Connecticut produced no more famous veteran of World War I than Sergeant Stubby, a Staffordshire terrier mix who started out life a homeless puppy wandering the Yale Campus in New Haven.
Stubby, so named because of his tail, was a familiar site on the campus, and J. Robert Conroy of New Britain took a liking to him. Conroy and the other men of New England national guard units were soon to be swept up in Yankee Division, an all-New England Army unit that was shipped to France to fight in World War I.
Stubby used to march along with the Yale soldiers as they drilled, and he picked up many of their military moves, marching, shaking hands and even saluting. He even could tell when the bugle was sounding to call the men to the mess hall.
When his unit shipped out on the S.S. Minnesota, Conroy smuggled Stubby aboard under his coat. When the little dog was discovered, he charmed even the commanding officer with his ability to salute.
On the battlefields of France, Stubby’s heroics were legend. While Europeans had full-fledged canine units in their armies, on the U.S. side dogs were unusual. Horses and mules were regular soldiers, but a dog/mascot was pretty rare.
Stubby was more than a curiosity, though. He had some legendary exploits on the battlefield. Early in the war he survived a mustard gas attack, and later would bark to alert the soldiers if he smelled the presence of the deadly gas – giving an early warning if it was coming.
Once while his unit was in a small village, Stubby helped alert the whole town that gas was in the air, giving them time to protect themselves with gas masks. The women of the village were so happy with the four-legged hero, they made him a coat – which he had with him until he died.
Once while out wandering, Stubby came upon a German soldier and raised an alarm so the man was taken prisoner. He is also credited with helping the medics find the wounded men and keeping soldiers company on lonely, late watches.
Stubby very nearly didn’t make it through the war. He was hit by shrapnel in April 1918 and had to be stitched up by the Army medics. But make it through he did, and when he returned to the United States he was a hero, a frequent sight at parades and celebrations. And he probably didn’t actually become known as Sergeant Stubby until after the war, when his fans bestowed the rank on him as an honorific, according to his biographer.
Over the course of his life, he met presidents Wilson, Harding and Coolidge at various functions – twice visiting the White House. He also received a medal from General John “Black Jack” Pershing, who wasn’t overly found of the early commanders of the Yankee Division, but did take time to honor Stubby back at home at a Humane Society event.
Conroy, who would go on to study law at Georgetown University and work on Capitol Hill after the war, took Stubby with him and he became the mascot for Georgetown Hoyas sports teams. In 1926, Stubby died of old age.
Conroy gave Stubby’s remains and his French-made uniform, complete with medals, to the Smithsonian Museum of National History, where he resides today.