Before he became the most decorated war dog in American history, Sergeant Stubby was homeless: unwanted, unwashed, unloved, and scrounging for scraps on the streets of Connecticut.
As documented in history books but largely forgotten today, Stubby was no ordinary stray; he was a tenacious canine, a courageous scout and a fiercely loyal friend.
For his valorous actions, Stubby is recognized as the most-decorated dog in American history. But before he was a hero, he was homeless: unwanted, unwashed, unloved, scrounging for scraps on the streets of New Haven, Connecticut in 1917. His fortunes changed, however, when he ran into a young Soldier training on the grounds of Yale University – Private First Class Robert Conroy of the 102nd Infantry Regiment – who adopted the scrappy little stray and named him Stubby for his short stature and tail.
The U.S. military didn’t have an official “military working dog” program at that time, but Stubby’s natural survival instincts and devotion to his adoptive family quickly made him an invaluable addition to the men of the 102nd. He received only one piece of formal training from Conroy and his buddies. When their commanding officer demanded to know why there was a dog in the ranks, Stubby raised his right paw to salute, rendering the officer speechless and ensuring Stubby’s place as the official mascot of the Yankee Division.
When the Yankee Division arrived in France, Stubby was given special orders to accompany them to the front lines and saw action in four offensives and 17 battles, serving for 18 months on the western front. He located wounded Soldiers in “No Man’s Land” and – since he could hear the whine of incoming artillery shells before humans – became adept at warning his new family when to take cover. His keen sense of smell gave him the ability to detect incoming mustard gas attacks, once saving an entire company by alerting the men to don their gasmasks.
Following the retaking of Chateau-Thierry by the U.S., the women of the town made Stubby a chamois coat on which were pinned his many medals. Able to differentiate between English and German, he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant after catching a German spy and became the most decorated war dog in history. Following the war, Stubby returned home to a hero’s welcome, touring the country leading victory parades, meeting three sitting U.S. presidents (Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge), appearing on Vaudevillian stages and serving as the mascot for Georgetown University, where Conroy was studying law.
In 1926, the beloved Sgt. Stubby died at home in Conroy’s arms. Honored with a half-page obituary in the New York Times – much longer than those of many notable people of the time – his remains and iconic jacket adorned with awards were donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he can be visited today at the National Museum of American History.
On April 13, a family film about the real-life dog, widely considered to be the inspiration for the working War Dogs program, will march into theaters across the country.
Stubby: An American Hero is an animated family film based on a true story in WWI about a doughboy, Robert Conroy, who adopted a stray dog stateside during training and took him along to France, serving in 17 battles. Stubby’s heroics made him the most decorated dog in Armed Forces history, was front-page news at home and the four-legged hero came home to a tickertape parade and met three presidents.
Coinciding with the year-long 100th commemoration of the United States’ role in the “War to End All Wars,” Sgt. Stubby was directed by award-winning documentarian Richard Lanni and stars Logan Lerman (Fury, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Percy Jackson & The Olympians), Helena Bonham Carter (the upcoming Ocean’s 8, the Harry Potter films, The King’s Speech, Sweeney Todd) and Gerard Depardieu (Life of Pi, Cyrano De Bergerac, The Man in the Iron Mask, Green Card).