Thursday, November 11

A special Veterans Day salute

Last night I received an email from one of those organizations that think bloggers have nothing better to do than read up on every horror story to emerge in the 21st Century. Generally I only read the subject line before deleting the email. This time, though, they got to me with the header: "NEW ‘BREED’ OF SUICIDE BOMBERS - U.S. Military: al-Qaeda Has Tried Explosives Inside Dogs."

I went into a blind rage when I read the Daily Mail report about what was done to two dogs, who died from the bombs and timers the terrorists inserted in their stomachs.

At my age I can't afford to fly into a blind rage so I exclaimed, "Don't dwell on the darkness, you fool!"

That didn't help.

Then I reminded myself that one dog has more noble qualities than all the al Qaeda girly-men put together, which brought my blood pressure down a bit. At that point I got the idea for a special tribute for this Veteran's Day.

With profound gratitude to all those men and women who have served in our nation's armed forces and to the dogs who served along with them.

Rags at Fort Hamilton

I have excerpted the following account from the website Rags: Dog Hero of World War One.

On July 14th of 1918 a picked battalion of the American 1st Infantry Division took part in the Bastille Day ceremonies in Paris. One of the participants was Private James Donovan, a Signal Corps specialist, who had somewhat over-stayed his time in Paris.

That evening he found himself lost in a cul-de-sac in the dark streets of Montmartre. In the darkness he stumbled over what at first appeared to be a pile of rags. When the pile of rags emitted a whimper and then a bark Donovan realized it was a small dog. As Donovan bent to examine his newly found shaggy-haired friend three rather unfriendly American military policemen arrived upon the scene. They immediately ascertained that Donovan did not have a pass and was officially A.W.O.L.

The quick-thinking U. S. Army private used the existence of his new friend to create an excuse for his missing pass. He convinced the M.P.'s that the little terrier dog was the missing mascot of the 1st Division and that Donovan was part of a search party. He also very ingeniously came up with a name for the dog, Rags. The ruse worked and Rags and his new owner were escorted back to Donovan's unit.

In this way a French dog of the streets of Paris became the mascot of one of America's most honored fighting divisions. In the next few months Rags would more than earn his right to be the division mascot.

Upon returning to his unit Donovan was called before his commanding officer and was prepared for a stiff reprimand. Instead the young captain informed him that they were both moving up to division headquarters to establish a special communications service between infantry and artillery units of the 1st Division. The captain also gave Donovan permission to keep Rags. The dog's shaggy coat, moist, black nose and wagging tail won over the officer. His friendly manner would continue to win over officers of even higher ranks throughout Rags' military career.

It did not take long before both Donovan and Rags underwent their introduction to the trench warfare of the Western Front. Both of them became involved in the Franco-American 2nd Battle of the Marne that was waged from July 18th to August 6th of 1918.

During this time they were active in the sector from Ville-En-Tardenois to Soissons. Donovan's job was to string communications wire between the advancing infantry units of the 26th Infantry Regiment and the supporting 7th Field Artillery Brigade. He was responsible for stringing and repairing the wire as it was damaged by shellfire. At first he tried to leave Rags in the rear area with headquarters troops but Rags would inevitably sneak off and join Donovan.

Donovan soon decided to put Rags to good use. When the communications wire was badly cut by shellfire the only way to get messages through was by runners. But the runners had difficulty getting through barbed wire and frequently were killed or wounded by rifle, machine gun or shellfire.

Donovan began training Rags to carry written notes from Donovan back to the 7th Field Artillery. Rags, usually contemptuous of learning tricks that the doughboys tried to teach him, seemed to grasp the importance of the job. He soon learned to take the messages towards the sound of the American guns and had little trouble finding Donovan with return messages.

In late July of 1918, during a counterattack driving towards the Paris-Soisssons road, Rags was to deliver the first of the messages that was to make him famous throughout the 1st Division.

Rags and Donovan found themselves with a group of advancing infantry that had been cut off and surrounded. The only officer surviving was a young lieutenant. From the wording of his message it is probable that he was an artillery forward observer. Wire communications had been cut off by the Germans. The following message was written out and attached to Rags' collar:

"I have forty-two men, mixed, healthy and wounded. We have advanced to the road but can go no farther. Most of the men are from the 26th Infantry. I am the only officer. Machine guns at our rear, front, right and left. Send infantry officer to take command. I need machine gun ammunition."

It was during this campaign that Rags came under fire for the first time. At first he simply learned to imitate the men around him, who would drop to the ground and hug it tightly upon hearing the sound of an incoming shell. Then the soldiers observed Rags hugging the ground with his paws spread out in front of him before anyone had heard the sound of an incoming round. This caused some laughter until they realized that with his acute and sensitive dog's hearing Rags could hear the incoming shells before they could.

The doughboys quickly learned to keep their eyes on Rags and he became a World War I early warning system and ingratiated himself even more to the appreciative soldiers.

After the end of the Marne fighting elements of the 1st Division rested in the area around Domartin-La-Montagne. Rags had time to practice his message carrying and was fitted for a special gas mask that was adapted from a regular soldier's mask.

With Donovan's help Rags learned his own form of saluting. He had frequently seen soldiers saluting in his travels about the rest area and Donovan had little trouble in teaching Rags to join an activity he had so often observed. Instead of raising his paw to shake hands like a civilian dog, Rags would just raise it a little bit higher and closer to his head.

The story soon circulated that Rags had even exchanged salutes with the new C.O. of the 1st, Major General Charles P. Summerall, who had a reputation of being the most demanding general in the A.E.F.

During the rest period Rags began a ritual that he was to carry out for the rest of his life. He would tour the various mess halls and eliminate from his tours those whose fare did not appeal to him or whose personnel did not meet his standards of hospitality. It was on one of these tours that he became involved with the pet cat of a division staff officer, Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. After this incident Donovan had to restrain Rags' wanderings but soon after the division moved back into action and Rags regained his freedom.

From the 12th of September until the 16th of September Rags and Donovan participated in the first all American offensive of the war, the drive to eliminate the St. Michel salient. After the opening artillery barrages the Germans began an immediate withdrawal and pulled their big guns out first. The fighting was mainly hand to hand infantry actions as the advancing Americans caught up with retreating Germans.

For four days Rags and Donovan moved forward with the infantry units of the 1st Division. Twice Donovan became engaged in hand to hand combat as Rags barked, snarled and grabbed Germans' legs with his teeth. The Germans, usually out of food and ammunition, did not put up all-out resistance.

From this point on Rags greeted any gray-uniformed figure with a low growl and snarl. He had ample opportunity as the U.S. soldiers captured 15,000 German soldiers in the four-day offensive.

The final American campaign of W.W. I, the Meuse-Argonne, lasted from September 26th until November 1918. Donovan and Rags would be in at the start but by the time of the armistice both would be in the same military hospital.

The two companions were again serving as the communications link between the 26th Infantry and the 7th Artillery. Unlike the St. Michel action the U.S. forces from the start faced strong German resistance and progress was slow. Rags was used several times to take messages through the mist shrouded, rugged terrain of the Argonne Forest. On October 2nd he carried the following message:

"From C. O. 1st Bn. 26th Infantry Oct.2-12:30
To Captain Thomas, Intelligence Officer

Have artillery that is firing in small, oblong-shaped woods, directly in front and on right of first objective, lenthen range and pound hell out of woods. Machine gun nests are located there.
Legge, Cdg."

The requested artillery rounds were delivered and the 26th secured its objective. Once again Rags had helped a 1st Division unit to succeed and surely saved the lives of a number of American doughboys.

The war was to come to an end for Donovan and Rags on October 9, 1918. They were working with elements of the 26th Infantry that were engaged in cleaning out the Argonne Forest. A thick fog hung over the entire region. The 26th had captured Hill 263 and were preparing to repel a German counterattack. Artillery support was needed to keep the Germans from mounting an attack. As the fog and terrain made it almost impossible to find any breaks in the communication wire it was decided to send Rags back with a message.

As he was headed back the Germans began their attack by firing in gas shells. Rags was without his gas mask and was mildly gassed as he scurried towards the rear. Before Rags could reach the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Artillery on the rear of Hill 212 an all-out artillery barrage was launched by the Germans. A round exploded not far from Rags and his forepaw was cut by a shell splinter, his right ear was mangled and a needle-like sliver was embedded under his right eye.

Rags continued his journey but was then dazed by the concussion of a second round. An American infantryman found him and delivered both Rags and the message to the 7th Artillery. Donovan, who was still with the forward elements of the 26th, was more severely gassed and was futher wounded by shell fire as he was carried to the rear. Members of the 7th Field Artillery placed Rags on Donovan's stetcher and bearers carried the two towards a dressing station behind the lines.

As Donovan and Rags made their way through the various stages of medical evacuation Rags' reputation and demeanor gained him exceptional attention. Whenever anyone took exception to giving such treatment to a mere dog the words "orders from headquarters" were quickly invoked. In the early part of the journey this was interpreted to be the 1st Division C.O. As the duo moved farther to the rear, "headquarters" was taken to mean Gen. John Pershing himself. [lol]

By the time they arrived at a French hospital far to the rear Rags had had the shell splinters removed but would be blind in his right eye and deaf in his right ear for the rest of his life. His paw soon healed and Rags' condition continually improved. Donovan, on the other hand, grew rather worse than better. The winter climate of France was not good for his gas-damaged lungs and he was labeled as a priority case to be shipped home as soon as possible.
There is much more to the saga. Read it at the website I mentioned above. And for those who can't stand the suspense, Rags lived to the ripe old age of 20.

Okay; one more, from the U.S. War Dogs Association website: the saga of America's first official war dog, who served in World War One:

Sgt. Stubby

America's first war dog, Stubby, served 18 months 'over there' and participated in seventeen battles on the Western Front. He saved his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks, located and comforted the wounded, and even once caught a German spy by the seat of his pants. Back home his exploits were front page news of every major newspaper.

Stubby was a bull terrier -- broadly speaking, very broadly! No one ever discovered where he hailed from originally. One day he just appeared, when a bunch of soldiers were training at Yale Field in New Haven, Connecticut; he trotted in and out among the ranks as they drilled, stopping to make a friend here and a friend there, until pretty soon he was on chummy terms with the whole bunch.

One soldier though, in particular, developed a fondness for the dog, a Corporal Robert Conroy, who when it became time for the outfit to ship out, hid Stubby on board the troop ship.

So stowaway Stubby sailed for France; after that Cpl. Conroy became his accepted master, even though he was still on chummy terms with every one else in the outfit and in the same spirit of camaraderie that had marked his initial overtures at Yale.

It was at Chemin des Dames that Stubby saw his first action, and it was there that the boys discovered he was a war dog par excellence. The boom of artillery fire didn't faze him in least, and he soon learned to follow the men's example of ducking when the big ones started falling close. Naturally he didn't know why he was ducking, but it became a great game to see who could hit the dugout first. After a few days, Stubby won every time. He could hear the whine of shells long before the men. It got so they'd watch him!

Then one night Stubby made doggy history. It was an unusally quiet night in the trenches. Some of the boys were catching cat naps in muddy dugouts, and Stubby was stretched out beside Conroy. Suddenly his big blunt head snapped up and his ears pricked alert. The movement woke Conroy, who looked at the dog sleepily just in time to see him sniff the air tentatively, utter a low growl, then spring to his feet, and go bounding from the dugout, around a corner out of sight.

A few seconds later there was a sharp cry of pain and then the sound of a great scuffle outside. Conroy jumped from his bed, grabbed his rifle and went tearing out towards the direction of the noise.

A ludicrous sight met his eyes. Single-pawed, in a vigorous offensive from the rear, Stubby had captured a German spy who'd been prowling through the trenches. The man was whirling desperately in an effort to shake off the snarling bundle of canine tooth and muscle that had attached itself to his differential. But Stubby was there to stay.

It took only a few moments to capture the Hun and disarm him, but it required considerably more time to convince Stubby that his mission had been successfully carried out and that he should now release the beautiful hold he had on that nice, soft German bottom.

By the end of the war, Stubby was known not only to every regiment, division, and army, but to the whole AEF. Honors by the bale were heaped on his muscled shoulders. At Mandres en Bassigny he was introduced to President Woodrow Wilson, who "shook hands" with him. Medal and emblemed jackets were bestowed upon him for each deed of valor, plus a wound stripe for his grenade splinter. Not to be left out, the Marines even made him an honorary sergeant.

After the Armistice was signed, Stubby returned home with Conroy and his popularity seemed to grow even more. He became a nationally acclaimed hero, and eventually was received by presidents Harding and Coolidge. Even General John "Black Jack" Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Forces during the war, presented Stubby with a gold medal made by the Humane Society and declared him to be a "hero of the highest caliber."

Stubby toured the country by invitation and probably led more parades than any other dog in American history; he was also promoted to honorary sergeant by the Legion, becoming the highest ranking dog to ever serve in the Army.

He was even made an honorary member of the American Red Cross, the American Legion and the YMCA, which issued him a lifetime membership card good for "three bones a day and a place to sleep."

Stubby At Georgetown!

Afterwards, Stubby became Georgetown University's mascot. In 1921, Stubby's owner, Robert Conroy was headed to Georgetown for law school and took the dog along. According to a 1983 account in Georgetown Magazine, Stubby "served several terms as mascot to the football team." Between the halves, Stubby would nudge a football around the field, much to the delight of the crowd.

Old age finally caught up with the small warrior on April 4th, 1926, as he took ill and died in Conroy's arms.

It's said that Stubby and a few of his friends were instrumental in inspiring the creation of the United States 'K-9 Corps' just in time for World War Two.

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