It’s true, we don’t deserve them…
In May of 1861, Sallie Ann, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, wandered into the camp of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. Quickly adopted as the regiment’s mascot, Sallie first saw combat at Cedar Mountain in 1862, and remained with the men through Second Manassas, Antietam, and the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg. By instinct, despite the chaotic first day of Gettysburg, Sallie was able to find the regiment’s previous location near Oak Ridge and for three days she remained with the wounded and dying men of the 11th. Sallie would eventually be killed alongside her men at Dabney’s Mill in 1865. (Alamy)
Perhaps one of the most famed animals to see combat is Sergeant Stubby, the small, “stubby,” mixed bull terrier. Found by Private J. Robert Conroy while training for combat at Yale University in 1917, Stubby quickly became the mascot of the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division.
Smuggled overseas by Conroy, Stubby soon earned his keep. Sensitive to the scent of gas, the bull terrier would nip, bark, and bite soldiers to sound the alarm for incoming gas attacks. According to the Smithsonian, Stubby “also had a talent for locating wounded men between the trenches of the opposing armies; he would listen for the sound of English and then go to the location, barking until paramedics arrived or leading the lost soldiers back to the safety of the trenches”
By the end of the war, Stubby had served in 17 battles—once surviving a grenade attack that plunged a large amount of shrapnel in his chest and leg. He returned home with Conroy and enjoyed the attentions of Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Stubby died in 1926. (Wikipedia)
Judy, a purebred liver-and-white English pointer, was a mascot aboard the Royal Navy gunboat HMS Grasshopper when it was attacked by Japanese aircraft in the South China Sea. Amid the rolling seas, slick with oil and debris, Judy guided men to floating pieces of wreckage and helped many swim to safety. Leonard Walter Williams, a British seaman who served aboard the Grasshopper, later recalled to the Imperial War Museums, “We landed on the island and naturally water was short. Judy was lost one day and we couldn’t find her so we went to search for her and she had found a patch where she dug a big hole and she had found fresh water for the survivors of the Dragonfly and Grasshopper.”
Taken by the Japanese alongside other British soldiers, Judy eventually became the first and only dog registered as a POW during the Second World War—making her eligible for rations. She spent three and a half years as a prisoner, surviving gunshot wounds, alligator bites, and attacks from wild animals. Released alongside her men in 1945, Judy was awarded the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the following year with her citation reading:
For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps, which helped maintain morale among fellow prisoners and also saving many lives through intelligence and watchfulness.
She died in 1960 next to Frank Williams, a British POW with whom Judy had bonded during captivity. (Getty Images)
Chips, the German shepherd-collie-husky mix spent three and a half years in the Army, serving in North Africa, Italy, France, and elsewhere in Europe. But on a beach in Sicily on July 10, 1943, as The Washington Post puts it, it was “Chip’s date with history.” As U.S. forces were pinned down by an Italian machine-gun crew firing out of a hut, a determined Chips broke free from his handler and charged at the enemy. Moments later, with Chips bearing down on them, four soldiers emerged, hands in the air. For his struggle, Chips suffered a scalp wound and burns to his mouth and left eye, yet he continued to serve until the end of the war. Although it was later rescinded, he was the only animal to ever be awarded the Silver Star, the U.S. military’s third-highest medal for bravery in combat. According to the Post, Chips was also nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross (the second-highest award) and a Purple Heart for wounds he received while in Italy. Chips died peacefully back home in 1946. (National Archives)
On Dec. 4, 1966, Airman 2nd Class Bob Thorneburg and his German shepherd, Nemo, were just beginning their patrol about a quarter of a mile from the runway at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, near Saigon, when Nemo became alert. As enemy fire erupted all around, Thorneburg released Nemo, who promptly started charging at the enemy. The shepherd was shot in the head—the bullet entering under the right eye and exiting through his mouth—but continued to hurl himself at the Viet Cong attackers, giving the grievously wounded Thorneburg time to call in for help. As they awaited rescue, Nemo crawled to Thorneburg and covered the airman with his body to protect him. After undergoing intensive surgeries, both survived the war, with Nemo retiring as a war hero at the Defense Department Dog Center at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. (Security Forces Museum/U.S. Air Force)
Sam, a German shepherd serving with the Dog Unit of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal for holding back a mob determined to attack ethnic Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina. His handler, Sergeant Iain Carnegie, said of Sam’s actions, “”I could never have attempted to carry out my duties without Sam.” His full citation reads:
For outstanding gallantry in April 1998 while assigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment in Drvar during the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. On two documented occasions Sam displayed great courage and devotion to duty. On 18 April Sam successfully brought down an armed man threatening the lives of civilians and Service personnel. On 24 April, while guarding a compound harbouring Serbian refugees, Sam’s determined approach held off rioters until reinforcements arrived. This dog’s true valour saved the lives of many servicemen and civilians during this time of human conflict. (VConline.org.uk)
Lucca, the first Marine Corps dog to receive the Dickin Medal, is credited with saving the lives of thousands of allied troops during her three tours and over 400 patrols in Afghanistan and Iraq. She also holds the distinction of never having a human casualty on one of her patrols. According to the Los Angeles Times, on her last patrol in Afghanistan in March of 2012, she sniffed out a 30-pound bomb and was searching for more when a second device detonated. Lucca survived the attack but lost her left front leg. The German shepherd Belgian Malinois mix retired shortly after and was adopted by her original handler, Gunnery Sergeant Chris Willingham. She died in January 2018. (USMC)