This Memorial Day, we want to honor and thank all who currently serve, or who have previously served in the military—including the canines. It may not be top of mind, but the various armed forces commonly use military service dogs. During WWII, the United States used around 20,000 military service dogs throughout the U.S. Army, the Coast Guard, and the Marine Corps.
These dogs were and are used as message carriers, guard dogs, and bomb sniffers. “They were workers and warriors; they were soldiers’ comrades-in-arms and companions in battle. Their widespread presence on the battlefields was documented by government photographers covering the war.” In 1993, the National Archives and Records Administration decided to create a museum exhibit honoring these canines plus the horses, mules, and other animals who served during WWII.
The exhibit is called “Buddies: Soldiers and Animals in World War II,” and it displays 36 images of service animals from the war. This exhibit now travels from museum to museum throughout the country to honor and celebrate these animals.
It would be impossible to list every single dog who served in the military. But, there are some who have become famous for their service over the years. So, in honor of all those animals who have served, let’s share a bit about the most noteworthy military dogs.
Sallie – Civil War
Sallie was a Staffordshire Terrier who served on the frontlines during the Civil War. She was a part of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. She was with the soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg, where she got separated from her comrades during the fighting. She was found three days later, still waiting on the battlefield, guarding both wounded and deceased soldiers.
After the Civil War ended, the soldiers from Sallie’s infantry decided to erect a memorial statue of Sallie at Gettysburg, guarding her fellow soldiers.
Sergeant Stubby – World War I
Sergeant Stubby, arguably the most famous military dog, was a Boston Terrier mix. He was the most decorated war dog from WWI. Sgt. Stubby served with the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division. His job was to hide in the trenches in France and warn the soldiers of any impending danger like gas attacks or artillery shells. He even had a specially designed gas mask.
He helped to locate wounded soldiers on the battlefield, and he even captured a German soldier by refusing to let go of his pant leg until Sgt. Stubby’s comrades found him.
Sgt. Stubby participated in 4 offensives and 17 battles during an 18-month period. Thankfully, Sergeant Stubby survived the war and became quite famous when he returned. He met several presidents and got to lead multiple parades around the country. The Humane Education Society gave him a gold medal, the Georgetown Hoyas football team made him their mascot, and in 2018, there was a computer-animated movie made all about him called, “Stubby: An American Hero.”
Chips – World War II
Chips was a German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix, and he was the most decorated military dog of World War II. His owner decided to give him to the military to join the Dogs for Defense program. This program was started after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Chips served in General Patton’s Seventh Army in Italy, Germany, France, North Africa, And Sicily.
This heroic dog once charged into a “pillbox” building to capture the enemy soldiers and save his comrades. And then, later that same night, he warned his fellow soldiers of an ambush he heard coming while everyone was asleep. Chip came to the rescue many times and received a Silver Star and a Purple Heart for his bravery and heroism (which were subsequently revoked, categorizing dogs as “equipment” vs. service members).
Nemo – Vietnam War
Nemo was a German Shepherd guard dog during the Vietnam War. He was on duty with his handler, Airman Robert Throneburg, when he alerted Throneburg of enemies approaching. These two had to fight for their lives, and amazingly, both survived! They were both shot by Viet Cong guerillas. And though they were both badly wounded, Nemo was able to fight off the attackers long enough for Throneburg to radio for help. And Nemo continued to guard and protect Throneburg until the medics arrived.
Even though the medics were there to help, Nemo wasn’t entirely convinced that it was safe. It wasn’t until a veterinarian could talk Nemo into standing down that the doctors were able to help Throneburg. Thanks to Nemo, they both survived long after that attack.
Cairo – Operation Neptune Spear
Cairo was a Belgian Malinois and a canine member of the elite Navy SEAL team responsible for taking down Osama Bin Laden in 2011. He was a part of the covert military operation called Operation Neptune Spear. And during his time on this team, his job was to sniff out any hidden or buried explosives, secure the perimeter, and find any enemies who may have evaded capture.
His handler was so impressed with Cairo’s heroism and instincts that he wrote a book about him called No Ordinary Dog.
Lucca – Iraq War
Lucca was a German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix who completed two tours of duty, consisting of over 400 missions as an explosive-detecting expert. She found hidden and buried explosives and IEDs and, by doing so, saved numerous lives.
Lucca lost a leg while searching for IEDs but saved countless soldiers. And she had such high spirits that she bounced right back and wanted to start walking almost immediately after.
Because of her sacrifice and bravery, she was given the Dickin Medal by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. And although she could not officially receive a Purple Heart medal, a fellow Marine decided to give her one of his Purple Hearts.
The Unsung Heroes of the Military
Each of these stories shows the incredible bravery, work ethic, and devotion of these military service dogs to their country and to their fellow soldiers. They were strong companions, fighters, guards, lookouts, and rescuers. Here’s to their service and sacrifices.