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8 War Heroes That Were Real Animals

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War heroes comes in all shapes and sizes—and species. You know dogs and horses have served in the military since antiquity, but there are also other species that rose to the occasion with training, loyalty, and bravery. Here are the stories of just a few animal war heroes who represent their species well.

1. Sgt. Bill // Canadian Hero of World War I

A train full of Canadian soldiers bought a goat as a mascot while they were passing through Broadview, Saskatchewan. They managed to avoid quarantine and smuggle the goat into France. Bill stayed with his unit, suffering shrapnel wounds, shell shock, and trench foot. He went missing once, and was once arrested for eating military equipment. Yet he was credited with saving at least three lives when he head-butted men into a trench to avoid an exploding shell.

Sgt. Bill was honored with the 1914 Star, the General Service Medal, and the Victory Medal for his war efforts, and, after being retired, returned to Saskatchewan. After he died, the goat was mounted and is now a part of the Broadview Museum. The hero goat of World War I is the subject of an upcoming movie, The Invincible Sgt. Bill.

2. Siwash // Marine Duck

Lt. Col. Presley M. Rixey // Public Domain

The First Battalion of the Tenth Marine Regiment managed to acquire a duck named Siwash as a mascot. Supposedly, a Marine won the duck in a poker game in New Zealand. Siwash accompanied the Marines to the Battle of Tarawa in 1943, where the animal engaged in hand-to-hand (or wing-to-wing) combat with a Japanese rooster. A citation was published in LIFE magazine a year later: 

For courageous action and wounds received on Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands, November 1943. With utter disregard for his own personal safety, Siwash, upon reaching the beach, without hesitation engaged the enemy in fierce combat, namely, one rooster of Japanese ancestry, and though wounded on the head by repeated pecks, he soon routed the opposition. He refused medical aid until all wounded members of his section had been care of.

Siwash was referred to as “he” during the war, and then “she” in her retirement at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Trained zoo personnel probably could tell better than the Marines. Still, it’s sad that she had to hide her gender in order to serve. Siwash lived until 1954, when she died of a liver ailment. According to Siwash’s obituary, the duck's death had no connection to her “fondness for beer.” A service was held at a taxidermist’s shop.

3. Sgt. Reckless // Korean War Combat Veteran

USMC photographer via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1952, a young Korean sold his beloved race horse Ah Chim Hai (Flame in the Morning) to the U.S. Marines so he could purchase a prosthetic leg for his sister, who had lost her limb to a land mine. The Marines renamed the mare Reckless. She was very friendly with the troops, sharing their rations, entering their quarters, and snuggling with them on cold nights. Reckless's appetite was famous: She loved candy, beer, eggs, and coffee—anything the Marines ate—and would even eat poker chips or a hat if she was feeling stubborn.

Reckless was used to carry ammunition. Her finest hour came during the five-day Battle of Outpost Vega in March of 1953, when she made 51 trips to the front in just one day—most of them unaccompanied—to ferry ammunition in and wounded Marines out. That was a total of 9000 pounds of ammunition, and over 35 miles of walking under enemy fire. Reckless was wounded twice, but kept going.   

USMC photographer (Rhoades) via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

For her bravery, Reckless was promoted to Staff Sergeant. She was eventually awarded two Purple Hearts and a slew of other medals. After the war, Sgt. Reckless was shipped to the U.S. She arrived in San Francisco on November 10, 1954 (the Marine Corps birthday), and was feted at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball that evening, where she ate both the cake and the flowers. Just before a parade was held for her promotion, she ate her custom-made blanket, and a substitute had to be constructed quickly to hold her medals. Sgt. Reckless lived peacefully at Camp Pendleton until her death in 1968.

4. Wojtek // Polish Artillery Bear of World War II

Imperial War Museum via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Wojtek (also spelled Voytek) was a Persian bear cub who was adopted by a unit of Polish soldiers training under the British Army in the Middle East during World War II. The 22nd Transport Company, Artillery Division raised him the best they could to be a good soldier. Wojtek fit in quite well—his favorite activities included wrestling, drinking beer, and taking showers. When the unit was deployed to Europe, the only way they could take Wojtek with them was to make him an official soldier. So he became Corporal Wojtek of the artillery supply unit. And he was good at that job.

The bear’s finest hour came during the Battle of Monte Cassino, when he loaded 100-pound boxes of artillery shells into trucks all day long, every day until the battle was won. The army honored Wojtek's service by putting his image, carrying ammo, on the unit's official badge. After the war, Wojtek was housed at the Edinburgh Zoo until his death in 1963. Wojtek is to be the subject of an upcoming film

5. Joe // Carrier Pigeon

War/Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images

Quite a few carrier pigeons were honored for their service in war, but Joe was an American pigeon from Fort Monmouth, N.J., the first non-British animal to be awarded the Dicken Medal. Joe performed an important task during a British advance on the town of Calvi Vecchia, Italy. As they were moving in, the Germans abandoned the town, just ahead of a planned U.S. air strike. As Rob Lammle wrote in a piece for mental_floss last year,

Radio communications couldn’t reach the airfield 20 miles away, so a message was strapped to Joe and he was sent to the air. The bird flew at an amazing clip, covering the entire 20 miles in only 20 minutes. His message reached the airfield just as the bombers were taxiing for take off. With only five minutes to spare, the bombing run was canceled, saving the lives of at least 1000 British troops.

Joe retired to the Detroit Zoological Gardens until he died in 1961 at age 18. His body was mounted and displayed for years at Fort Monmouth, which closed in 2011.

6. Sgt. Stubby // Hero Dog of World War I

Stubby wandered into the encampment and was adopted by the 102nd infantry of Massachusetts in 1917. When the infantry shipped out to Europe, Stubby was smuggled onto the ship bound for France. During World War I, Stubby kept watch and alerted the troops to German attacks. He was wounded by a hand grenade, gassed several times, and once found a German spy and held him by the seat of the pants until American troops could complete the capture.

When his master, Corporal J. Robert Conroy was wounded, Stubby accompanied him to the hospital and made rounds to cheer the troops. He eventually became a highly decorated dog, amassing medals for service, campaigns, and battles, a Purple Heart, and various veteran's awards. A group of French women made Stubby a chamois blanket decorated with Allied flags to display his medals.

Stubby returned home at the end of the war and became quite the celebrity. He was made a lifetime member of the American Legion, the YMCA, and the Red Cross. He lived at the Y and made recruiting tours for the Red Cross. When Stubby passed on in 1926, he was preserved and displayed with his medals at the Smithsonian Institution.

7. Simon // Ship’s Cat

Screenshot via YouTube

Simon was born in 1947 in Hong Kong. As a half-grown cat, he was taken aboard the HMS Amethyst to control rats. In 1949, the ship was attacked on the Yangtze River in China by communists. Simon was wounded and not found for days. The injured sailors had been evacuated, so the ship's doctor nursed Simon's facial burns and shrapnel wounds. As Simon recovered, he resumed rat catching, but also added visiting sick and wounded sailors to his list of duties.

Upon return to Hong Kong, Simon was presented with a campaign ribbon and news that he would receive a Dicken Medal, an award for animal gallantry. When the Amethyst reached England, Simon had to go into quarantine; sadly, he developed an infection and died just before his planned formal medal ceremony. The veterinarian believed the young cat would have recovered if his war wounds hadn't weakened him. Simon was buried in a specially-made casket with full naval honors.

8. Tirpitz // Swimming German Pig of World War I

Tirpitz was a pig carried on the German warship SMS Dresden in 1914 as a food source. The Dresden was sunk in battle with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Glasgow off the coast of South America during the Battle of Más a Tierra. Tirpitz managed to escape the sinking ship and swam towards the Glasgow. The crew brought him aboard and adopted him as a mascot, named him after German admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, and awarded him the Iron Cross for bravery.

After a year aboard the Glasgow, he was transferred to the Whale Island Gunnery School in Portsmouth. Tirpitz was eventually auctioned off as pork, but in his final act he raised £1785 for the British Red Cross. His head was mounted and can be seen at the Imperial War Museum in London. Tirpitz's trotters (feet) were made into handles for a carving set that traveled with the Glasgow in World War II, giving Tirpitz the dubious honor of serving aboard the ship in two wars.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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