Culture

Dogs, Horses, And Bears, Oh My! 5 Great Animal Heroes on the Front Lines

Image via Shutterstock, a "war dog" with an automatic rifle and a helmet over a barbed-wire fence.

When my kids were little, and it was my turn to teach (we’ve been homeschooling for 23 years now) I tried to find the little “back stories” of history to make the pages come alive. Well, my kids were riveted when I told them true stories about real heroes β€” especially when the heroes wore fur or feathers!

Like these great “warrior animals” who helped the USA when times were pretty rough:

1. Cher Ami, the World War I Carrier Pigeon.

YouTube screenshot of Cher Ami.

On October 3rd, 1918, 500 men of the US 77th Division were trapped behind German lines. The Americans were lost and running out of food and ammunition. Their own artillery did not know they were there, and the U.S. cannons were raining down shells on the infantrymen’s position! The artillery had already killed almost 200 soldiers when Major Charles Whittlesley had to send word back.

But of course these were the days before the “walkie talkie” of World War II fame. So, they used a carrier pigeon. The major wrote out this message: “We are alongside road parallel to 276.4. Our artillery is dropping a barrage on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.” They then slipped the message in a little cylinder strapped to the bird’s leg, and threw her up in the air, hoping she would make it back to headquarters.

The Germans saw the bird and shot it. It tumbled to the ground, and the hearts of the American soldiers sank. But the little bird flopped around, and struggled to get back up. And she did! She flew! Little “Cher Ami” (French for “Dear Friend”) continued on her mission. She flew 25 miles in 25 minutes, finally arriving at headquarters. When she got there, she was missing an eye, missing a leg, her breast bone was shattered, and the poor little thing was covered in blood.

A team of Army doctors and nurses worked on her to save her life. And it worked! She lived! The soldiers even made a little wooden leg for their friend. The French government was so impressed that they awarded Cher Ami the Croix de Guerre (“Cross of War”) for heroism. The American General John Pershing was so impressed that he personally accompanied Cher Ami to the docks to be placed on a transport ship so she could live the rest of her days in America.

And so she did, passing away in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, on June 13, 1919. Her remains were preserved by a taxidermist, and she is on display in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

 

2. Wojtek the Persian/Polish Bear of World War II.

YouTube screenshot, Wotjek the Polish bear who fought in World War II.

Wojtek (pronounced “Voy-chek”) was the beer-guzzling, cigarette smoking (sometimes cigarette eating!), 400-pound warrior bear of the Polish II Corps of World War II. These Polish soldiers were exiles β€” brave fighting men orphaned from their conquered nation. As they were being shuttled from the Soviet Union to Iran where they would be transferred to British command, they met a little bear cub. The cub was an orphan too (a hunter had killed his mom), and he was for sale. The sympathetic Polish soldiers immediately felt a kinship to this orphan, so they bought him and made him part of their family!

In order to get him on the troopship, they formally enlisted him in the Polish Army, gave him a name (“Wojtek Perski” β€” it means “Wojtek the Persian”), and made him a private. They taught him how to salute (always a hit with the officers), how to wrestle, drink beer, and smoke and eat cigarettes. Well, he was a soldier, after all …

The Poles sailed to Egypt, and then to Italy, where they fought the Nazis ferociously. The courageous Poles defeated the Nazis at Monte Cassino, Ancona, Bologna, and finally at the foot of the Alps near the end of the war. And what did Wojtek do? The troops rigged an ammo carrier on his back, and he carried artillery shells up to the cannons firing on the German positions! Their official patch for their uniforms was Wojtek (it means “Joyful Warrior” in Polish) carrying artillery shells.

Here’s a good video about Wojtek:

Wojtek became a corporal and was honorably discharged by the Polish Army. He lived the remainder of his days in the Edinburgh Zoo, often visited by his soldier friends.

3. Sergeant Stubby, the World War I “Doughboy”-Dog.

He was just a little guy. Stubby was a short, brindle bull terrier who wandered onto the training field of the 102nd Infantry Regiment of the 26th Infantry Division in 1917. They were training to fight the Germans, and Stubby joined in with them. The soldiers adopted him as their mascot, and taught him to “salute” and march with them. Their commander, Colonel John Henry Parker, was a very rough, stern man. But the soldiers said that Stubby was the only one who could talk back to him and get away with it! (And he did, many times!)

When it came time to board a troop ship, Private Robert Conroy snuck Stubby aboard. Stubby soon charmed all the sailors and even the captain of the ship. Finally, the division arrived in France and the troops swung into battle. Stubby was right there with them in every battle, 17 engagements in all. Miraculously, Stubby survived days of bombardments, hiding with the troops in their bombproof shelters. He would come out to comfort the troops who were caught out in the open and wounded.

Stubby was also good at alerting the troops about poison gas attacks. The little dog with a keen sense of smell would bark and bite the men who were asleep and warn them whenever he smelled poison gas coming. They would quickly put on their masks, and put one on Stubby, too!

At the Battle of Seicheprey, Stubby was wounded by shrapnel, but that didn’t knock him out of the war. In the Argonne Offensive, he sniffed out a German soldier who had infiltrated the U.S. lines. Stubby chased him down, bit him on his behind, and held him down until the Americans captured him! Stubby captured a German soldier! The Americans then took off the German soldier’s Iron Cross and pinned it on Stubby’s battle jacket.

He was promoted to Sergeant at the end of the war, and went home to America where he met three Presidents (Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge). General Pershing personally awarded him a special gold medal for bravery, made just for Stubby. He became a life-time member of the American Legion, the Red Cross, and the YMCA (they promised him 3 bones a day and a free place to sleep for the rest of his life). He became the official mascot of Georgetown University (the prototype of the “Hoya” bulldog you see on their logos today).

Stubby died peacefully in his sleep in 1926, his body was preserved, and you can see him in the Smithsonian will all his medals on his battle jacket.

 

4. Soochow, the brave Marine POW puppy of World War II.

One of the most famous Marine Corps mascots to reside aboard the base was, a sad-eyed multi breed canine with two…

Posted by Ron L. Aiello on Thursday, August 15, 2013

He was a mixed-breed bull terrier, born near Shanghai, China around 1937. U.S. Marines stationed there found him wandering around a guard post in August of 1938 and named him after the town near Shanghai (now called “Suzhou”). Marines from “B” Co. of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment smuggled him into the barracks. He was made their official mascot, and later “enlisted” into the Marine Corps, complete with Marine uniform made by a Chinese tailor.

The Marines loved him because he would accompany them to the bars and drink and carouse with them. And he was promoted and busted in rank several times because of all the bar fights he got into with his fellow Marines. When the Marines would parade for inspection, he would march with them in his little uniform right beside them. One time, though, he urinated on the flag pole bearing the regimental colors. So he was banned to the barracks and condemned to eat cake and champagne. (It’s a dog’s life.)

However, his time in China ended when the Marines were ordered to the Philippines. One month after they arrived, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and attacked the Philippines. The U.S. and Filipino forces were pushed onto the island of Corregidor, where they held out for a while. Soochow endured the bombings and bombardments with his fellow Marines. When they were forced to surrender, he went with them into the hell of a Japanese POW camp.

For the next almost three years, he suffered their privations with them. The Japanese starved the Americans, and many died of malnutrition, disease, and torture. The Marines carefully guarded Soochow from anyone who wanted to make him a meal, however. And they would give up their own rations, just so this little puppy would live.

Finally, the day came when General MacArthur’s Army liberated all the POWs, including Soochow. When the time came for the men to board ships to go home to America, Soochow went with them. There he was awarded the Marine Combat Action Ribbon, the Presidential Unit Citation with Oak Leaf Clusters, the American Defense Service Medal, the Marine Corps Service Medal, the POW Medal, The Asiatic-Pacific Theatre of Operations Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. The Philippine government also awarded him the Philippine Defense Medal and Philippine Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon.

In 1946 in San Diego, the Marines celebrated his birthday with a special parade just for him, and officially promoted him to Sergeant. Soochow passed away in his sleep at the age of 11 in 1948, and was lovingly buried by his Marines in San Diego.

 

5. Reckless, the Marine War Horse of the Korean War.

YouTube screenshot of the Korean War horse Reckless.

In 1952, some Marines in Korea purchased a horse from a stableboy for only $250. (The young man needed the money to buy a prosthetic leg for his sister.) She was a mare, probably of Mongolian stock. The Marines took her to their base to train her as a pack horse, and soon she found a place in their hearts. The Marines allowed her to come into their tents at night where she would escape from the freezing Siberian winters that would engulf Korea. The Marines fed her whatever they had: scrambled eggs, beer (of course), chocolate candy, cereal, Coke, a blanket, and one time she even ate poker chips! (No report on how she liked them.)

They trained her to follow steep mountain passes, often under fire, to carry the large 75 millimeter recoilless rifle and its ammunition up to the troops on the front lines. She learned to lie down when necessary while under fire, and to negotiate her way through barbed wire without getting tangled up. She could memorize a path after going through it once, and often would go up a trail all by herself to bring ammunition or other supplies to the Marines if they were pinned down.

At the Battle of “Outpost Vegas,” she traveled up and down the mountain 51 times, delivering 386 rounds of ammo to the hard-pressed Marines! During the three day battle, Reckless was wounded twice by shrapnel. Her Navy Corpsman patched her up like he would any other Marine, and she was back in action, this time as a corporal!

Reckless was also the first Marine horse to ever participate in an amphibious landing when her unit was transferred to Inchon. She did not like the ship at first and got mighty scared and made quite a mess. But soon she got her “sea legs” and calmed down and made it ashore with the rest of her friends.

Major General Randolph Pate promoted Reckless to sergeant in a formal ceremony in her honor on April 10, 1954. The ceremony came complete with a parade and reviewing stand. The troops brought her home to the United States, arriving on November 10 (the birthday of the Marine Corps), 1954.

She was promoted again on August 31, 1959 to staff sergeant. General Pate, now the Commandant of the Marine Corps, personally gave her the awards she deserved. The Marines gave her a 19 gun salute and a parade of the entire battalion that had served with her. She retired from the Marine Corps on November 10 (naturally), 1960 with full honors, and passed away in 1968.

Here’s a really good video about her life:

She was awarded two Purple Hearts, the Navy Presidential Unit Citation, the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the Korean Service Medal, and the Korean Presidential Unit Citation. Like all Marines who have served in the 5th or 6th Marine Regiments, she also wore the French Fourragere on her blanket (a gift from France to the 5th and 6th Marines for their valor in the Battle of Belleau Wood).

Not all heroes are two legged. Β Some have four legs, or wings!