Exposed To Mustard Gas In WWI Sergeant Stubby Developed Superpowers Then Served In 17 Battles
Long before the Taco Bell dog said “Yo quiero Taco Bell,” before Mr. Ed graced primetime, and before Staff Sergeant Reckless walked through 35 miles of rice paddies in the Korean Conflict, there was Stubby.
He was not just some street dog who made good. Sergeant Stubby inspired a nation for years after the war was over.
Dogs used during wars were nothing new, but Stubby redefined talent for dogs. It all started when he enlisted with the 102nd Regiment on campus at Yale…
For most Yale students, the summer of 1917 was stressful. The United Stats was engaged in The Great War. The only people on campus were professors, administrators, students and infantry in training.
Stubby, as the legend goes, wandered into Yale’s football stadium one day when the 102nd was in training. The 102nd was the infantry for the 26th Division. The soldiers of the 102nd were busy performing exercises, and Stubby was curious. He was probably also hungry.
At first, he only hung around. The soldiers ignored the sad looking mutt, a mix of bully breeding with brindled stripes and a crooked tail. One soldier, however, took notice of the sad creature.
J. Robert Conroy, a private from Connecticut saw something in the mutt. He named him Stubby and started taking care of him. After that, the two were inseparable.
Stubby trained with the 102nd, learned bugle calls and even fell into formation. Conroy also taught him how to salute. Yes, to salute.
September 1917: When the 102nd left Yale, they traveled via rail to Virginia where they joined the rest of the 26th Division. From there, they would ship out to France on the SS Minnesota.
Stubby rode in Conroy’s Army issued greatcoat, a heavy, long overcoat soldiers wore in colder weather. He was not supposed to take Stubby on the train, let alone the boat. MPs either did not notice or did not care.
What history cannot explain is how Stubby survived discovery aboard the Minnesota. Legend says that he passed muster by saluting superior officers, but we know that was unlikely. However it came to pass, Stubby disembarked with the 102nd in Saint-Nazaire as their official mascot.
Mustard Gas Attack
October 1917: Stubby’s presence amongst the 26th Division was well-regarded. The Division would leave the war beat up, after 210 days of fighting, 17 engagements, all with Stubby in the trenches.
Even Stubby would take a beating, hit in the leg by shrapnel, but he would survive. He did more than that.
At first, his role was nothing official, but Conroy took Stubby with him delivering messages to the command post. On March of 1918, St. Patrick’s Day, a poison gas attack rained down on the 102nd.
Conroy and Stubby survived the attack, but Stubby was never the same after that.
The next time the 102nd came under fire from gas, Stubby ran through the trenches warning the soldiers. He was barking and nipping at them to move, which they did. They put on their masks and took cover, avoiding the gas, saved by Stubby.
Stubby’s new skill for smelling gas came in handy. He’d also developed an ear for bombs, hearing them well before the troops could hear them. He was a one-dog alarm system for danger.
On April 5th, 1918, they promoted him to Private First Class, no longer a mascot.
Fifteen days later, on April 20th: the 26th took a beating from the Germans. Even Stubby took a hit to his front leg, but they patched him up and he went straight back into action.
He’d develop one more skill from the attack. Stubby could now recognize German soldiers. His aggression towards the Germans was palpable, something for which Conroy had to restrain the dog when they marched German POWs through camp.
Private Stubby once rooted out a hiding German soldier. The 102nd awarded Stubby with the iron cross medal worn by his capture, pinning it to his unofficial-official uniform.
Back from the war, Stubby attended the 1920 RNC, met Warren G. Harding, and Calvin Coolidge. He’d already met Woodrow Wilson back in France in 1918, so he was cool around politicians.
On July 6th, 1921, in front of the 26th Division and 102nd, General John J. Pershing awarded Stubby the rank of Sergeant. It wasn’t official, but the symbolism mattered to the troops.
Stubby was an actual hero of war. He was also the first dog to receive a military rank.
Stubby lived for a decade after the war. He spent his days visiting veteran’s events, meeting people and breaking conventions about dogs.
Conroy worked for the Bureau of Investigation (pre-FBI). He stayed with Stubby until the end. Stubby passed in Conroy’s arms while he slept one night.
The Smithsonian displays the preserved body of Stubby decked out with his medals.