On a hot July day in 1917, a homeless dog caught Corporal James Robert Conroy’s eye. Along with fellow members of the 102nd Infantry, 26th (Yankee) Division, Conroy was training for battle in Europe on the grounds of Yale University when a dog, roughly a year old, began wandering among them. Of uncertain breed, the dog was intrigued by the men and their drilling and became something of a regular among them.
Corporal Conroy and the stray developed a bond, and soon Stubby, as the men called the pooch, became part of their company. At the time the men shipped out, Conroy smuggled the dog onto the ship by hiding Stubby under his overcoat. The commanding officer, however, was not to be put off indefinitely, and upon detection, Stubby is said to have won the CO over by saluting him, as the men had taught him. The canine received permission to remain part of the 102nd.
Stubby was not one to sit on the sidelines awaiting his next meal or stomach rub. When his men went into the trenches, he went with them. And when the soldiers faced the enemy in battle, the dog was by their sides. In fact, Stubby “served” in those trenches for eight months. He also participated in four offensives and 17 total battles. The first occurred on February 5, 1918 at Chemin des Dames, where he and his outfit were under constant fire, 24/7 for an entire month.
That April, Stubby was wounded when retreating Germans lobbed hand grenades into the Allied ranks. To recover full use of his foreleg, the dog was sent to the rear, where he continued working his morale-boosting magic among the troops. During that first year in combat, Stubby was also gassed, and some men created a protective mask for him to wear after his recovery. Because he could remember the scent of the gas, he was able to forewarn his men of incoming attacks. Likewise, because he could hear incoming artillery shells long before the humans, he was able to alert them in advance so they could take cover.
Stubby also crawled under barbed wire to retrieve supplies, and when the 102nd was in the Argonnes, the resourceful dog captured a spy when the man began speaking German. The dog clutched the seat of the enemy’s pants in his teeth until the soldiers could take over. This led their commander to nominate the dog for the rank of Sergeant, the only military dog ever to have received that rank. Before the war’s end, Stubby received further injuries to the chest and leg.
The women of Chatteau-Thierry fashioned a chamois coat for Stubby, which became a sort of display for the metals he received during the course of his service.
Just as he entered Europe, Sergeant Stubby left it—with Robert Conroy smuggling him on board the troop ship carrying the weary but victorious men home.
Back home, Stubby became an instant celebrity, meeting three U.S. Presidents, and marching at the head of many a patriotic parade. He even made appearances in vaudeville shows. General John J. Pershing added to Stubby’s collection when, in 1921, he awarded the dog a gold medal from the Humane Education Society. His days of acclaim continued when owner Conroy enrolled at Georgetown University Law Center, taking Stubby with him. He became the beloved Georgetown Hoyas’ team mascot.
Sergeant Stubby died in his sleep in March 1926 after an eventful life, one no one ever could have predicted for a stray dog wandering among a group of Army recruits. His obituary, longer than many celebrated people’s of that day, ran in the New York Times.