A Hero’s Nature

May 28, 2012  

Sergeant Stubby was an American hero, demonstrating the true characteristics of pit bull-type dogs

By Cory Grimm, U.S. Air Force Veteran

Originally posted on May 24, 2011

It wasn’t long ago that I was both a soldier and whatever you call the opposite of a pit bull advocate. It wasn’t that I hated the dogs, just that I – like so many others – heard all the horrible things that the breed was known for and flat out was not interested in testing the validity of the stories. Since then I’ve seen the truth behind a lot of the stigma and have grown to appreciate what the breed is really about.

Pit bulls are protectors and companions. It’s bred into their DNA to love and protect people, even if that means putting themselves at risk to do so. It’s a trait of the breed that has been exploited too many times to count, but I’m happy to say that there is one very famous dog that proved that the nature of a pit bull is, and always has been, to keep us safe.

Stubby Enlists

Sergeant Stubby was a pit bull type dog that was found and “enlisted” by Private Conroy during World War I. The puppy’s short tail gave him a name, and the Army gave him a mission.

Stubby would train with the Army every morning, running and exercising with the unit. It’s important to mention that in the military, acting as a cohesive unit not only makes the team stronger, but also helps to firmly bond the members together. Stubby was no exception here, as the soldiers frequently used Stubby to set the pace for running and as a mascot for the unit as they trained for the war. It’s also important to mention that dogs are not soldiers and are not shipped off to war.

Except, that is, for Stubby.

Private Conroy received orders to depart for Europe shortly after training had finished. He and his fellow soldiers were heartbroken at the idea of leaving their K-9 companion and mascot behind, so they worked together to smuggle the dog onto the ship, hide him until they were too far from land to return, then present him to the ship’s crew, who quickly adopted the furry fellow as their mascot as well.

Stubby served to raise morale on the ship, a job at which he excelled. The entire crew came to love the dog as their own, even going so far as to have the supply officers craft him a custom-fit uniform and the machinists engrave him his very own dog tags.

When the ship arrived, the dog was smuggled on land and kept out of sight until orders were received to set out to battle in 1918. Stubby was discovered by the commanding officer.

The officer was not about to allow a dog to be mingled with his troops and serve as a distraction.

Private Conroy claimed that he could prove that Sergeant Stubby wasn’t just some dog, that he was as well trained as any soldier and could keep morale up during their mission. To prove this point, Conroy ordered Stubby to “Present Arms.”

That’s military speak for saluting. Stubby sat down, raised his right paw to his eye and held it there until ordered to “Order Arms,” or military speak for lowering a salute.

The commander considered the values of increased morale amongst his men and eventually allowed Stubby to accompany the unit to the battlefield.

Loyal Service

Stubby stayed with the unit for 17 major battles. The dog wasn’t a fighter; in fact, he never left the American trenches. He was, however, a protector during those 17 engagements.

Stubby was exposed to mustard gas during the war, which nearly took his life. The pit bull was sent to the military hospital and given the same level of attention as the rest of the soldiers. During Stubby’s recovery, he would roam the hospital from wounded soldier to wounded soldier, offering a bit of support and affection as the men recovered from battle. Eventually, Stubby was ready for action again.

The dog was returned to the trenches and to his buddy, Conroy. Stubby had learned how to stay low in the trenches during firefights and had learned how to identify injured – but living –soldiers and alert medics to their location. The wounded men would call to Stubby, who would seek them out during the night and help bring them back to safety.

Stubby’s previous injury even gave him yet another way to protect his comrades: He could smell mustard gas before it was lethal.

The pit bull’s keen nose and protective nature saved many American lives, as he would detect the toxic fumes before human noses would even know it was there. The entire unit was able to escape chemical attacks that would otherwise kill every last man while they slept.

During the following years Stubby was injured by stray bullets and grenade shrapnel. Each time, he was taken to the medics, nursed back to health, and then returned to the front lines where he served to keep his men safe. Stubby even learned to identify the German language, which led him to a German spy that was mapping out the location of American soldiers. During one of Stubby’s routine searches for wounded American soldiers, he found the German hiding amongst the bushes and managed to hold the man in place long enough for Americans to locate and capture the spy.

This act was what officially earned Stubby a promotion to the rank of Sergeant in the U.S. Army (a higher rank than Private Conroy).

True Character

Eventually, Stubby and Conroy returned home to the United States, where Stubby was greeted with both a hero’s welcome from the American public, and two visits from Presidents Harding and Coolidge.

The story of Stubby is one that I wish more people knew. After the war, Stubby was not just the mascot of his unit, but of this country. The pit bulls seen with Uncle Sam and standing with soldiers during that era were all based on Stubby. His tenacity and courage was a source of pride for the Army and for America as a whole. The protective instincts and impossibly close bond that Stubby had shown were, at the time, the breed’s defining characteristics.

Sadly, it has been many years since Stubby’s time. His legacy has all but vanished in today’s perspective of the pit bull: Tenacity and courage has been replaced with viciousness and aggression, love and companionship replaced with fighting and malice.

As a soldier, I can tell you that the pit bull’s nature is one that I would gladly take with me into unknown territory. I would have been honored to have a dog like Stubby watching my back no matter what, keeping my spirits up and, most importantly, keeping me safe.

As a pit bull owner I can tell you that the dog’s nature is one that I cherish. I am honored to have a friend that shows me love no matter what, a friend that keeps me smiling, and one that gives me the opportunity to share his amazing breed’s true nature with the world.

The characteristics of a pit bull that make them frightful in the minds of many are the same that make them incredible in the minds of those that know. They are physically durable dogs, which is great for families with children. They are big dogs, which makes them great for people who choose to go for a jog after dark, or have a couch with big cushions – because make no mistake, if that’s where you are, that’s where your pit bull will want to be. And yes, they definitely have massive heads with big ol’ jaws, which is perfect for a big hug and maybe even a few kisses if nobody else is around to see.

I am grateful for the work that Stubby did in the service to this country, and I’m grateful for the companionship that my dog has given me as well. I am sad to see that the world has all but forgotten about the four-legged Sergeant and his amazing deeds, but perhaps that just means that the world is ready for a new pit bull hero’s story.

Order arms, Sergeant Stubby.

« « What Fun Games Do You Play With Your Dog? | Nola the Therapy Dog » »


27 Responses to “A Hero’s Nature”
  1. skreidle says:

    I love this story so much. (I already knew about Sgt. Stubby, but a) I hadn’t heard this much detail, and b) I hadn’t seen these great goofy photos. :D)

  2. StubbyDog says:

    @skreidle Thank you for your comments, glad you liked the article, the author took the photos at a museum that honored Sgt. Stubby.

  3. TanayaBurnham-Delorey says:

    Where is this museum? @StubbyDog @skreidle

  4. StubbyDog says:

    @TanayaBurnham-Delorey @skreidle Smithsonian National Museum of American History. It’s in Washington, D.C. at The Mall.

  5. TanayaBurnham-Delorey says:

    Thanks! Next time I am there I will make it a point to check it out!! @StubbyDog @TanayaBurnham-Delorey @skreidle

  6. skreidle says:

    @StubbyDog Awesome! I’ve been there several times–I currently live in central VA, but used to live in northern VA–but I either missed that exhibit or it wasn’t there yet.

  7. maxiemom says:

    Tha.nk you for acknowledging that Stubby was a pit bull (or at least a pit mix). The last 2 articles I read today went out of their way to stress that he was a dog of ‘unknown background’. One of them even had a blurb at the end about the complaints the author had received concerning statements about the dog’s breed, which the author stated was for a political agenda. It sickens me that so many people can’t simply state the obvious: Sgt. Stubby was a pit bull, and the U.S. military should be deeply ashamed for banning them from military posts

  8. ninjetti says:

    I salute you, Sargeant Stubby. You are a true American Hero with more heart & loyalty than most humans will ever come to know in their entire lives. Your story should be told & I share it proudly on this day.

  9. StubbyDog says:

    @maxiemom Thank you for your comments, we are happy to set the record straight that Stubby was indeed a pit bull-type dog. And we agree, the military should rethink its ban on pit bulls on military bases.

  10. StubbyDog says:

    @ninjetti Thank you! We are proud to honor Sgt. Stubby on this day and everyday with this website.

  11. Roberta says:

    Thank you for such a wonderful story. My uncle brought back a german shepard from WWII that also served our country. These dogs should be given military honors, they are willing to give their lives for our country just like our men and women. God Bless the USA and all that serves it.

  12. StubbyDog says:

    @Roberta Thank you for your comments Roberta. Dogs that serve our country should be given the same respect as our soldiers, thanks for recognizing that.

  13. mspixieriot says:

    An amazing story of a soldier worth celebrating.

  14. StubbyDog says:

    @mspixieriot Thank you. That’s why we named ourselves after Sgt. Stubby.

  15. Bradley Pit says:

    As an Army Soldier and American Pit Bull Terrier owner I appreciate your efforts to help such a wonderful breed of dogs. Great way to tell SGT Stubby’s story. My boy’s name is Bradley.

  16. StubbyDog says:

    @Bradley Pit Thanks, we hope we tell Sgt. Stubby’s story each day on this site with all our stories about the wonderful nature of pit bulls.

  17. CelineBrotherton says:

    Stubby’s story is amazing; however, I believe if you research more you might find that Stubby is probably more Old Boston Bulldogge. http://www.ioeba.net/olde_boston_breed_history.htm

  18. sillyfox4lyfe says:

    Ever since I started advocating for the pit bull breed, I have been absoulutely in love with Sgt. Stubby, I wish my dog behaved like him, she is a Siberian Husky and a real brat. I love Sgt. Stubby and want a dog JUST like him. R.I.P. Sgt. Stubby, you are truly missed.

  19. deleted_3058525_raejennings says:

    Excellent article. Thank you. I consider myself privileged to have had the opportunity to share my life with several American Pit bull terriers. Not only have I experienced how wonderful these dogs are, but I have a unique understanding of the power of an idea and how much fear can exist based on something that doesn’t exist. I try to apply this perspective to other aspects of my life. I know that if I’d not been lucky enough to know pit bulls I would also have remained ignorant and fearful, judging the breed unfairly like many do.

    Living in the only Australian state that doesn’t have breed-specific legislation, my pit bull can walk down the street without a muzzle. Most people don’t know my dog is a pit bull because their idea of what a pit bull must look like is terrifying. From old ladies to mothers with young children they come over for pats when we are out.

    We’ve also fostered several and the breed characteristics are certainly unique. They are passionate, intelligent, interactive and charming. They’ve always got something to say. Everything could potentially be a game, which is so much fun to have around and makes them so easy to train. I’d never be without one again.

  20. JohannaFalber-Mcvay says:

    I read everything I can get my hands on regarding Sgt. Stubby and this is by far, one of the best pieces. It really drilled home for me. I also bought into the media hype when I lived back home in NY. Fast forward to my new life in Atlanta, I love this breed, have several rescued Pit Bulls, and advocate for them daily.
    Pit Bulls are not a specific breed and we don’t have a DNA test on him so he’s a PB mix, let’s leave it at that, and keep in mind that if he were alive TODAY, looking the way he looks, if he were in any number of counties or cities across the county, he would be classified as a Pit Bull because of his “characteristics” and be affected by BSL. Leave our hero alone. He’s enough Pit Bull for me.

    • StubbyDog says:

       @JohannaFalber-Mcvay Thanks Johanna, so glad we have you to advocate for all the ‘stubbies’ out there.

  21. dragondix2 says:

    Soldiers don’t come much cuter.

  22. dragondix2 says:

    Your service is not forgotten, Sgt. Stubby. You are an American Hero. Run Free soldier. 


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] with young children.  Some of the most famous dogs in American history were pit bulls, including Stubby a decorated war hero during World War I, among many […]

  2. […] is named in honor of a pit bull mix named Stubby who became a decorated World War I war hero after starting his life as a stray. Stubby’s […]