Dogs have gone to war for thousands of years, but during World War I, one pooch rose above his peers. When the 102nd Infantry’s 26th Yankee Division was training at Yale, a stray dog befriended the men. Nicknamed Stubby, the mutt learned to salute by throwing a paw up to his eyebrow. When the unit shipped out to France, it was only natural that the soldiers smuggled Stubby along.
Trouble arose when commanding officers discovered the furry stowaway. Before they could send Stubby home, however, he saluted his superiors. Impressed, they let him stay on as the unit’s official mascot.
Stubby did more than boost morale; he quickly proved to be an ace soldier. After surviving a gas attack, Stubby became sensitive to chemical agents, and whenever he sensed danger, he would run down the line alerting his human comrades. He also entered the no-man’s land between trenches to help paramedics find wounded soldiers. And once, when a German spy infiltrated an Allied foxhole, Stubby attacked the intruder until American troops could capture him. This last triumph prompted the 102nd Infantry’s commander to put in for Stubby’s promotion to sergeant, and he became the first dog ever to receive a rank in the American military.
By the time the war ended, Stubby had served in 17 battles over 18 months. He’d been injured twice and received multiple medals for bravery, including a Purple Heart. The American media fell in love with the scrappy dog. Sgt. Stubby got to meet presidents Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge and even became Georgetown University’s mascot. Not bad for a stray!
This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Get a free issue here!