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Posted: June 18, 2013 7:56 p.m.

A veteran's story

Sgt. Stubby served doggedly in WWI

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In April 1917, America decided it was time to go "over there" into the trench warfare and killing grounds of The Great War, later remembered as World War I.

The country geared up for war. In Connecticut, the 1st and 2nd National Guard units merged their men into the 102 Infantry as part of the 26th Yankee Division of Massachusetts. American soldiers of World War I were nicknamed the Doughboys.

The Yankee Division trained at Camp Yale near the Yale Bowl. During this time, a stray mutt with pit-bull genes wandered into the camp and befriended the soldiers who quickly developed an attachment for the lovable mongrel.

One Doughboy in particular, Cpl. Robert Conroy, took care of the stray and named him Stubby. Stubby trained with the Doughboys. He even learned a doggie salute.

Conroy smuggled Stubby aboard the troop ship S.S. Minnesota when the 26th shipped out in October 1917. The canine stowaway was ultimately discovered by Conroy’s commanding officer. No matter, when Stubby gave the doggie salute as he’d been trained to do, the officer granted Stubby permission to stay aboard. The adorable mongrel pit bull became the "unofficial official" mascot of the Yankee Division.

Stubby slept, ate and fought alongside the 26th. He participated in four major offensives and 17 battles. His first exposure to enemy fire was a month-long battle of nerves starting Feb. 5, 1918. The 26th and Stubby endured 30 days of continuous sniping and shelling during the battle of Chemin des Dames, north of Soissons.

One irreplaceable contribution Stubby made was visiting the Doughboys up and down the trench line. His morale-boosting efforts quickly became legendary.

During a raid to occupy Schieprey in April 1918, Stubby was wounded in the foreleg by a German grenade. Like all wounded soldiers, he was sent to the rear for convalescence. His presence alone boosted morale among the soldiers. Stubby relished the attention as much as the men. Once fully recovered, he returned to the trenches.

Poison gas warfare was common in The Great War. Stubby learned to warn Doughboys of gas attacks, but after being gassed several times himself, he was sick and in need of medical attention. When his owner Cpl. Conroy, was wounded, Stubby was also hospitalized. The canine soldier pulled limited hospital duty during his recovery, boosting morale and making friends among wounded warriors.

By the time Conroy was fit to return to duty, so was Stubby. Both returned to the trenches.

In the Argonne, Stubby’s sensitive nose sniffed out a German spy. In a heartbeat, Stubby flushed out the spy and latched on to the seat of his pants. He kept the stunned German pinned down until the Doughboys arrived to complete the capture.

Stubby also confiscated the German’s Iron Cross medal. The war souvenir remained attached to the rear area of Stubby’s blanket for years to come.

Another lifesaver was Stubby’s acute hearing. He could hear the whine of incoming artillery long before humans could and warned the soldiers to take cover. Among other duties, he sniffed out deceased Doughboys in "no-man’s land" and comforted the wounded. As his decorations and achievements became known, Stubby became the only mutt promoted to sergeant for combat.

He received his first medal in Neufchateau, the home of Joan of Arc.

A legend in his own doggie time, he received a chamois blanket made for him by the grateful women of Chateau Thierry. It was decorated with the flags of all the allies, his wound stripe, three service chevrons, and all of his medals. The Sergeant also had his own uniform.

Among Stubby’s medals and awards: Three service stripes, Yankee Division YD patch, French Medal Battle of Verdun, the Chateau Thierry Campaign Medal, St. Mihiel Campaign Medal, Republic of France Grande War Medal, the Purple Heart, New Haven World War I Veterans Medal, the 1st Annual American Legion Medal of 1919, and 6th Annual American Legion Convention Medal.

Conroy smuggled Sergeant Stubby home after the war, although by that time, Stubby probably could have had anything he wanted, including his own ship. He returned home as a celebrity and started a new life, as always, helping and serving his human friends.

He was made a lifetime member of the American Legion and attended all of its annual conventions. In 1921, Sergeant Stubby received the Humane Society’s Gold Hero Dog’s Medal, presented to Stubby the supreme commander of American forces in World War I, Gen. ‘‘Blackjack’’ Pershing. He also became a lifetime member of the Red Cross and YMCA. In Stubby’s spare time, he helped sell victory bonds.

When Conroy went to Georgetown University to study law, Stubby, of course, attended college with him. Stubby became the mascot of the football team. During halftime he entertained the fans by nudging a football around the field. Some believe Stubby was the origin of the now famous halftime show.

The fashionable New York Grand Hotel Majestic lifted its ban on dogs whenever Stubby was en route to Washington, D.C. He stayed in the best accommodations the city could offer.

Sergeant Stubby passed on in 1926, cradled in the arms of his lifelong friend and fellow warrior, Robert Conroy. He was eulogized by many, including his old regimental commander and the wartime commander of the 26th Division, Clarence Edwards.

His obituary in The New York Times was three columns wide and half a page long. Sergeant Stubby’s portrait, painted in 1925 by Washington, D.C., artist Charles Ayer Whipple, is on display in the regimental museum in New Haven, Conn.

 

Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at aveteransstory@gmail.com or aveteransstory.us.

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