Canine Column: A day to remember

By Marti Benson

On March 13, 1942, the United States military began training dogs as service members. Known as the K9 Corps—or the War Dog Program, or Dogs For Defense program—our four-legged friends were drilled with the tasks of protecting soldiers in dangerous situations.

Although canines have assisted humans in wartime since long before this date, this was the first time the training became official. Over 10,000 dogs were donated by families across the country for this program. Since then, March 13th has been recognized as K9 Veterans Day. It is a day to honor and commemorate all military dogs that have served and sacrificed for our country.

Amongst these courageous canine warriors is Sergeant Stubby— most likely a bully breed—who served during WWI. Young Stubby was allegedly found wandering the campus of Yale University in 1917 while members of the 102nd Infantry were training there. Corporal James Conroy took a liking to the stray, and eventually smuggled Stubby aboard his ship to France.

It’s been said that when Stubby was discovered by Conroy’s commanding officer, the dog “saluted” the officer (as he had been trained to do so), and Stubby was allowed to remain with the unit. Stubby lived in the trenches alongside his troops. He assisted his unit in locating wounded soldiers and warned them of artillery shells. Stubby would survive grenades and even a mustard gas attack that left him with injuries. However, the experience gave him the ability to detect and alert his troops about incoming poisonous gas attacks. His capture of a German spy—by the seat of the pants, none the less—earned Stubby a nomination for the rank of Sergeant by the unit’s commander.

Stubby’s medals were proudly displayed on the chamois coat he wore—which was made by the women of Chateau-Thierry, the village that was retaken by US troops. After the war, Stubby was, again, smuggled home by Conroy. Back in the States, Stubby became quite the celebrity—meeting several Presidents, appearing on a vaudeville stage and awarded lifetime memberships to both the American Legion and the YMCA. He lived to a fairly old age (possibly 9 or 10), and is ensconced in the Smithsonian Museum in “The Price of Freedom” display.

In our daily newspapers and on the nightly news, we see the stories of the courageous canines serving alongside our men and women on the battlefield. We can’t help but feel a lump in our throats when we hear about the experiences shared—and the bonds forged — between man and dog under such unimaginable circumstances. On March 13th, we celebrate our canine military heroes—and we honor their legacy in our hearts.

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