Man’s best friend is a dog, the old saying goes, and that applies to combat as well. Military working dogs serve with all branches of the military today and have been used by the United States since the Revolutionary War. They were first used as pack animals, but working dogs have served in military roles such as scouting, policing, detection, and even combat. Hundreds of dogs served with U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan as scout dogs, police dogs, and helped with tasks like land-mine detection and border patrol.
There are countless stories of bravery and heroism from the four-legged members of the military, and those continue to this day. Let’s take a look a just a few of the hundreds of amazing military dogs in U.S. history.
6. Sallie – Civil War
The first dog on our list is Sallie, who served in the Civil War as the mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Sallie was a Staffordshire Terrier who served with the soldiers on the front lines of many battles. She was even at the Battle of Gettysburg, where she got separated from the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the fighting.
Sallie was found by her soldiers three days after going missing. She was still on the battlefield, guarding the wounded and dead soldiers. Sallie was killed in action at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run in Virginia. Years after the Civil War had ended, soldiers from her regiment placed a memorial statue of Sallie at Gettysburg.
5. Sgt. Stubby – World War I
Sergeant Stubby was the most decorated war dog of World War I, serving with the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division. The only dog to be promoted to the rank through combat, Sgt. Stubby served in the trenches in France, warning soldiers of incoming shells, gas attacks, and locating wounded soldiers on the battlefield. In one instance he captured a German spy singlehanded.
Cpl. John Robert Conroy took Stubby at Yale where the soldiers were training. Conroy then snuck Stubby with him to France when the troops shipped out. After the two survived a gas attack by the Germans, Stubby developed a keen smell for gas and would alert the men to incoming attacks since he could smell it long before a human could. He received multiple medals, met 3 Presidents, and became the official mascot of Georgetown University after the war. Sgt. Stubby was with Conroy when he died in 1926.
4. Chips – World War II
The most decorated military dog of World War II was a German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix named Chips. Part of the Dogs for Defense program initiated after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Chips was given to the military by his owner in New York. Chips served in General Patton’s Seventh Army in Germany, Italy, Sicily, France, and North Africa. He was awarded the Silver Star for valor and the Purple Heart for his injuries. Unfortunately, the military later took back the medals, claiming that Chips was only equipment and not eligible to receive the medals.
Chips has many stories of heroics and valor on the battlefields of WWII, but perhaps his two most famous acts happened in the same day. While in Sicily, Chips and his fellow troops became pinned down by machine gun fire from a pillbox. Chips singlehandedly charged into the pillbox and captured all four Italian soldiers inside. Later that night, while the soldiers were asleep, Chips heard enemy soldiers approaching for an ambush, then woke and alerted the men. The soldiers were able to capture every enemy soldier thanks to Chips, who had saved their lives.
3. Nemo – Vietnam War
Nemo A534, a German Shepherd, served with the Air Force in the Vietnam War. While on guard duty one night with his handler, Airman Robert Throneburg, Nemo sensed enemy soldiers approaching and alerted Throneburg. Thanks to Nemo’s alert, Throneburg was not taken by surprise and the two were able to put up a valiant fight.
Both Nemo and his handler were shot during the fight with the Viet Cong guerillas, Throneburg in the chest and Nemo in the nose and eye. Despite the gunshot wound, Nemo helped keep the attackers at bay long enough for Throneburg to radio for help. When Throneburg fell unconscious from his wounds, Nemo guarded his wounded handler against attacking forces until help arrived. In fact, Nemo was so protective of his handler that he wouldn’t let anyone near him – friend or foe – and it eventually took a veterinarian to get Nemo to move so that medics could treat them. Both recovered from their injuries. Throneburg received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal with Valor and Nemo was given a permanent kennel to retire. He was one of the first dogs allowed to return to the United States after serving overseas since World War II.
2. Cairo – Operation Neptune Spear
Modern day U.S. military dogs are used primarily for sniffing out and detecting hidden or buried explosives (IEDs) in the Middle East. One modern military dog, Cairo, has the unique distinction of being the only military personnel named from Operation Neptune Spear–the covert military operation that took down Osama Bin Laden.
Cairo is a Belgian Malinois and a canine member of the elite Navy SEALs. Cairo was part of the Navy SEAL team that stormed Osama Bin Laden’s compound in May of 2011 in Pakistan. Cairo helped secure the outside perimeter of the building and was tasked with tracking down anyone who tried to escape, as well as being an alert of any incoming interference. He was outfitted with a special vest that included tactical equipment. Though little is known about the exact actions of Cairo during the operation, he was the only military dog to be part of one of the biggest military operations in modern history.
1. Lucca – Iraq
Lucca, a German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix, served for six years in the United States Marine Corps, completing two tours of active service. A specially trained explosive detecting dog, Lucca was able to work off-leash to find buried or hidden explosives and IEDs. During her two tours, she completed around 400 missions and saved countless lives by detecting explosive devices.
In 2012, Lucca was on her second tour in Afghanistan when she saved the lives of several Marines – but at a price. After finding one buried explosive, Lucca began the search for a second device in the area. An IED was set off, with Lucca taking the brunt of the explosion. Her handler at the time, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, immediately applied a tourniquet to her front leg, and later stayed with her during her recovery. Unfortunately, Lucca’s leg had to be amputated due to the injury. That didn’t affect Lucca much, according to Rodriguez, who says she almost immediately wanted to get back up and start walking. She was granted the Dickin Medal by the PDSA and was (unofficially) granted a Purple Heart by a fellow Marine who had also received the medal.
Watch Lucca’s full story in the video below!
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