Memorial Day is a special time in the U.S. when Americans take time to remember the men and women that have served in the military. It’s also when they celebrate the bravery of those Memorial Day dogs that loyally served alongside them in some of the most dangerous places in the world.
Dogs have always played a vital part in the military, performing many different roles and helping to save countless lives. From the dogs that saw military action in World War I to the current crop of dogs protecting their country today, these courageous canines are an important chapter in America’s military history.
The History of Dogs in the Military
For centuries, our furry best friends have stuck by us, even in war. It’s believed the Roman Army first came up with the bright idea to use dogs to scare the enemy. Dogs would be kitted out with spiked collars and then set loose on the battlefield. The idea was that the enemy would be so terrified of the dogs they would flee before even engaging in battle!
Over time, the military realised how valuable dogs could be. Dogs were trained to perform more and more sophisticated tasks in warfare, such as scouting, carrying messages and supplies, and scarily, detecting mines and other explosives.
During World War I and World War II, the humble dog proved to be so useful that all sides in the conflict were using them.
Memorial Day Dogs and the K-9 Corps
After World War I, the demand for dogs in the United States Military declined rapidly. The military bigwigs decided they no longer needed dogs in their nice, shiny ranks; however, this attitude swiftly changed with the advent of World War II. Soon, dogs were again back in demand, and more than ever.
The American Kennel Association and Dogs for Defense started a campaign to persuade people to donate their healthy pets to the Army’s Quartermaster Corps.
In March of 1942, training began for the War Dogs Program, later to be known officially as the K-9 Corps. By the Autumn of that same year, the Corps was given the mission of training dogs for not just the Army but also the Marines, the Navy and the Coast Guard.
There were initially more than thirty breeds of dogs being accepted into the K-9 Corps, but this number was quickly reduced down to just seven:
- Belgian shepherds
- Siberian Huskies
- Doberman Pinschers
- German Shepherds
- Eskimo dogs
I don’t know about you, but the Siberian Husky one surprised me! But what wasn’t surprising was that they and Malamutes were mainly used for transportation purposes.
The newest members of the K-9 Corps were given just eight to twelve weeks of obedience training. Then they were put through carefully crafted training courses, preparing them for their new roles. Their important jobs included being messenger dogs, scout and patrol dogs, sentry dogs and arguably the most dangerous, mine-detection dogs.
Military Roles for Dogs
The U.S. Army currently employs over 1600 dogs in more than fifty different job classifications. America’s Memorial Day dogs have recently played a vital role in combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, dogs that are selected for military duty performed a variety of vital jobs, such as:
One of the most critical roles dogs play in the military is bomb detection. As we all know, dogs have an incredible sense of smell. They can be trained to detect even the smallest amount of explosives. Their super-sensitive noses are often used to sweep an area for mines or other hidden explosive devices before soldiers enter.
Tracking and Apprehension
Dogs with sensitive noses are often required for tracking and apprehension. These dogs are trained to follow the scent of a person or animal and find them even if they are trying to hide. This skill is often used to locate missing soldiers or track down the enemy.
Big dogs with loud barks are used as sentries to guard military compounds and other vulnerable areas. They provide an extra level of security and can be trained to attack intruders if necessary.
Search and Rescue
Those special dogs that work in search and rescue operations are experts in locating missing people. They can search for survivors in collapsed buildings and have also been used to locate victims of natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes.
In the not so distant past, dogs were used to carry messages between military units. They are still used today in some remote areas where radios and other forms of communication are unusable.
Dogs have also been used as mascots for military units since before World War I. Mascot dogs boost morale and provide a sense of normality in the midst of a terrible conflict.
Therapy dogs provide comfort and companionship to military personnel who are wounded or suffering from PTSD. These warm, friendly pups can play a crucial role in the recovery process and help soldiers readjust to life after combat.
The military also employs many service dogs that assist soldiers struggling with disabilities. These trusty tail-waggers are trained to perform many tasks such as opening doors, picking up objects, and turning lights on and off.
This is just a selection of the amazing roles that dogs play in the U.S. military. They are a vital cog in America’s military machine, keeping soldiers safe and boosting morale.
4 Famous Dogs To Celebrate this Memorial Day
There are endless stories of heroic Memorial Day dogs that have served in the military. These are just a few of the most legendary four-legged heroes who have served in the U.S. military in the past, so let’s celebrate them!
Sallie The Staffie
This courageous Staffordshire bull terrier was just one of many dogs who served alongside troops during the Civil War and in many famous battles. Sallie was the mascot for the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment and was adopted as a puppy by the soldiers.
She marched with them in every battle and is said to have saved many lives by licking the wounds of injured soldiers and lifting their spirits. During the Battle of Gettysburg, she mysteriously disappeared for three days, only to be found guarding wounded soldiers on the battlefield.
Sadly, Sallie was killed during the Battle of Hatcher’s Run. Still, her legacy lives on – there is even a statue of her at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Sergeant Stubby was a legend amongst Memorial Day dogs. This unlikely bull terrier mix was literally fearless.
Corporal Robert Conroy smuggled Stubby overseas to France, where he quickly became the unofficial mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, 26th Yankee Division.
During his time with the Army, Stubby participated in an incredible 17 battles on the Western Front. He was wounded in combat and exposed to mustard gas, which temporarily blinded him.
Despite his injuries, Stubby returned to action with a specially designed gas mask and continued to perform his duties, which, “amongst other jobs”, included warning soldiers of gas attacks.
In 1918, he captured a German spy who was dressed as an American soldier. For his countless heroics, Stubby was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and awarded several medals, including two Purple Hearts.
After the war, Stubby returned to the United States, where he became quite the celebrity and met three Presidents – Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge.
Sergeant Stubby died in Conroy’s arms in 1926 at the age of 10. He is the most decorated war dog in American history, and his remains are on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
Lucca The German Shepherd
Lucca is a beautiful German Shepherd who served six years in the Marine Corps as an explosives detection dog.
This super brave pup led more than 400 patrols during her tenure and has been credited with discovering around 40 improvised explosive devices.
No Marine was ever injured while following Lucca. However, she was wounded in combat on March 23, 2012, when an IED exploded while leading a mission in Afghanistan. Her handler applied a tourniquet immediately, and she was ‘Medevaced’ for treatment.
Lucca survived the terrible ordeal, but her left front leg had to be amputated. She was medically retired but soon became acclimatised to living a new life living with her original handler. In 2016, Lucca became the first U.S. military working dog to receive the Dickin Medal for animal gallantry.
Cairo The Belgian Malinois
Cairo is a Belgian Malinois who was part of the Navy SEAL team that raided Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in 2011.
Wearing full body armour, and armed with titanium teeth, Cairo was the only dog on the mission and was tasked with clearing the way for the SEALs.
Cairo was in one of two Black Hawk helicopters that landed at the compound. He was able to detect explosives, search for escape tunnels and helped to keep the team safe as they made their way through the compound.
When the second helicopter crashed, alerting people of the raid, Cairo helped to secure the perimeter of the compound while the SEAL team were searching and securing the buildings. What a phenomenal dog, huh?
Celebrating Man’s Best Friend, Through Thick & Thin
For hundreds of years, dogs have played an essential role in the military, performing a wide range of tasks and saving an incalculable number of lives along the way.
Literally, thousands of Memorial Day dogs served and sacrificed alongside the men and women of the United States military, and their stories are a vital part of America’s military history.
Memorial Day is a time to remember the heroic men, women and the loyal dogs who stood bravely alongside them.
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Author, Ali Smith
Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.
Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!