A stray dog over a century ago would go on to become the most honored American War canine of all time. Sergeant Stubby was a short-tailed bull terrier who served with Connecticut’s 102 infantry in 1917 during World War I. On the battlefield, he quickly established himself as a soldier of unrivaled bravery and dedication. Stubby wandered into the encampment as a puppy and befriended the solders while the 102nd infantry was training at Camp Yale. Stubby became the soldiers’ unofficial mascot, and when the regiment headed out for France in October 1917, his best friend Private J. Robert Conroy snuck him onboard the troop ship in an overcoat.
With fatal gas assaults and horrible conditions, the war in the trenches of France was cruel. Stubby was both a cheerleader and a protector for the soldiers. He’d stroll up and down the lines, checking on the soldiers and encouraging them. He would also identify early indicators of a gas assault by sniffing out the deadly gas’s fragrance and then barking to warn the men ahead of time.
Stubby was an expert at tracking down wounded men on the battlefield, and he even caught a German spy. When a soldier became disoriented or fell near enemy trenches, he would listen for English and then proceed to the injured man’s location, barking until paramedics arrived or escorting the soldiers back to the trenches’ safety. He came across an enemy spy once. He tracked down the enemy soldier and snatched him from his hiding place. He grabbed the man’s pants and tripped him, pinning him to the ground until his fellow soldiers arrived and carried him away.
Stubby was wounded in the foreleg by a grenade thrown by retreating German soldiers during one attack on a German-held village. When the town was recaptured by Allied troops, grateful residents stitched an unique chamois blanket for Stubby, which was decked with allied flags and later with his service chevrons and medals. Stubby was also gassed several times and wound up in the hospital, where he met up with his injured friend Robert Conroy. The two finally rejoined the 102nd, where they remained for the rest of the war. Stubby was subsequently smuggled back to his home in the same manner that he had arrived.
When he returned home and word of his adventures spread, Stubby became a national sensation. He was covered by every newspaper in the country. He met three presidents and was treated like royalty everywhere he went. By assisting in the recruitment of members for the American Red Cross and selling victory bonds, he continued to accomplish good things.
Stubby became the football team’s mascot when Robert Conroy went to Georgetown to study law. During halves, he would nudge the ball around the field, delighting the crowd. Some think Stubby’s presentation was the forerunner of football’s halftime show. The adorned chamois blanket of Sgt. Stubby has been preserved and is on exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum, where visitors may learn more about the brave canine.
In 1926, Stubby passed on and he was eulogized throughout the country. The New York Times wrote a three-column obituary in honor of him.