

Stubby the Salty Sea Dog

However, Private Conroy hadn’t yet seen Stubby as a soldier. Right now he was a friend for the long and troubling times ahead, and one that he couldn’t bear to part with. So when the Yankee Division was sent aboard the SS Minnesota bound for the western front, Conroy hid the dog from the officers inside his greatcoat and set him up down in the ship’s coal bin where he would be safe. But stowaways can’t hide out forever, and it wasn’t long before Stubby was discovered by an officer. As the story goes, Stubby raised his right paw up in salute to the man’s rank and instantly charmed the entire crew. Let free to roam the ship, by the time the SS Minnesota docked in France he was the unofficial mascot of the division. Complete with his own dog tags fashioned by the ship’s machinist.

The time for fun and games was soon over though, and the 26th Battalion found themselves posted in one of the most dangerous parts of the war along the ravaged front of North-Eastern France. Under the command of hardened soldier, expert machine gun tactician and general no-nonsense badass Col. John Henry Parker. The 26th saw more fighting than any other American infantry division across four major offensives in Aisne-Marne, Champagne-Marne, Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne. But despite Parker’s fearsome reputation and the grueling, he allowed Stubby to stay through Conroy’s side through all of it. It was even said that Stubby was “the only soldier who could talk back to [Parker] and get away with it. [3]


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