Connecticut produced no more famous veteran of World War I than Sergeant Stubby. A Staffordshire terrier mix, he started out life a homeless puppy wandering the Yale Campus in New Haven.
Stubby, so named because of his tail, was a familiar site on the campus, and J. Robert Conroy of New Britain took a liking to him. Conroy and the other men of New England national guard units were soon to be swept up in the Yankee Division, an all-New England Army unit shipped to France to fight in World War I.
Stubby used to march along with the Yale soldiers as they drilled, and he picked up many of their military moves. He could march, shake hands and even salute. He also knew when the bugle sounded to call the men to the mess hall.
When his unit shipped out on the SS Minnesota, Conroy smuggled Stubby aboard under his coat. When the little dog was discovered, he charmed even the commanding officer with his ability to salute.
On the battlefields of France, Stubby’s heroics were legend. While Europeans had full-fledged canine units in their armies, on the U.S. side dogs were unusual. Horses and mules were regular soldiers, but a dog/mascot was pretty rare.
Stubby was more than a curiosity, though. He had some legendary exploits on the battlefield. Early in the war he survived a mustard gas attack. Later he would bark to alert the soldiers if he smelled the presence of the deadly gas – giving an early warning that saved lives.
Once while his unit was in a small village, Stubby helped alert the whole town that gas was in the air, giving them time to protect themselves with gas masks. The women of the village were so happy with the four-legged hero, they made him a coat – which he had with him until he died.
Once while out wandering, Stubby came upon a German soldier. When he raised an alarm, the man was taken prisoner. He is also credited with helping the medics find wounded men and keeping soldiers company on lonely, late watches.
Stubby very nearly didn’t make it through the war. He took a shrapnel hit in April 1918, and the Army medics stitched him up. But make it through he did, and he returned a hero to the United States. Stubby frequently marched in parades and at celebrations. And he probably didn’t actually become known as Sergeant Stubby until after the war, when his fans bestowed the rank on him as an honorific, according to his biographer.
Over the course of his life, he met presidents Wilson, Harding and Coolidge at various functions – twice visiting the White House. He also received a medal from General John “Black Jack” Pershing, who had no love for the early commanders of the Yankee Division. But he did take time to honor Stubby back at home at a Humane Society event.
Conroy went on to study law at Georgetown University and work on Capitol Hill after the war. He took Stubby with him, and the pooch became the mascot for Georgetown Hoyas sports teams. In 1926, Stubby died of old age.
Conroy gave Stubby’s remains and his French-made uniform, complete with medals, to the Smithsonian Museum of National History, where he resides today.
This story about Sgt. Stubby was updated in 2022.