November 10, 2021
Heroic K-9 Veterans: 5 Inspiring Stories of United States War Dogs
On the first anniversary of World War I’s end, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11th Armistice Day. In 1938, congress approved it as a national holiday, and in 1954 it was renamed Veterans Day. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the significance it maintains. Every November 11th, we recognize the day as a chance to honor the brave men and women who have served in each branch of our military forces. The DogWatch team joins in this salute and extends a heartfelt thanks to all veterans for their courageous service.
With so many heroes to praise, we turn our attention to the subject we know best: dogs. Here are the stories of five of these heroic military working dogs, whose bravery, dedication, and strength are an inspiration to us all.
1) Sallie Ann Jarrett
Dogs have played an integral role in the United States military since the early 1800s. Sallie Ann Jarrett, a female Pit Bull Terrier (or possibly a Staffordshire Bull Terrier), served as a mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry during the American Civil War.
One day in 1861, as the 11th Pennsylvania was drilling, a civilian visited the regiment with a gift: a small female Pit Bull puppy. The troops were ecstatic, instantly bonding with the dog. They named her Sallie Ann Jarret, combining the name of their commander Phaon Jarrett with that of the regiment’s favorite civilian visitor: a young Philadelphia woman who frequently stopped to chat with the men by the name of Sallie Ann.
Sallie Ann, the Pit Bull, was affectionate to each member of the regiment. She ate, slept, and marched with men, winding through their legs as they maintained formation. The intensity of the war increased dramatically by 1862, and the 11th Pennsylvania was sent south to join the fighting on the front. Sallie spent every engagement the troops participated in on the front lines, never leaving the side of the men who had become her family.
Sallie was a mainstay with 11th Pennsylvania for the first two years of the war. On the first day of the famous Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, Sallie Ann became separated from her regiment. They found her several days later, guarding her wounded and dead fellow soldiers. Sallie continued to serve with the remaining men of the 11th Pennsylvania and was even wounded at the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse in 1864. Sadly, Sallie Ann was shot and killed at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run in February 1865. It has been reported that the men of her regiment buried her before the battle had even ended.
When the surviving veterans of the 11th Pennsylvania gathered in 1890 to dedicate a monument in honor of their fallen fellow soldiers, they made sure to include a bronze depiction of Sallie Ann, patiently keeping watch as she had so bravely during the war. Visitors to the park still leave treats for this canine hero.
2) Sergeant Stubby
Sergeant Stubby, a mixed breed dog with a stubby tail (possibly a Bull Terrier or Boston Terrier mix), started as a stray who hung around a group of soldiers while they were training in New Haven, CT. Private Robert Conroy developed a close bond with the pup, and when his regiment boarded their ship to cross the Atlantic, Robert took Stubby with him. There is a story that when Stubby was discovered by Conroy’s commanding officer, Stubby saluted him. The commanding officer was so impressed he made Stubby the regiment’s mascot.
He eventually became the most famous canine hero of WWI. He served in the trenches of France for 18 months alongside his best friend Private J. Robert Conroy and the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division. Stubby saw 4 offensives, 17 battles, and plenty of intense, live-action. The fearless pup performed several vital roles, including alerting troops to incoming gas attacks, catching German spies, locating missing soldiers in between the trenches, and boosting morale.
At the war’s end, the brave dog received a medal from Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American forces in Europe, who saluted the dog’s “heroism of highest caliber” and “bravery under fire.” The famous hero dog led parades, met three Presidents, and became the mascot of Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Stubby’s tough façade belied an inner strength and loyalty that are worthy of celebration.
Smoky, a four-pound Yorkshire Terrier, proves that war dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Found in the New Guinea jungle by an American soldier during WWII, Smoky was later sold to another soldier, Corporal William A. Wynne from Cleveland, OH. Wynne and Smoky became inseparable and Wynne taught Smoky hilariously elaborate tricks to entertain his fellow soldiers. When Wynne’s unit was stationed in the Philippines, they came under tremendous fire from Japanese airstrikes. The airstrikes knocked out communications at key defensive fortifications and forced the Americans to run telephones through lead pipes to protect them from the Japanese attacks. Wynne tied telephone wire to Smoky’s collar and sent her through the pipes. Smoky is credited with reestablished communications throughout the base, saving hundreds of men and dozens of United States planes from certain destruction.
Wynne and Smoky stayed together for the next two years of the war, and the little dog survived the heat, limited food rations, typhoons, air raids, combat missions, and even a 30ft parachute jump (she had her own special parachute). Wynne credits his dog with saving his life by guiding him away from the incoming fire on a transport ship. At one point, Wynne became ill with Dengue Fever and spent a week in a military hospital. Smoky slept in Wynne’s bed every night and served as a therapy dog for other wounded soldiers during the day.
Smoky is now recognized as the first therapy dog, as she spent many hours both during the war and back home visiting veterans and entertaining them with the varied collections of tricks that Wynne taught her. After the war, Smoky and Wynne made numerous TV appearances together, performing tricks and telling the amazing story of their adventure. Smoky lived in Cleveland with Wynne and his family until her death in 1957 at age 14. On Veterans Day in 2005, a memorial for Smoky was unveiled in the Rocky Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks in Lakewood, Ohio.
In 1966, a German Shepherd dog named Nemo and his handler, Airman Second Class Robert Thorneburg, were serving in defense of the Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam with a dozen other pairs of dogs and their handlers. One morning a large force of Viet Cong combatants launched a surprise attack on the base. The dogs guarding the base were able to alert the troops stationed there quickly, helping them to avoid being attacked completely off guard. Later than night when Thorneburg and Nemo were on patrol, they were ambushed once again, and were both the victims of gunshot wounds. A bullet hit Nemo in the muzzle, but the brave dog stayed strong and charged 4 gunmen, giving Thorneburg, who was shot in the shoulder, enough time to call for reinforcements. Thorneburg and Nemo both survived, but Nemo’s right eye had to be removed. Nemo was sent back to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX, where he had been trained, to recover under the care of the base’s veterinarians. Nemo was the first dog in the history of the United States military to be officially retired from active service. Nemo lived out the rest of his life in Lackland, in his own special kennel, and served as an inspiration for countless handlers-in-training.
Sadly, Nemo was one of only 200 of the 4,000 dogs who served in the Vietnam War that returned home after the war ended. Some of the surviving dogs who did not return were euthanized or left in Vietnam, despite the protests of their handlers. The handlers and other veterans continued to fight for the rights of war dogs, pushing for legislation to create a program for their adoption. President Clinton signed that legislation into law in 2000, ensuring the dogs now serving in the U.S. military will have a home when they have finished their battlefield jobs.
20 year-old Corporal Kory Duane Wiens followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and namesake, a military canine handler during the Korean War, when he became a member of the 94th Mine Dog Detachment, 5th Engineer Battalion, 1st Engineer Brigade, serving in Iraq in 2007. Wiens’ canine comrade was a yellow Lab named Cooper, and they formed a closely bonded team. They worked together to find firearms, ammunition and explosives. While on patrol in Muhammad Sath, Iraq on July 6th, 2007, Wiens and Cooper were killed by an improvised explosive device. Their remains were buried together in Wiens’ hometown of Dallas, OR.
We learned about Wiens and Cooper from author Maria Goodavage, who wrote about the pair in her book Top Dog. She told us that Wiens always said Cooper was “his son,” and planned on adopting him after they completed their service. Recently, Wiens’ dad Kevin started adopting dogs, yellow Labs, to remind him of his son and his dog. One of these dogs had a litter, which he deemed “Kory Wiens and Cooper memorial dogs.” Goodavage adopted one of the puppies, named Gus, and another, Murray, went home with the family of Lucca, a retired military working dog who served with Wiens and Cooper in Iraq. “Gus is a Kory Wiens and Cooper memorial dog and he tries to wear it proudly,” said Goodavage. “I tell Kory’s story briefly when people ask so people know what the sacrifices were.”
Again, thank you to all of the men and women – and animals – who served our country so bravely. We salute you.
- Sallie Ann Jarrett: 11th PA Infantry monument in Gettysburg, PA featuring Sallie by Einar E Kvaran, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
- Stubby: Public Domain
- Smoky video: SMOKY THE WAR DOG via YouTube.
- Nemo: dogtime.com
- Cooper: U.S Army photo by Spc. Olanrewaju Akinwunmi via The U.S. Army Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0.