It's not just soldiers and veterans who deserve recognition on Memorial Day.
Their canine counterparts are often equally brave, said Kathleen Golden, associate curator in the Division of Armed Forces History at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
"These dogs are fearless and they are saving a lot of soldiers' lives," she said. "They are four-legged soldiers and they should receive as many accolades as the two-legged ones."
Ms. Golden helped put together the exhibition "The Price of Freedom: Americans at War," which has a World War I section. It features the original U.S. dog of war, Sgt. Stubby, who was the mascot of the 102 Infantry 26th Yankee Division in World War I. Stubby predated the formal K-9 program, which started during World War II, she said.
"When the exhibit was installed in 2004, we made sure Stubby was front and center, where he is today," she said. "He is incredibly popular. He even has his own Facebook page."
After Stubby died, he was stuffed and mounted (actually, his skin was placed over a plaster cast, and the rest of him was cremated and placed inside the cast), and was lent to the Red Cross Museum, where he was on display for many years. He is 22 inches high by 26 inches wide and 11 inches deep.
On May 22, 1956, Army Cpl. J. Robert Conroy donated Stubby to the Smithsonian Institution, and he was put on display for several years in the National Museum (now the Arts and Industries Building, next to the Smithsonian Castle).
After that, Stubby went into a crate and stayed there for many years, in one of the storage rooms of the Division of Armed Forces History in the American History building. That is where Ms. Golden met him, when she began working with that division in the late 1980s.
Ms. Golden, a self-described dog lover, said he is one of her favorite artifacts in the Armed Forces history collections.
The dog showed up at training camp one day on the grounds of Yale University, and was such a hit with the soldiers that he was allowed to stay (he would drill with them, and even learned to salute), she said.
The soldiers didn't think twice about what breed of dog he was, but his square head, cropped ears and short legs clearly would have placed him into the pit bull category.
When it was time to ship off for Europe, Stubby went along for the ride to Newport News, Va., and was smuggled by Conroy aboard the SS Minnesota. Upon discovery by Conroy's commanding officer, the story goes, Stubby saluted him, and the commanding officer was so impressed that he allowed Stubby to remain with the troops, where he stayed for 18 months. Stubby entered combat on Feb. 5, 1918, at Chemin des Dames and went on to participate in four offensives and 17 battles.
Stubby took to soldiering quite well, joining the men in the trenches. He was gassed once, and wounded in the leg with shrapnel by retreating Germans, and once he disappeared for a while, only to resurface with the French forces who returned him to his unit. Stubby even captured a German soldier, Ms. Golden said.
As the story goes, the soldier called to Stubby, but he put his ears back and began to bark. As the German ran, Stubby bit him on the legs, causing the soldier to trip and fall. He continued to attack the man until the U.S. soldiers arrived. For capturing an enemy spy, Stubby was put in for a promotion to the rank of sergeant by the commander of the 102nd Infantry. He became the first dog to be given rank in the U.S. armed forces.
When the war ended, Stubby returned to the states with Conroy and to a certain amount of celebrity. Conroy enrolled at Georgetown University to study law, and Stubby became the mascot for the Hoyas. There were visits to the White House, a meeting with Gen. John J. Pershing, parades galore, and even a vaudeville appearance, Ms. Golden said.
"Stubby touched the hearts of many, the hero dog who followed his buddies to war," she said.
When he died in 1926, his obituary ran in several newspapers, including The New York Times.
Now, Stubby is again enjoying a certain amount of popularity.
"In the past few years, I have received numerous inquiries about Stubby from children's book authors, aspiring screenwriters, and even pit bull advocates who see Stubby as a role model," she said.
Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Tanya Irwin is a reporter for The Blade. First Published May 27, 2013 4:00 AM