February 5: The Homeless Pup Who Became an American War Hero.

 

Today in 1918, an unlikely future war hero in the shape of a small, short-tailed puppy arrived at the front lines in France alongside the 102nd Regiment of the Yankee Division, a unit of mostly Connecticut soldiers recruited in New Haven. Named “Stubby” by his comrades because of his tiny tail, the contraband puppy would save the lives of dozens of American soldiers and become the most decorated war dog of World War I.

PFC Robert Conroy and Stubby, photographed together in March, 1919. (National Archives)
Stubby’s story began in the summer of 1917, when the little stray dog wandered onto the green of Yale University, where soldiers of the 102nd were undergoing training exercises. One of the new recruits, Robert Conroy, took a liking to Stubby and adopted the bright and charismatic pup. When the 102nd was deployed to France, Conroy conspired with his fellows to smuggle Stubby aboard their transport ship, even though it was against regulations. When the four-legged stowaway was discovered, Stubby won over the officer who found him by raising his paw to his head in a crisp salute.

From that point forward, Stubby became the regiment’s mascot, and “deployed” with the 102nd to the front lines on February 5th, 1918. There, Stubby survived 17 battles in the trenches while providing aid and comfort to his comrades in a number of ways. After surviving his first mustard gas attack, for example, Stubby was able to sniff out and alert the regiment to incoming mustard gas fumes long before the doughboys were aware of their presence. During cease-fires, Stubby helped medics find wounded Allied soldiers, and on one occasion — thanks to his ability to discern between spoken English and German — he was even able to corner a German spy. For this act, his regimental commander gave Stubby the formal rank of Sergeant. During a German artillery attack, Stubby received shrapnel wounds to his leg. The now beloved soldier-pup was treated at a local hospital, where he became a comfort dog to hundreds of wounded Allied soldiers.

At war’s end, Sgt. Stubby returned to the United States, where he was hailed as a national war hero. His fame was spread by a myriad of newspaper stories reporting the canine’s brave war deeds. Stubby was honored with lifetime memberships in the American Legion, the American Red Cross, and the YMCA, and he also served as a mascot for the campaign to promote the purchase of Liberty War Bonds. Stubby was the Grand Marshal for a host of major patriotic parades, in which he always wore a custom coat (sewn for him by the grateful women of Château-Thierry, France) adorned with war medals, accolades, and his sergeant’s stripes.

By his death in 1926, Stubby had “shaken hands” with three U.S. Presidents — Wilson, Coolidge, and Harding — and received a personal commendation from World War I’s U.S. Army commander General John J. Pershing. One of America’s most famous and beloved dogs of war set his paws on the battlefield for the first time, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Stubby: Brave Soldier Dog of The 102nd Infantry,” Connecticut Military Dept

Obituary: Stubby of A.E.F. Enters Valhalla,New York Times archives (via Connecticut Military Dept)

Sgt. Stubby,” First Company, Connecticut Governors Foot Guard