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Dogs of War: 6 Canines Who Served With Honor

Faithful best friends in trenches, foxholes, ships, aircraft and POW camps

spinner image a collage of dogs
Photo Illustration: Sean McCabe; (Source: Left to Right: L .Rich/Wikipedia; J. Robert Conroy/National Museum of American History/Smithsonian; Sabrizain; Will Chesney; US Army Photo; Smoky War Dog LLC)

Troops love dogs and often take time out to care for them even in dangerous situations. As a war reporter during the Battle of Fallujah in 2004, I was with 1st Infantry Division soldiers in Iraq clearing houses when they stopped searching for insurgent fighters to round up a litter of puppies.  

When canines came in from the wild in prehistoric times and threw their lot in with humans, it was inevitable they would be used in war. 

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As Michael Lemish noted in his classic War Dogs: A History of Loyalty and Heroism: “Throughout recorded history, dogs have shared our triumphs, defeats, starvation, good times, and bad. … Persians, Greeks, Assyrians and Babylonians all recognized the tactical advantage of war dogs and deployed them in great numbers as forward attacking elements.”

Since then, dogs have also been military messengers, sentries, rescuers, sniffers, companions and mascots. Here are some of the finest four-legged specimens to have served:

Smoky — Yorkshire terrier saw action in Pacific

spinner image Smoky the war dog
Smoky survived 150 air raids on New Guinea and a typhoon on Okinawa.
Smoky War Dog LLC

Bill Wynne, who was serving with the 5th Air Force, bought Smoky from a motor pool sergeant after she was found abandoned in a foxhole in the jungles of New Guinea in February 1944.

The Yorkshire terrier took part in 12 air-sea rescue and photo reconnaissance missions, survived 150 air raids on New Guinea and made it through a typhoon on Okinawa. She would howl when Wynne played his harmonica.

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Her finest hour came on the island of Luzon when communication wires had to be laid in a ditch dug across a 70-foot section of a runway that was exposed to aerial bombardment.

Wynne explained in his book Yorkie Doodle Dandy: “Kite string was attached to Smoky’s collar and I set her at one end of the culvert, ordering her to ‘sit/stay;’ I went to the far end and started calling, ‘Smoky, come, come!’ It seemed to take forever, but soon I saw her amber eyes glowing inside the culvert about 10 feet away.”

Smoky went home with Wynne to Cleveland, Ohio, after the war and lived until 1957. Wynne died in 2021 at age 99.

Judy — English pointer became POW after her ship was torpedoed 

spinner image Judy the Royal Navy mascot
Judy was a Royal Navy mascot in HMS Gnat and HMS Grasshopper.

Born in Shanghai in 1937, Judy, a purebred liver-and-white English pointer, was a Royal Navy mascot in HMS Gnat and HMS Grasshopper in the Far East. In February 1942, Grasshopper was torpedoed and caught fire. Judy was among those who washed up on an uninhabited island.

Judy soon unearthed a lifesaving freshwater spring and was taken with a group of survivors to Sumatra in a commandeered Chinese junk. After a 200-mile cross-country trek, the group was taken prisoner. Judy was hidden under rice sacks and taken to a POW camp. 

At the camp, she linked up with Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams, who took her home to Liverpool when World War II ended in 1945. Judy was awarded the Dickin Medal, the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor for animals, and died at age 13 in East Africa, where Williams was working on a government-funded food scheme.

Cairo — Belgian Malinois took part in Osama bin Laden raid

spinner image Cairo the war dog
Cairo took part in the Osama bin Laden raid.
Will Chesney

This remarkable Navy Military Working Dog, assigned to SEAL Team Six, was shot in the chest and front leg by Taliban fighters in 2009. He recovered and in May 2011 was flown into Pakistan in a modified MH-60 Black Hawk for the Operation Neptune Spear raid in Abbottabad during which al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed. 

During 45 minutes on the ground in Pakistan, Cairo was used by his SEAL handler, Will Chesney, to look for explosives outside the compound where bin Laden was hiding. After the terrorist leader was shot dead, Cairo was taken inside to clear rooms. Cairo held a restless crowd at bay while SEALs gathered vital intelligence.

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A Belgian Malinois, valued at up to $65,000, is smaller and more compact than a German shepherd. The dogs have a sense of smell 40 times greater than a human’s, and they’re as fast as a man in peak condition. In military service, they are often equipped with video cameras and sometimes sent into danger via a tandem parachute jump with their handlers.

Cairo was adopted by Chesney and died in Texas in 2015. Chesney wrote the best-selling book No Ordinary Dog about Cairo, describing their relationship as “profound and intimate.” 

Sergeant Stubby — terrier mix served in trenches in France

spinner image Sergeant Stubby the war dog
Stubby served in 17 battles during World War I.
J. Robert Conroy/National Museum of American History/Smithsonian

Found wandering the grounds of the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut, in July 1917, Stubby was smuggled in a corporal’s overcoat to Europe in a troop ship. He served in 17 battles during four offensives with the 26th Division. 

In the Argonne, Stubby sniffed out a German spy and held on to the seat of his pants until soldiers completed the capture. Gassed and injured by a grenade, Stubby was given the rank of sergeant and allowed to wear the spy’s Iron Cross on his cloak.

After World War I, Stubby became a national hero and was presented with a Humane Education Society medal by Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing in 1921. He stayed at New York’s Majestic Hotel and met with three U.S. presidents. 

Stubby received a long obituary in The New York Times when he died in 1926 and was stuffed and mounted. He is an exhibit at the Smithsonian.

Lex — German shepherd stayed faithful when Marine handler killed

spinner image Marine K9 Lex
Retired Marine K9 Lex was awarded Purple Heart.
L. Rich/Wikipedia

After Lex was wounded in a mortar attack in Fallujah in 2007, he refused to leave the side of his Marine handler, Cpl. Dustin Lee, 20, who had been killed. The pair had slept next to each other and posed in Santa hats for a holiday photo.

The strong bond prompted Lee’s family to adopt the 8-year-old German shepherd, who was released from military service two years early. “We knew that’s what Dustin would have wanted out of this,” said Lee’s father. “He knew that we would take care of Lex and love him, just like our own.”

Lex struggled with mobility issues due to his injuries. He had about 50 pieces of shrapnel in his body. He died of cancer in 2012.

Chips — mutt who attacked Nazi machine gunners in Sicily

spinner image Pvt. Chips the war dog
Chips was the most decorated war dog from World War II.
US Army

The most decorated American dog in World War II was Chips, one of 10,475 dogs to serve in the K-9 Corps. A German shepherd, collie and husky mix brought up in Pleasantville, New York, he was a scout dog alongside American troops of the 3rd Infantry Division in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.

In 1943, Chips and his handler were pinned down by fire from a machine gun nest during the invasion of Sicily. Chips broke free and attacked the German troops, fixing his teeth around one of them and forcing their surrender. 

The Silver Star and Purple Heart medals awarded to Chips were rescinded because animals were not authorized to receive them. Chips retired to Pleasantville and died in 1946. In 1990, 50 years after his birth, Disney released Chips, the War Dog, a TV movie based on his life.

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