Dogs are great for many reasons. They’re lovable, loyal, funny, comforting, and compassionate – to name a few qualities. Dogs are also brave, which has been viewed as an honorable characteristic by humans for thousands of years. Dogs have been companions of soldiers for a very long time, fighting alongside their human warriors, carrying messages, and standing guard. In honor of K9 Veteran’s day, here is a list of some of the most heroic K9 soldiers to date.
Stubby was a Boston Bull Terrier and is one of the most well-known military canines. He was a stray before he wandered onto an Army training center in New Haven, Connecticut in 1917. After Private First-Class Robert Conroy took Stubby in, he ended up on the front lines of World War I. He was a part of 17 battles, detected gas and alerted soldiers, located injured men on battlefields, learned drills and bugle calls, and how to tell English soldiers apart from Germans. He took part in parades, met three presidents, and received dozens of awards, including a Purple Heart. Stubby died in 1926, but his coat is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. (Source: 1)
Stubby | Purple Heart Foundation
Rags was a stray Terrier in Paris in 1918 before befriending US Army Private James Donovan during World War I. He became a carrier for Donovan’s unit and carried messages from the 26th Infantry Regiment to the supporting 7th Field Artillery Brigade. During the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, a major battle in France in 1918, Rags lost an eye and Donovan was injured by poisonous gas. Donovan later died of his injuries and Rags lived out the remainder of his life in Maryland before dying in 1936. (Source: 1)
Rags with Sergeant George E. Hickman, 16th Infantry, 26th Division| US Army Signal Corps
When the United States entered World War II, thousands of people offered their dogs to be trained for guard and patrol duty – Chips, a German Shepherd-Collie-Husky mix, was one of them. He took part in Allied campaigns in North Africa, Italy, France, and a few other places in Europe. During the 1943 Invasion of Sicily, Chips took down a hidden German gun nest. He later went on to guard a conference between British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Chips was honored with a Silver Star and was also nominated for a Distinguished Service Cross and a Purple Heart. In 1945 he returned home as a hero and died the following year. (Source: 1)
Chips receiving a donut from GI| Getty/Bettmann
In 1964, the US Air Force brought Nemo, a German Shepherd, into the Vietnam War guard dog program. After finishing training, Nemo partnered with Airman 2nd Class Robert Throneburg and was sent to Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon, Vietnam, to be a guard dog with the 377th Air Police Squadron. The Tan Son Nhut Air Base was hit by a mortar attack by the Viet Cong during an attack in 1966. Nemo’s job was to find intruders who infiltrated the base and after he found a group hiding near the perimeter, Nemo attacked with Throneburg close behind. They were both injured during the incident, but Nemo was credited with Throneburg’s survival. After Nemo was sent home as a war hero, he worked as a recruitment dog in his retirement. He later died in 1972. (Source: 1)
Nemo with Capt. Robert M. Sullivan| Denver Post Via Getty Images
Lex was a bomb-sniffing German Shepherd in Falluja, Iraq. In 2007, during a mortar attack, Lex was injured and his handler, Marine Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee, was killed. After Lex recovered from his wounds, he was awarded an honorary Purple Heart in 2008. When Lex took an early retirement, Lee’s family adopted him, stating that, “We knew that’s what Dustin would have wanted out of this.” Lex died in 2012. (Source: 1)
Military dog, Lex, jumps a training obstacle at Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Ga., on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007| AP Photo/Todd Stone
Cairo was a Belgian Malinois, trained to stand guard, control crowds, and to sniff out and look for bombs. He was part of the SEAL Team 6 that helped take down al-Qaida’s longtime leader, Osama bin Laden, in a raid in Pakistan in 2011. According to an account of the raid from the New Yorker, Cairo was part of a perimeter team during the mission to take down bin Laden in 2011. When meeting with SEALS who were part of the mission, Former President Barack Obama met Cairo as well. (Source: 1)
Lucca, a half-German Shepherd, half-Belgian Malinois mix, worked as a bomb detector in Afghanistan and helped find nearly 40 explosive devices. During her six years of service, she completed more than 400 missions with no human casualties. While off leash in 2012, Lucca lost her leg in a roadside IED explosion. Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, who was her handler, ran past a known IED to apply a tourniquet and carry her back to safety. She then retired and lived with her original handler, Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham in California. Lucca died on January 20th, 2018. (Source: 1)
Heroic US Marine Dog Lucca pictured receiving a Dickin Medal in London in 2016 | AP Photo/Frank Augstein
Pictured receiving a Dickin medal in London in 2016. AP Photo/Frank Augstein
Lucca after the blast.
Layka, a Belgian Malinois, was with her team in an Afghan village in May 2012 when they came under fire. Apache helicopters and Hellfires were brought in to help and Layka’s handler, Sgt. Julian McDonald, sent her to search a building and confirm that it was clear of any hostile shooters. Once she was inside, she encountered an enemy combatant and took four rounds from an AK-47 to her right shoulder area. She was flown to a base to have her right leg removed and was prepped for transport to Germany. When she got to Germany, she underwent further surgery to remove and repair her shoulder and triceps. She was then moved to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to fully recover and in August 2012 was medically retired. (2) Her handler, Julian, stated, “I owed this dog every moment that I have from here on out – with my son, my mother, with my family. I owe her everything.” Layka was believed to be too aggressive from her training and near-death experience, and Julian was told that it wouldn’t be a wise idea to bring her home to his family of three small children. However, Julian proceeded to fight for the right to adopt her and when he finally got to bring her home, she showed nothing but love and affection for Julian’s children, proving that she’s not dangerous and deserves a comfortable and happy retirement (3).
Army specialist Andrew Brown and Rocky had been partners for two years when they were both injured by shrapnel from an IED while searching a compound in December of 2015. After the explosion they were both flown to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Here, both Brown and Rocky were awarded Purple Hearts. Rocky continued his treatment in Europe, while Brown was flown to Walter Reed hospital in the U.S. Rocky’s back leg was shattered in the blast, but after months of rehabilitation, he was able to make the journey back home to Brown’s care. While Rocky is still on active duty, Brown stated that Rocky “will always have a home” once he retires (4).
Conan, a Belgian Malinois named after talk show host Conan O’Brien, tore after Islamic State Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a darkened tunnel in Syria in October 2019. As Conan closed in, Baghdadi killed himself with a suicide vest; Conan suffered minor wounds before returning to duty. After the Pentagon declined revealing any information about the dog, President Donald Trump posted a photo of Conan on Twitter, announcing that he “declassified a picture of the wonderful dog.” Conan was honored by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and First Lady Melania at The White House in November of 2019. Conan stood next to Vice President Mike Pence, who petted his head, while President Trump spoke. Conan has recovered from his injuries and has returned to active duty (1).
Conan pictured with President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Melania Trump | The White House