New England’s Most Decorated Canine War Hero
By Sam L. Rothman | January 07, 2011
Sam L. Rothman investigates the extraordinary story of a heroic dog during WWI.
Much like our feelings after the attacks of 9/11, back in 1917 Americans saw the killing of innocent civilians by German U-boats as cowardly acts of terror. When Germany repealed its pledge against such attacks, America declared war and entered World War I.
Thousands of Americans immediately answered the call to duty. In New Haven, Connecticut, the state’s National Guard was formed into the Connecticut 102nd Infantry and merged with the 26th “Yankee” Division from Massachusetts. Recruits trained through the early Fall at a camp near the Yale Bowl. As with Reservists and Guardsmen today, these young volunteers left sweethearts, friends and family behind. Most were confident, eager but homesick.
One volunteer, however, was different from the others. A late arrival, on four legs, he wandered into camp one day and befriended a young private from New Britain named J. Robert Conroy. Lacking official papers, Conroy smuggled the new recruit aboard the troop ship Minnesota thus beginning the odyssey of Stubby - New England’s most decorated canine war hero.
A small, mostly bull terrier mix, Stubby (named for his short tail) quickly earned his keep as pal and confidante to the lonely young soldiers of the 102nd most of whom had never before been far from home. But, much more than just a pet, Stubby quickly proved his value as a soldier. He became a prototype for the bombsniffers, watchdogs and unheralded rescue dogs serving today in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thrust into battle in February 1918, Stubby bravely ventured from the trenches and into the dangerous “no man’s land” of exploding mines, barbed wire and bomb craters to find, comfort and lead rescuers to missing or wounded soldiers. His keen sense of smell enabled Stubby to warn his comrades of deadly gas attacks, saving dozens of lives. Racing beneath machine gun fire he faithfully delivered important messages even in the heat of battle.
His most famous exploit however, came during the Battle of the Argonne where he is credited with the capture an enemy spy. Official accounts note that Stubby leaped from the safety of the trench, bit a previously undetected intruder on the seat of his breeches and held him there until the shocked German could be disarmed.
As his fame grew, grateful locals sewed Stubby a chamois blanket that became his uniform. On it were embroidered the flags of The Allies, three chevrons indicating the rank of sergeant and a fourth “wounded chevron” - forerunner of the Purple Heart, which he received for injuries suffered in a grenade attack. Service medals for action at Verdun, St. Mihiel and Chateau Theirry and Meuse-Argonne were later pinned to his blanket. It now sits with his stuffed remains at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.
While most service dogs of W.W. II, Korea, Vietnam and even Iraq and Afghanistan have not been brought home, following the Armistice Stubby returned to a hero’s welcome as the official mascot of the 102nd.
The subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles, he met three American presidents, attended American Legion conventions, led parades and was given lifetime membership (and three bones a day) by the YMCA. He campaigned at Red Cross and Victory Bond drives and even enjoyed a brief vaudeville career appearing with “America’s Sweetheart,” Mary Pickford.
Stubby remained fiercely loyal to Corporal Conroy for the rest of his days. With Conroy he attended Georgetown University. Conroy earned a law degree, while Stubby became the football team’s mascot. An original Georgetown “Hoya” he entertained crowds by pushing a ball around the field at halftime.
Stubby was mourned in obituaries nationwide after his death in April 1926. A half-century later his story was immortalized in a popular children’s book, Stubby: Brave Soldier Dog by Richard and Sally Glendinning. Feature articles also appeared in Parade Magazine and the Hartford Courant. Today Stubby even has his own webpage on the Connecticut Military Department website.
Most Americans are unaware of the wartime sacrifices and contributions made by our canine compatriots. Seldom in the spotlight, thousands of service dogs have given their devotion, affection and their lives, protecting our troops during our nation’s wars. None were more beloved or more decorated than Sgt. Stubby of the 102nd Connecticut Infantry.