Dogs Die in War Too: American Military Dogs, from Nemo and Lex to Sergeant Stubby

Dogs fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, too. Earlier this spring one of the most famous canine veterans died, a bomb-sniffing German Shepherd named Lex.

Sergeant Stubby, a pit bull terrier that fought in World War I saved his regiment from a surprise mustard gas attack and nabbed a German spy by biting him in the ass. He was given the Purple Heart. A number of military dogs have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In March of 2007, Lex and his handler, Marine Corporal Dustin Lee, were hit by an SPG-9 rocket. Lee was mortally wounded and Lex was blasted with shrapnel. Despite his wounds, Lex refused to leave Lee’s side, medics had to drag him away. Military veterinarians were forced to leave more than 50 pieces of shrapnel in Lex’s back; removing them would permanently damage his spine. Lex was granted an early retirement and Lee’s family adopted him. The dog was subsequently awarded a purple heart. He died of cancer on March 25, 2012.

Not all war dogs lead such charmed lives. At least several have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was Arras, a five year old Dutch Shepherd killed while conducting a building search for weapons and explosives, he touched a spot that was electrified by power cables and died instantly. Marco, a six year old Belgian Malinois was also electrocuted while on patrol. And Macy, a bomb dog from Michigan was killed alongside his handler in Laghman province, Afghanistan when their vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device.

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War dogs have actually been used by the American Military for more than 100 years. One of the most famous dogs was Nemo, an 85-pound black and tan German Shepherd trained as a sentry dog. In January 1966 he was sent to Vietnam where he patrolled Tan Son Nut Air Base near Saigon. Each night him and his handler would walk the base’s perimeter, looking for anything suspicious. Early one December morning the Vietcong attacked. A grueling seven hour battle ensued, by the end three soldiers and their dogs had been killed. The next night Nemo and his handler were ambushed by snipers. The handler was struck in the shoulder and Nemo was shot through the muzzle, the bullet entered under his right eye and exited through his mouth. Despite Nemo’s wounds he hurled himself at the snipers, giving his handler time to call for backup.

Vets had to remove Nemo’s right eye, which was hanging out of its socket. While recuperating children from across America sent him get-well cards. Nemo returned to the U.S. and died shortly before Christmas in 1972 at the age of 11. He was laid to rest at the Department of Defense’s Dog Center, in Lackland, Texas.

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In World War I there was Sergeant Stubby, a pit bull terrier that was found living out of garbage cans on the streets of New Haven, Connecticut. A student named Robert Conroy took him in and smuggled him aboard his ship when he sailed for France to fight in the war. Stubby served for 18 months along the Western Front and participated in 17 different battles. His main tasks were to locate and comfort wounded soldiers and carry messages under fire. He also had the ability to detect incoming shells. During the winter of 1918 Stubby saved his regiment from a surprise mustard gas attack. A different mustard gas attack nearly poisoned him to death.

At one point Stubby was hit with a hand grenade and received shrapnel wounds to his forelimbs and chest. On another occasion he nabbed a German spy by biting him in the ass. Stubby was the only dog in the war promoted to the rank of sergeant. He was given the Purple Heart, the Republic of France Grande War Medal, the Medal of Verdun, and medals for every campaign in which he served. The medals were pinned to a special jacket made for him by the military. Back in America he met three different presidents. After the war Conroy attended law school at Georgetown University, Stubby became the school’s official mascot. He died in Conroy’s arms in April 1926 at the age of ten.

“The noise and strain that shattered the nerves of many of his comrades did not impair Stubby’s spirits,” read an obituary in the New York Times. “Not because he was unconscious of danger. His angry howl while a battle raged and his mad canter from one part of the lines to another indicated realization.”

One Response to “Dogs Die in War Too: American Military Dogs, from Nemo and Lex to Sergeant Stubby”
  1. Maria Goodavage says:

    A unique, interesting story in a place I would not normally think I’d find a story about military working dogs! My newly published New York Times bestseller, Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes, describes dozens of dogs who have lived to serve with their handlers, and a few who – sadly – have died doing so.

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