Sergeant Stubby, American Canine Hero of First World War, Dies

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Sergeant Stubby, American Canine Hero of First World War, Dies

Sergeant Stubby (1916?--26), wearing his chamois coat with awards & decorations
Photograph taken between 1918 and 1921
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

Today in Military History: April 4, 1926

Today's journey into history takes us to the first third of the 20th century, and highlights a heroic four-legged American soldier who met Presidents, First Ladies, and generals. He charmed everyone that he met, and became the first dog in American military history to sport a sergeant's stripes. His name was Stubby (oops! I mean Sergeant Stubby), and this is his story…


Stubby began life as a stray living in New Haven, Connecticut near the campus of Yale University. He has been variously described as a bull terrier and a Boston terrier. [He acquired his name from his stubby tail.] The pup was found roaming the Yale campus in July of 1917, while members of the 102nd Infantry, part of the New England-based 26th "Yankee" Division, were training. The dog hung around as the men drilled and one soldier, Corporal J. Robert Conroy, developed a fondness for the dog. Stubby was described as becoming very familiar with drill formations, bugle calls, and the like.

When it came time for the 102nd to ship overseas to fighting in Europe, Corp. Conroy smuggled the dog first aboard a train from Connecticut to Newport News, VA. Then Conroy sneaked his companion onto the waiting troopship, SS Minnesota, hiding Stubby inside his greatcoat. Conroy kept Stubby's presence a secret for a number of days, hiding him in the coal bin of the transport.

Apparently, the four-legged stowaway was an open secret with the soldiers of the 102nd, as well as with the ship's crew. A machinist fashioned a set of metal dog tags for Stubby. At some point during the voyage, the dog was discovered by an officer. While the officer was dressing down Conroy for bringing an unauthorized creature, Conroy gave Stubby a quiet order. The dog executed a right-paw salute for the officer, who was persuaded and gave the corporal permission to keep his pal as the unit's mascot.

Stubby Goes to War

When they arrived in France, the 102nd Infantry was assigned to Neufchâteau, in the Lorraine region of northeastern France, to train with more experienced French forces. The regiment's leader, Col. John Henry Parker, a gruff, intimidating man, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, was the one who gave special orders that Stubby remain with the 26th. The dog, it was said, "was the only member of his regiment that could talk back to [Parker] and get away with it."

Stubby remained billeted with Conroy, and followed him everywhere, even when the man was temporarily assigned as a dispatch rider, running alongside Conroy on his horse.

However, things changed on St. Patrick's Day, 1918 when bells and klaxons – the signal of a poison gas attack – rang out along the hillside in the Marne where Stubby and Conroy were stationed. For a full 24 hours, German gas shells rained down. Somehow, the dog and his master survived, likely by the use of gas masks. According to several accounts, Stubby received a small amount of gas in this attack, but recovered. [I could not find any account of this incident which specified the type of gas used. It may have chlorine, or phosgene – both were "old reliables," in use since at least 1915 – but my money would be on mustard gas. It was one of the newer gases used by both sides, and its effects were most devastating.]

Aftermath of a German phosgene gas attack on a British position, date unknown; Image courtesy of
Aftermath of a German phosgene gas attack on a British position, date unknown
Image courtesy of

He would later become the American unit's gas attack alarm; Stubby would be described running up and down the trenches, barking furiously or even nipping at his American comrades warning them of the upcoming poison gas attack. On April 5, he would receive his first promotion to private first class.

In April of 1918, the Germans launched an offensive specifically to test the fighting qualities of the relatively new American doughboys. During that fighting, PFC Stubby received his first wound, courtesy of a shell fragment to his left foreleg. When the 102nd reached in July, the dog had evidently learned to distinguish a khaki doughboy uniform from gray serge Germany garb. When he recognized a uniformed enemy soldier, Stubby's rage at the sight of a German was reportedly so "savage" (in the words of an Associated Press account) that "it was found necessary to tie him up when batches of prisoners were being brought back, for fear that trouserless Germans would be reaching the prison pens."

[At some time following the re-capture of the town of Chateâu Thierry, Stubby charmed local Frenchwomen. One of them sewed a chamois coat for him. The coat became his uniform, sporting numerous awards for all to see.]

Later, when the 102nd was assigned to the Argonne Forest, Stubby sniffed out a lost German soldier hiding in nearby bushes. The dog gave chase, eventually dragging the soldier back to the 102nd. The German prisoner was wearing an Iron Cross. To the victor go the spoils: The medal was removed from the German's uniform, was bestowed upon Stubby, who wore it on his army coat thereafter. As a result of his capture of the German soldier, he was nominated for the rank of sergeant.

The 102nd Infantry took part in four major offensives – Aisne-Marne, Champagne-Marne, Saint-Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne – and 17 engagements. They saw more fighting than any other American infantry division: 210 days in total. Stubby was there for the duration.

When "The Great War" ended on November 11, 1918, the 102nd Infantry and Stubby spent several months in demobilization. During that time, Stubby and his owner traveled to Versailles and met President Woodrow Wilson. In April of 1919, Conroy and Stubby were mustered out at Camp Devens, MA.


Stubby became a celebrity almost instantly. He attended the 1920 Republican Presidential Convention, led a number of veterans' parades, and was photographed continuously. In 1921, he was presented a gold medal from the Humane Society of the U.S. General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing presented the pup with the medal. First Lady Florence Harding was in attendance, as was Stubby's constant companion, Robert Conroy. [See photo below]

Gen. John Pershing presenting medal to Stubby, 1921; First Lady Florence Harding (c) and Robert Conroy (r); Image courtesy of
Gen. John Pershing presenting medal to Stubby, 1921
First Lady Florence Harding (c) and Robert Conroy (r)
Image courtesy of

Conroy stayed in Washington after the war, working as a bureaucrat for the Bureau of Investigation (precursor of the FBI) in the Justice Department, then with military intelligence, and finally on Capitol Hill as a secretary for a Connecticut senator.

When Conroy began law classes at Georgetown University in 1921, Stubby went with him. The students were charmed by the "Hero-Dog." Both Conroy and Stubby attended football games at Georgetown, and Stubby was adopted as the university's official mascot. At halftime of many football games, Stubby would be brought onto the field, given a football, and use his nose to push the ball around the field.

Stubby was given memberships in the American Red Cross and The American Legion. He traveled across the country, and many hotels ignored their own "no dogs allowed" rule to give glamorous accommodations to Sgt. Stubby.


Stubby died in his sleep in 1926, with Conroy holding him in his arms. Shortly afterward, Conroy arranged for Stubby to live on, with the dog's skin attached to a plaster body. Conroy donated Stubby's remains to the Smithsonian in 1956, where they are still on display in the National Museum of American History.

Sgt. Stubby's taxidermied remains, on display at the Smithsonian Institution; National Museum of American History; image courtesy of
Sgt. Stubby's taxidermied remains, on display at the Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of American History; image courtesy of

Footnote #1: Stubby received an obituary in the New York Times. The obituary was half a page, which was much longer than the obituaries of many notable people of the time.

Footnote #2: An animated film devoted to the exploits of Sgt. Stubby is scheduled for release in 2018. It will feature the voice talents of Logan Lerman (from the Percy Jackson films of 2010 and 2013), Helena Bonham Carter, and Gérard Depardieu. It has also been endorsed as an official project of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission.

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Dogs have played an important role for years now, thanks to Sargent Stubby's heroics; being among the first to do so. Man's best friend, mostly when on our side.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.