Historical Landmark of the Month (February): Stubby the dog

I recently came across a fantastic story that was so good, I had to research it a little more to find out if it was true. What I discovered was even more enjoyable than I had imagined. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the true story of Stubby, the four-legged hero of World War I.

When the United States entered World War I, we didn’t have a very large military. As a result, various National Guard units were activated and combined to form larger units. In June 1917, National Guard units from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont were combined to form the 102nd Infantry Battalion of the 26th "Yankee" Division. Prior to their deployment, they trained on the grounds and athletic fields of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. It was there that Private Robert Conroy came across a stray dog.

We aren’t really sure what kind of dog it was; some sources speculated that he was part Boston Terrier and part Pit Bull, while other sources state that he was in fact a pure bred American Pit Bull Terrier while his obituary described him as a "Bull Terrier". Whatever he was, he was low to the ground with short, bristly hair and a sold, compact frame. Since he had a short, chopped-off tail, they called him “Stubby”.

Stubby took to the soldiers, and they quickly adopted him as their own. He didn’t bark or make any unauthorized messes, and he learned to march with the troops and sit up straight in a doggie-version of “Attention”. He even learned a modified canine salute, bringing his right paw up in the general vicinity of his head.

At the end of their training, the 26th YD headed south to Newport News, VA where they boarded the USS Minnesota for the trip across the Atlantic. Conroy, unwilling to part with Stubby, smuggled him onboard in his luggage and kept him hidden until they were well out at sea. Once free, Stubby roamed the decks and made friends with the sailors. All was good until Conroy’s Commanding Officer got wind of the dog, but when Stubby snapped to attention and rendered his canine salute, the CO allowed Stubby to stay. It was official—Stubby was going to the front with his comrades in the Yankee Division.

The Yankee Division served in the trenches of France for 18 months, taking part in four major offensives and 17 battles with the Germans. Their first major combat was on February 5, 1918 at Chemin des Dames, north of Soissons. During constant fire, day and night, Stubby was a valuable asset. When American soldiers were wounded in “No Man’s Land” (the area between the Allied and German trenches that was constantly raked by machine gun fire), Stubby would find them (they would call his name in English) and bark ferociously until the medics came and retrieved the wounded soldier. With his keen hearing, Stubby could also hear the incoming whine of artillery shells, and learned to take cover. When the soldiers saw Stubby duck for cover, they did the same, even when they couldn’t hear the incoming shell over the noise of battle. Stubby filled other duties as well, ferrying messages between posts, standing watch with the sentries at night, and providing comfort and cheer to the men.

In April 1918, during a raid to take Schieprey, Stubby was wounded in the foreleg by the retreating Germans throwing hand grenades. He was sent to the rear for convalescence, and as soon as he was able, started making the rounds of the hospital, improving morale and (as rumor has it) paying special attention to the morale of the nurses. When he recovered from his wounds, Stubby returned to the trenches.

Stubby also had an early serious exposure to a poison gas attack by the Germans. After he was rehabilitated and returned to the Yankee Division, he was keenly aware of the faintest hint of gas. On at least two separate occasions, the Germans attempted a poison gas attack while the Division slept at night. Stubby, hyper-sensitive to the gas, caught a whiff of the gas and ran through the trenches, barking and biting at the soldier’s shirts and boots to wake them up. As a result of Stubby's actions, the gas alarm was sounded and hundred of men were saved from injury. With his job done, Stubby left the trench to avoid the gas and didn't return until he felt it was safe.

Stubby was a serious soldier, but garnered even more fame when he captured a German soldier on his own. One day, Stubby went to investigate a noise and found a German spy who was mapping out the layout of the Allied trenches. The German soldier tried to call Stubby to him but it didn't work (Stubby obviously didn’t speak German!) With his ears back and haunches low, Stubby began to bark. The German began to run and Stubby launched into an attack, biting the soldier on his legs causing him to trip and fall. Stubby then attacked the soldier's arms and finally bit and held onto his rear end. By this time some of the Allied soldiers had come to see what all the noise was.

In his journal, Pvt Conroy recorded the following: "Single-pawedly, in a vigorous offensive from the rear, Stubby had captured a German spy, who'd been prowling through the trenches. The man was whirling desperately in an effort to shake off the snarling bundle of canine tooth and muscle that had attached itself to his differential. But Stubby was there to stay. It took considerably more time to convince Stubby that his mission had been successfully carried out and that he should now release the German.”

The commander of the Yankee Division used this act of bravery to put Stubby in for a promotion-he became the first dog to be given rank in the U.S. Armed Forces and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. (Stubby even outranked his friend, Robert Conroy, who was only promoted to Corporal.)

After the Allies had recaptured the town of Ch√Ęteau-Thierry from the Germans, news of the little dog's heroism became known to the townspeople and the women of the town made Stubby a very nice hand-sewn chamois uniform decorated with Allied flags and his name stitched in gold thread. The coat became his recognized trademark, becoming a depository for his service chevrons, medals, pins and buttons which he wore at parades for the rest of his life.

Stubby's uniform in all of its glory.
On leave, Stubby visited Nice, Monte Carlo and even Paris. While in Paris, Stubby suddenly bolted from Conroy's side and knocked a young girl away from a street corner, out of the path of a careening car. While they were grazed by the car, neither was seriously hurt. For his chivalrous actions, Stubby became a hero to the French.

After the War ended, Stubby was a celebrity. Walking the streets of Paris, he was recognized by hundreds of French, English, Australian and American soldiers. Before his return to the United States, he visited with President Woodrow Wilson after leading the American troops in a pass and review parade.

Stubby's left side (above) and right side (below)

Stubby had survived an amazing military experience, but as the war ended and he returned to the US (once again smuggled onto the ship by his faithful friend, Corporal Conroy), he was just getting started.

He was made a lifetime member of the American Legion and marched in parades and attended every Legion convention from the end of the war until his death. He was written about by practically every newspaper in the country and made multiple trips to the White House, meeting three different Presidents (Wilson, Harding and Coolidge) and was a lifetime member of the Red Cross and YMCA. The YMCA offered him three bones a day and place to sleep for the rest of his life (he often took advantage of that offer) and he regularly hit the campaign trail, recruiting members for the American Red Cross and selling victory bonds.

Stubby soliciting funds for the American Red Cross.
In 1921 General Blackjack Pershing (who had been the Supreme Commander of American Expeditionary Forces during the War) pinned Stubby with a gold hero dog’s medal that was commissioned by the Humane Education Society the forerunner of our current Humane Society. The bravery, loyalty and military usefulness of Stubby was instrumental in the creation of the U.S. "K9 Corps" during World War II- a tradition that exists to this day.

Being awarded a medal by General Pershing.
Corporal Conroy remained his true and faithful friend. In the early 1920’s, Conroy was nearly denied service at the Grand Majestic Hotel in New York City because they wouldn't accept the dog. With a grumble that might have been worthy of Stubby facing a German spy, Corporal Conroy is reported to have slammed his fist on the counter and said, "This is no dog. This is an American war hero!" Stubby was then received and signed the guestbook with a pawprint.

When his master, Robert Conroy, moved to DC to study law at Georgetown University, Stubby came along. Stubby was widely known around campus, and eventually became the official mascot of the Georgetown Hoyas (Georgetown uses the likeness of a bulldog to this day that represents Stubby!) During halftime of football games, his antics of playing with the football not only served to be entertaining but initiated a line of canine mascots to follow and is even credited with beginning the college football half time show. Stubby still found time to be received by not one but two Presidents (Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge) at the White House (he'd met President Wilson in Europe during the War and offered his well known salute to Wilson's delight).
Stubby as the Georgetown Mascot.
Stubby passed away in 1926 after a full and satisfying life. The Georgetown University newspaper wrote, upon his death in 1926, “If there is any place on the Other Side for dogs that are true, and loyal, and heroic, Stubby is no doubt there, gamboling after gray-clad warriors with all his former gusto.” The New York Times ran a three column obituary that can be read here. Rather than being buried in Arlington, his body was donated to the Smithsonian and even though it’s a little creepy, his body was stuffed and he stands guard over the WWI display in the National Museum of American History ("The Price of Freedom: Americans at War" exhibit, 2nd floor East.) Next time you are in DC, stop by and pay your respects to a genuine American military hero.
Stubby was honored with a brick in the Walk of Honor at the United States World War I Monument, Liberty Memorial, in Kansas City at a ceremony held on Armistice Day, November 11 2006.
Stubby's brick at the WWI Memorial.


Deborah Dramby said...

Thank you for sharing your findings about Stubby! I love that you wrote he "didn't make any unauthorized messes." LOL.

Anonymous said...

WOW! This makes me want a dog. Seriously, what a story. You would find it. Keep them coming.

Michael Lord said...


This is my favorite yet! I don't know how you come up with this stuff. I hope you are well. Have a great weekend and I look forward to the next entry.

Anonymous said...

There is only one Stubby! And this is not how it's spelled if I remember correctly.


Velvet Tangerine said...

Thank you so much for this story!

uncle ed said...

Matt finally got on your blog,I was on it,but didn`t know it. With the help of your parents I succeed! ps Mary Ann helped with the spelling. We are proud of you "Uncle Ed"

noor rohmat said...

Excellent post, I wait for his next post


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