Since the start of the American military, dogs have been important comrades to the soldiers. Canine soldiers in the early American military often served as morale dogs or guard dogs. However, as the American military matured over the years, so did the rolls of canine soldiers.
In the Navy, dogs were brought onboard to help catch and reduce the number rats and other pests. They were also used to help scout for food and water on islands as the ships stopped to resupply. In the Army, dogs were used as scouts, guard dogs, couriers, and companions.
In World War I, dogs found themselves taking on even more roles. One of the first famous dogs, Stubby the Dog, served with the 102nd infantry. He gave soldiers early warnings on artillery attacks, gas, and infantry raids. After suffering injuries from a mustard gas attack, Stubby learned to warn fellow soldiers of gas attacks and would dart into No Man’s Land to locate wounded soldiers. He was also able to hear the whine of incoming artillery shells before humans, so he was adept of alerting his unit to duck for cover.
During combat in April 1918, Stubby was wounded by a Garman hand grenade, but was able to continue serving. He was later injured again in his chest and leg by another grenade in a different battle. Stubby served for 18 months and had participated in 17 battles. He was promoted to an honorary rank of Sergeant. Stubby was awarded the golden medal from the Humane Education Society. Stubby passed away in March 1926, where his skin was mounted on a plaster cast and Stubby’s remains are currently being held in the Smithsonian Institution. In 2018, Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, an animated feature-length film was made based on the life and times of Stubby.
During World War II, dogs were called back to action on the front lines. They even got to see airborne action with the first dogs being airdropped with British paratrooper soldiers on D-Day. One of the most famous dogs of World War II was Chips, a Garman Shepard, Collie, and Husky mix. Chips was trained as a sentry dog and was deployed with the 3rd Infantry Division in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany.
During an invasion of Sicily, Chips and his handler were pinned down on the beach by an Italian machine-gun team. While pinned down, Chips broke from his handler and rushed towards the enemy. Despite being wounded in the process, he jumped into the machine-gun nest and attacked the Italian gunners, causing them to surrender. Chips’ day was not over though, as later that day, he helped take 10 more Italians soldiers prisoner. During the battle, Chips sustained a scalp wound and several powder burns. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, and a Silver Star for his actions on the beach. Unfortunately though, these commendations were later revoked due to a policy of not allowing animals to receive such awards. Chips served until 1945 when he was discharged to his original family, who in turn gave Chips to his military handler.
Dogs continued to serve mostly as sentry dogs in the Korean and Vietnam wars. During the Vietnam War, a sentry dog named Nemo, a German Shepard, on December 4, 1966 was patrolling the Tan Son Nhut Airbase with his handler when they were attacked by Viet Cong guerillas. Under concentrated enemy fire, Nemo’s handler, Throneburg, called for backup while trying to fight off the enemy attack. Nemo jumped into action, running after the enemy, buying Throneburg time to call in reinforcements.
Both Nemo and Throneburg were shot in the fire fight, Nemo took a round to the nose and lost his eye; Throneburg was shot twice in the left shoulder. Nemo continued fighting the enemy until Throneburg fell unconscious, where Nemo then crawled on top of Throneburg in an effort to protect him. Once reinforcements arrived, Nemo continued to fight off anyone trying to approach Throneburg. In fact, a veterinarian had to sedate Nemo so that medics could treat Throneburg’s injuries. They both survived the battle. Nemo, because of his heroic action, was returned to Lackland Air Force Base in the United States where he continued to work as a recruiting dog and eventually died at the base in 1972. At Lackland Air Force Base, his memorial kennel and stone still stand today in his honor.
In the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, dogs were trained primarily in explosive detection roles, helping American and allied forces to avoid IEDs and mines. They were also used on assault teams with special operators. One famous dog from these battles is Cairo, who was a member of the Navy Seal assault team that went to kill/capture Osama Bin Laden in 2011. Cairo was a finely-tuned, 70-pound Belgian Malinois. His primary role was to search out hidden passages, enemies, and weapons. Cairo was first deployed in June 2009. During a nighttime raid, Cairo and his team were clearing a house. He sniffed out a child that was hidden under a pile of clothes, and then later in the raid attacked an enemy biting him in the arm.
During another mission on June 30, 2009, Cairo and his Seal’s team were engaged against several heavily-armed insurgents. Cairo went in for the attack, where he was wounded multiple times, once in the chest and once in the front leg. He would recover and go into a semi-retirement until being called back to action for the March 2011 raid. Like other dogs in this article, Cairo was passed over for a Silver Star due to military policy. Cairo passed away on April 2, 2015 after serving as a therapy dog for his former military handler, who was suffering from severe PTSD from his time serving in the Navy Seals. Cairo for his role in the capture of Osama Bin Laden quickly became famous in the media and even has several books written about him and his handler.
Lion Country Supply would like to give our thanks to both canine and human military veterans for their sacrifices for our nation. Thank you for reading.
- Michael Cassatt, LCS Director of Marketing
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