Though the United States did not yet have an official program for using dogs in the military until World War II, one dog–a pit bull–earned a place in the infantry during World War I and was responsible for saving many lives. Those who own pit bulls say that loyalty is a strong trait within the breed, and Stubby’s loyalty to his men meant that he came home a hero and the mascot of World War I.
Corporal Robert Conroy was completing military training near the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut when he came upon a stray pup who kept showing up at the men’s drill practices. Whether Conroy called him Stubby because of his short tail or his chunky body is unclear, but Stubby was friendly and remained a constant presence wherever the 102nd Infantry (part of the Army’s 26th Division) was practicing their drills.
When the unit was to be moved to Newport News, Virginia, Conroy hid Stubby in some of the equipment so that he could go with them. From there they were to be shipped overseas, so Corporal Conroy found an open-minded military policeman who helped him find a place on the ship for Stubby so he could come to France with the men.
Stubby spent the next year and a half on the front line, participating in 17 battles, including those at Chateau-Thierry, the Marne, and Saint-Mihiel. His acute sense of hearing and smell were invaluable to the men. He could hear the high-pitched whine of the shells before the soldiers did, so the men took to watching Stubby to see if he had noted anything. Another night Stubby smelled gas, and he went running through the trenches to wake the men; Stubby breathed in enough gas that Conroy had to take him to the base hospital to be revived. Conroy tried to develop a gas mask for Stubby but it was hard to get anything that fit around his flat nose. (During WWII, the United States began issuing gas masks for dogs.)
On another occasion, Stubby awakened Conroy. Conroy grabbed his gun and followed Stubby outside where he found that a German soldier had infiltrated the American line; Stubby had sunk his teeth into the fellow’s leg. Conroy got the upper hand with the German and was able to arrest him, but Stubby was more obstinate; he was not certain that letting go of the man was the right thing to do.
During fighting in the Toul area, Stubby was nearby when a grenade exploded, and the dog was hit. Again, Conroy took Stubby for medical care, and six weeks later Stubby returned to be where he belonged–with his unit.
Over time, word got out about this brave dog that was loyal under fire and willing to risk all for his men. The people of France were first-hand observers; some French women made a coat for Stubby out of a U.S. Army blanket, and people began pinning medals to it. As the story of Stubby’s loyalty and heroism became known, it was both comforting and inspirational.
When Conroy and Stubby returned to the United States in 1919, the dog was highly sought after. He was honored by the Humane Society, the American Red Cross, and the American Legion. The YMCA gave Stubby a membership card promising “three bones a day and a place to sleep.” Stubby led many parades and appeared in photos with several presidents–Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge all had their pictures taken with Stubby.
Robert Conroy enrolled in Georgetown Law School in 1921, and Stubby became mascot of the football team. The crowds loved seeing him on the field.
Stubby died of old age in 1926, and Conroy held him in his arms until the dog had taken his last breath.
As recently as 2006, Stubby was honored as part of a World War I monument in Kansas City. Anyone who visits can find a brick in memory of Stubby along the Walk of Honor.