In 1917, bull terriers had no place in the war. Mascots were limited to sports teams and service dogs were limited to the police force. Strict regulations forbade animals from living on military grounds. It’s for these reasons that no one would have expected a stray mongrel to end up becoming one of the most decorated soldiers who served in the First World War. From Connecticut to the Allied front line in France and back again, one dog changed the course of history for its entire species.
Not much is known about Stubby before his self-enlistment. He was a lost soul looking for a purpose, whose affinity with the grounds at Yale led him to unexpected greatness.
When Private J. Robert Conroy found a snub-tailed bull terrier while training for the war, the rules of the military camp were changed (or just completely flouted). Named Stubby because of his tail, or lack thereof, this clever canine quickly fell in with the ranks of the 102nd Infantry to whom he became a mascot.
In time, he did more than represent the troops. Stubby learned to salute and follow drills just like his fellow human soldiers. He trained with the troops as diligently as any conscript; he was a volunteer after all. Yale was not to be his forever home, however, as the 102nd was about to be deployed.
In October of 1917, under the 26th Yankee Division of Massachusetts, the 102nd Infantry were shipped out to the Western Front. Travelling to France on the S.S. Minnesota, Conroy and the boys of the 102nd snuck Stubby aboard and hid him in the coal bunker during most of the voyage. After crossing the Atlantic, he was discovered by the powers that be, who let him stay. (He’d already come this far!) The reason they accepted this dog for service? He offered the commanding officer a salute.
Once he was in the trenches near Soissons, Stubby proved to be an indispensable help. He aided his fellow soldiers in 17 battles. After suffering from his first gas attack, Stubby became very sensitive to it and could sense gas coming before it struck the Allied trenches. Picking up on an impending attack which his human companions couldn’t detect, Stubby would run about barking and biting soldiers awake and alerting them to the forthcoming danger. If not for him, many men would have suffered the debilitating effects of a gas attack.
After Stubby was wounded a second time at the raid of Schieprey, he was transferred to a Red Cross Recovery Hospital for surgery. He’d been hit by shrapnel that lodged itself in a leg and in his chest after a grenade went off nearby. He made a complete recovery during which he became a temporary hospital dog, visiting other recovering soldiers and boosting morale. From the front lines to the nursing stations, Stubby won hearts and kept spirits high and hopeful.
Stubby’s heroism amounted to some pretty spectacular moments. He was often able to flit off into No Man’s Land, without presenting a large or obvious target to the enemy, and locate wounded men. He would either direct them back to the American trenches or help search parties locate the immobilized soldiers. In one spectacular instance, Stubby caught a German spy. The enemy soldier had snuck into No Man’s Land and was mapping out the Allied front line when Stubby sniffed him out. Not tricked by the German’s placating coos, Stubby apprehended his foe. He managed to knock the enemy down by biting his leg and detained him until soldiers of the 102nd arrived. Stubby wore the German’s Iron Cross as a token of this brave act for the rest of the war.
It was thanks to his capture of an enemy spy that Stubby was officially awarded the rank of Sergeant. At Neufchâteau he was presented with a blanket that was embroidered by women of the liberated Château Thierry. It sported the flags of the Allies, a medal commemorating the battle, and three service chevrons. France also rewarded him the French Medal for the Battle of Verdun and the Republic of France Grande War Medal. From the U.S. he was presented with the New Haven WWI Veterans Medal, the St Mihiel Campaign Medal, and the Yankee Division YD Patch, as well as the illustrious Purple Heart.
After The War
By the end of the war, Stubby was a highly decorated dog. The Commanding General of the U.S. Armies, General John Pershing, presented Stubby with a medal on behalf of the Humane Education Society. He was also inducted as a lifetime member into the American Legion from which he was awarded the 1st Annual American Legion Convention Medal in 1919 and later the 6th Annual American Legion Convention medal. He also held membership with the Red Cross and the YMCA.
Once back home, Stubby hardly lead a peaceful life. He paraded across the country – in Boston, Kansas City, and Omaha, to name a few. He was featured in newspapers across the country. He helped recruit for the Red Cross and sell victory bonds. He caused the legendary Hotel Majestic in New York City to rescind their ban on dogs so that he could be an honored guest. Stubby also had the grander honor of visiting the White House. Over different occasions he met three presidents: Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge.
His original adopter, J. Robert Conroy, remained his ever-loving master after the war. When Conroy went to Georgetown to study law after the war, Stubby accompanied him and lived at the capital with Conroy until his passing in 1926. He was approximately 14 years old.
His obituary “Stubby of AEF Enters Valhalla: Tramp Dog of No Pedigree Took Part in the Big Parade in France” ran for three whole columns in the New York Times – a larger obituary than most people’s. Humorous and heart-felt, it honored the war hero in great detail, including a germane quote from Tennyson.
In his time at Georgetown, Stubby ended up becoming the Georgetown Hoya’s mascot. Rumor has it that he inspired the original half-time show, nosing a football around the field in between halves.
After his death, Stubby’s legend lived on. He inspired a children’s book in the ‘70s entitled “Subby – Brave Soldier Dog” and has been addressed in many books about military and canine history.
Today, Stubby resides in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. His remains were stuffed and put on display with all of his medals, save the German Iron Cross which was lost to history. In his time, many artists were inspired by his story. In the wake of his bravery, many more (of four legs and two) were inspired to heroic deeds. Dogs also became more common – though un-enlisted – members of armies throughout the years, some would say thanks to Stubby’s precedent.