Dogs have been used in military operations for thousands of years, with some of the oldest accounts tracing back to the Persians, Greeks, and Babylonians.
Though their service in the United States military is more a part of recent history, the contributions of our military dogs is no less important. In fact, today is National K9 Veterans Day, a holiday that honors their service.
At Low VA Rates, we want to pay tribute to this important day, and these important members of our military, by sharing the history of our canine servicemembers.
The first official use of dogs in the US military dates back to the Second Seminole War. During the war, these dogs were used to try and track members of the Seminole tribe, as well as the escaped slaves they believed to be harboring.
Dogs were also used during the Civil War. The hounds helped guard prisoners as well as send messages.
Additionally, during the Spanish-American War, the Rough Riders, a cavalry unit under Teddy Roosevelt, used dogs to scout in the Cuban jungle. In addition to serving as scouts, these early war dogs helped prevent enemy ambushes
Despite their service in these three wars, military dogs didn’t officially become a part of the US Armed Forces until WWI.
World War I
Interestingly enough, the US was one of the few armies that didn’t already use dogs at the time. France, Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Russia all knew the value that trained dogs brought to the battlefield. It was during WWI that the role of dogs in the US military started to evolve, and this is where Sergeant Stubby made his mark.
Stubby’s WWI story begins at Yale University in July 1917. He was wandering the campus grounds while the members of the 102nd Infantry were training. He would hang around with the soldiers while they did their drills, and this is where Corporal Robert Conroy developed a fondness of him.
At camp, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Stubby learned the bugle calls, the drills, and even how to give his own version of a salute.
When it came time for the Infantry division to ship over to France, Cpl. Conroy hid Stubby under his overcoat without being detected. After landing in France, Stubby was discovered by Conroy’s commanding officer. Animals were not allowed in camp, but Conroy’s commanding officer (CO) let Stubby stay after the dog gave him a salute.
Stubby served in the trenches in France for 18 months. He suffered some injuries, but he always returned to battle. In the trenches, he provided the much needed morale for the soldiers, but it didn’t end there. Here are some of the heroic actions Stubby performed:
- After suffering an injury from mustard gas, he became very sensitive to the tiniest traces of gas and learned how to warn his unit of poisonous gas attacks.
- He could hear the whine of incoming artillery and would let the soldiers know when to duck.
- He was solely responsible for capturing a German spy. He held onto the soldier until his unit arrived and assisted him.
- He was great at locating wounded soldiers who had fallen in “no man’s land.”
Stubby came back a celebrity and got to meet three US presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Warren G. Harding. Stubby passed away in his sleep in 1926.
World War II
In WWII, dogs were utilized more and even participated in combat during D-Day as paratroopers. During the advance across Europe, the dogs were useful in sniffing out landmines and other traps. They also predicted ambushes from enemy troops.
Chips was one of the more famous dogs to emerge from WWII. He served with the 3rd Infantry Division in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany.
During the invasion of Sicily, Chips and his handler, Pvt. John P. Rowell, were pinned down by an Italian machine-gun team. The story goes that Chips broke from his handler and jumped into the pillbox where the gunners were and attacked them. The Italian soldiers were forced to jump out of the pillbox and surrender to the US troops.
Chips got a scalp wound and powder burns from the fight, but later that day he helped take 10 Italian prisoners.
As time went on, dogs continued serving with their fellow servicemembers. One of the more popular accounts of Vietnam involved Nemo and his handler, Robert A. Throneburg, an Airman.
The two were on patrol near the Tan Son Nhut Air Base (a Republic of Vietnam Air Force base used by the US) when Nemo became aware of the group of hidden Viet Cong (VC) they had been searching for inside the base. This clipping from the Seventh Air Force News from August 9, 1967 is worth reiterating:
In the silence of darkness, the two sentries walked cautiously forward. Suddenly their search ended. Nemo had alerted them to a group of hidden VC. “Watch him,” said Airman Throneburg. The dog’s muscles tensed for action. “Get him!” — was the next command, and Nemo lunged savagely forward into the enemy’s nest. Airman Throneburg followed close behind.
In the first moments of encounter, Airman Throneburg killed two of the VC. But, before additional security police could reach them, Airman Throneburg was wounded in the shoulder and Nemo’s snout was creased by a bullet. The remaining enemy were soon killed by other security police.
Nemo was credited not only with saving the life of Airman Throneburg, but indirectly prevented further destruction of life and property at Tan Son Nhut.
Throneburg fell unconscious after he was able to call for reinforcements, and Nemo crawled across him to protect his body. Nemo wouldn’t let anyone touch his handler. The veterinarian had to sedate Nemo in order to attend to Thorneburg.
Nemo lost an eye from the fight and received a bullet wound to the nose, but both he and Thorneburg survived.
Iraq & Afghanistan
In our most recent history, dogs have served in explosion detection roles and on assault teams. A dog named Cairo, for example, was on an assault team.
Cairo was on the Navy SEAL’s mission to kill/capture Osama bin Laden. To give you an idea of how valuable an asset a military dog is, Cairo was equipped with strong, flexible body armor and high-tech “doggles,” which are specially-designed goggles for dogs that have night vision and infrared capabilities. So these doggles would even allow a dog like Cairo to see human heat through concrete walls.
Cairo was the only SEAL identified, since the rest of the team is classified.
The Value They Bring
Dogs have proved to be a valuable asset to the military, and the US Armed Forces recognizes their bravery and sacrifice for our country. Nowadays, when a dog is discharged from the military, they become veterans.
In addition, outside of the battlefield, dogs still contribute a lot to the US military. Service dogs can have a very positive impact on wounded soldiers, both mentally and physically. There is a beautiful companionship that exists between service dogs and servicemembers.
So, to honor military dogs both past and present, share your story of serving with a canine companion or let us know in the comments how you plan to celebrate National K9 Veterans Day.