REVIEW: Sergeant Stubby – How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation (2014)

A Book By Ann Bausum

After listening to a handful of books mentioning noteworthy military service animals during numerous wars, I got the hankering for a “deep dive” on one of the many topics I have come across. I figured a quick diversion from some of the “rougher” war books I’ve been reading would be a good idea, considering how bleak some WWI books I’ve read have been. Readers may have noticed a pattern with this including my forays into The USNI’s Cats in the Navy and Four-Fisted Tales, both of which were quite enjoyable, and great palate cleansers.

I think I first heard about the topic of today’s review from the Lions Led By Donkeys podcast, which devoted an entire episode to notable military animals throughout history. The standout segment was on Sergeant Stubby, perhaps the most famous of all dogs in the US military, who became quite the canine celebrity in his time. Sergeant Stubby – How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation by Ann Bausum appears to be the benchmark book on his life and legend, and was a must read for me. I’m not going to lie, I had to look up how Stubby’s life went post-war to ensure I wasn’t in for a Marley & Me situation, and am happy to report that nothing terrible goes down.

“Meet Sergeant Stubby: World War I dog veteran, decorated war hero, American icon, and above all, man’s best friend. Stubby’s story begins in 1917 when America is about to enter the war. A stowaway dog befriends Private James Robert “Bob” Conroy at the Connecticut National Guard camp at Yale University and the two become inseparable. Stubby also wins over the commanding officer and is soon made an official member of the 102nd Infantry of the 26th division. What follows is an epic tale of how man’s best friend becomes an invaluable soldier on the front lines and in the trenches, a decorated war hero and an inspiration to a country long after the troops returned home.”

Whether Stubby’s owner, a soldier named James Conroy, embellished his life and deeds or not, one cannot deny how much stubby meant to the soldiers he fought alongside. Named the unofficial mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, Stubby and Conroy were assigned to the 26th Yankee Division for nearly two years in World War I. Stubby had his ups and downs in the trenches, bringing cheer to everyone around him and suffering two combat injuries. This and his presence in many battles during the war resulted in Stubby becoming quite the decorated pooch, even collecting a captured German Iron Cross medal after single handedly capturing a wayward German POW. Some humorless people were very angry that Stubby was honored the way he was, but it’s all for fun and people should have lightened up.

My favorite section of the book is a spot where the author details the way Stubby’s story mutated in the media. It appears that he suffered a shrapnel wound and possible gassing during the war, but many newspapers wanted to “spice” things up a bit. Suddenly it was reported that Stubby patriotically took anywhere from two to five bullets protecting his comrades. Some papers created elaborate backstories involving a past-life as a show-dog despite his true nature as some kind of mutt. That’s assuming the papers even got minor details like his name, age, gender or breed correct! I assume Ann Bausum had a hell of a time parsing out truth from fantasy in her research for this book!

I’m not even a “dog guy” and I found this book to be a fun and endearing tale of heroism in the face of incredible odds. It’s as light-hearted as a war book can get, without it completely downplaying the seriousness of the situation, and has a tinge of humor that was well appreciated. While some of Stubby’s life may have been a bit of a tall-tale, it’s still a great story and the perfect sort of war book for anyone that loves pets. I understand that an animated film was made recently based on this story, and I may end up having to watch that at some point, because this book has made me love the little guy, no matter how far gone he is now.

For more WWI-related books and material, please click HERE

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