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On Memorial Day, we have cookouts, gather with family and friends, and take time to honor those who gave their lives defending the United States of America. But how many of us remember our four-footed military heroes?
From the days of the Egyptians and the Greeks to recent actions in the Middle East, dogs have stood beside their human counterparts in service to mankind.
History first records the use of a Canine Corp during the Seminole War of 1835. In 1842, the Army used Cuban-bred bloodhounds in Louisiana and Florida to track Native Americans and runaway slaves through the swamps. During the Civil War, dogs saw action as messengers, guards, and mascots.
Here are 8 great American K9 military heroes.
This brindle Stratford Terrier served during the Civil War with the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Raised by the regiment and always with them, Sallie became separated from her comrades at Gettysburg. Three days later, troops found her guarding the bodies of wounded and dead soldiers. She died in combat at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run.
During WWI, America’s first war dog, Sergeant Stubby, served 18 months in the European theater. He first saw action at Chemin des Dames, France, where he proved himself as valuable as any soldier with a rifle. The thunder of artillery didn’t faze him, and he followed the example of his fellow soldiers, ducking when the shells drew close. Without any instruction! With his heightened hearing, Sgt. Stubby heard the whine of shells before the men, and they began taking their cues to hit the dirt from him.
One night, Stubby’s head snapped up. He sniffed the air, loosed a growl, and bounded into the trenches. Awakened by a sharp cry of pain and the sound of a fight, his handler grabbed his rifle and tore into the dark to find his partner. He arrived on the scene to find a German spy whirling madly in an attempt to shake Stubby from his backside.
Corporal Conroy captured and disarmed the spy quickly, but Stubby took his time detaching himself from the man!
By the end of the war, Sgt. Stubby had received a chest full of honors, including a wound stripe and several medals of valor. The US Marines even honored him with the honorary rank of sergeant.
Returning late from his R&R in Paris on July 14, 1918, Private James Donovan tripped over a pile rags that turned out to be his new shaggy friend. As he introduced himself, three military policemen arrived on the scene to take him into custody for being AWOL.
Donovan convinced the MPs that he was part of a search party to retrieve the little terrier, the missing mascot of the 1st Division. The MPs took his word and delivered both man and dog safely to headquarters.
Soon after, as a messenger between headquarters and the infantry and artillery units of the 1st Division, Donovan would try to leave Rags in the relative safety of the rear. But the dog would have none of it. Giving in to his fellow soldier, Donovan trained the dog to deliver messages through the barbed wire that slowed human couriers and caused high casualties.
Rags went on to serve as an early warning system and was gassed and wounded in action before he and Donovan evacuated and went home.
Chips served during WWII in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany. The Shepherd-Collie-Husky mix earned the distinction of most-decorated K9 in WWII. Pinned down with his handler during the invasion of Sicily, Chips broke free and attacked the enemy gunmen, leading to their surrender. He won the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his action.
On December 3, 1966, Nemo and his handler, Airman Second Class Robert Thorneburg, came under enemy fire. Thorneburg took a bullet in the shoulder. Nemo was hit in the muzzle, under his right eye. The bullet exited his mouth. Nemo ignored his wound and charged four gunmen, giving his partner time to call for reinforcements. Man and dog received emergency medical treatment, and Nemo went home to live the rest of his life as a hero.
Valdo, a naval petty officer first class, served in Afghanistan with his handler, Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Lee. In 2011, the bomb-sniffing dog received severe wounds when he shielded four of his comrades from a rocket-propelled grenade. He took most of the shrapnel but went on to recover.
Lex came under fire while deployed in Fallujah with her handler, Cpl. Dustin Lee. Shrapnel from the mortar wounded the dog and resulted in the death of the corporal. Despite his wounds, Lex crawled over to Lee and lay atop him until medics could arrive.
This Shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix lost a leg in Afghanistan. She received her injury when she set off a roadside bomb while walking point for her team of Marines. Thanks to her dedication, no US troops were injured. Meet this true American hero in the three-and-a-half-minute video conversation with Lucca and her handlers.
These shining examples of American war dogs underscore their title of Man’s Best Friend. Many more dogs accompanied their human counterparts into the rigors of war, some known, many not. Check out the resources below for more information and bios of our dog heroes.
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