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In 1917, members of the 102nd Infantry Battalion of the 26th "Yankee" Division and other militia units were training on the grounds of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut prior to deploying overseas. Among them was one Private John Conroy who spotted a stray pit bull who had obviously been living from garbage can to garbage can for some time. Conroy took pity on this mutt that he quickly named "Stubby" and began leaving food out for him. Before long, all the soldiers in the 102nd had taken a shine to Stubby and they let the little guy sleep in the barracks with them. Neither Private Conroy nor the rest of the 102nd dreamed that by the war's end Stubby would have been promoted to the rank of Sergeant, have his own personalized dog tags, wear a hand made vest sporting all his medals, capture a German spy, survive an injury and mustard gas, fight alongside his two legged soldiers in four offensives and 17 battles and personally meet three presidents of the United States.
It didn't take long to notice that Stubby was an incredibly smart dog as he quickly learned the bugle calls, the drills, and even a modified dog salute as he put his right paw on his right eyebrow when a salute was executed by his fellow soldiers. Morale in the unit had never been higher.
At the conclusion of training, the troops were unwilling to part ways with Stubby so Pvt. Conroy smuggled him onto the transport ship Minnesota with the rest of the division as they departed for Europe. Stubby was forced to hide in the coal bin until the ship was far enough out to sea and then he was brought out on deck.
Once in Europe, Conroy hid Stubby beneath his greatcoat, but before long Stubby was discovered by the commanding officer. The soldiers quickly had Stubby "salute" the senior officer as they assured the CO of Stubby's extensive training at Yale and his impeccable manners on board the Minnesota which earned him his dog tags. Perhaps the officer recognized the dog's intelligence and possibly he was unable to resist the dog's charm becasue the commanding officer not only allowed Stubby to remain with the soldiers, but when orders came for the front lines in France, Stubby was given special orders to accompany the Yankee Division as their official mascot.
WWI was known for having been fought from the trenches. Trenches protected the soldiers from artillery shells and rifle shots from the enemy. Thousands of miles of front-line trenches, reserve-line trenches, communications trenches and dummy trenches sprang up on both sides. The resulting grid patterns allowed troops to travel from one line to another while keeping safe from enemy machine gun fire. Such it was when the 102nd reached the front lines on February 5, 1918. Stubby soon acclimated to his new surroundings and adjusted to the loud rifles and heavy artillery fire.
After the gas attack, Stubby's nose was hyper sensitive and more than once he saved his fellow soldiers when he got a whiff of the gas he would run through the trenches barking and biting at the soldiers to wake and alert them. It took no time at all for the soldiers to realize what Stubby was doing and a gas alarm would be sounded. Once his work was done, Stubby would leave the area and not return until his nose told him it was safe. What? Did you think they made doggie gas masks back then?
The soldiers swore that Stubby somehow was able to discern the difference between English and German and as such he served another heroic function by locating wounded men between the trenches of the opposing armies. Once he heard English being spoken, he would go to that location and bark until a paramedic arrived. Once on one of his treks he came across a German soldier who was mapping the layout of the Allied trenches. The soldier called to Stubby, but Stubby knew who the enemy was and how he spoke and let out his barking alarm. The German began to run away with Stubby nipping at his heels which caused the soldier to fall. Stubby continued his attack - reportedly biting the soldier in the rear end - until the American soldiers arrived and took the spy as prisoner. With this act, Stubby was put in for a promotion to Sergeant - out ranking his old buddy, Conroy who was a Corporal at the time - by the 102nd Infantry commander. He became the first dog to be awarded this rank in the US Armed Forces.
He was made a lifetime member of the American legion and marched in every legion parade 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 at one time or another. He met three presidents of the United States -- Wilson, Harding and Coolidge and was a lifetime member of the Red Cross and YMCA. The Y offered him three bones a day and place to sleep for the rest of his life and he regularly hit the campaign trail, recruiting members for the American Red Cross and selling victory bonds.
John Conroy remained Stubby's master and when he began his law studies at Georgetown University, Stubby became the mascot for their football team, the Georgetown Hoyas. During halftime he would nudge a football around the field to the delight of the crowd. Soon this little trick became a standard feature for Georgetown mascots through the 20's and 30's and some argue it is what led to the half time shows we enjoy today.
His taxidermied body is featured with its own exhibit at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History.
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.