K9 Veterans Day Celebrates Man's Best Friend

Dogs have earned the title of “man’s best friend” not only because of their exceptional cuddling skills and adorable noses, but because they are fiercely loyal. It is this unwavering devotion that has earned brave dogs throughout the centuries vital roles in human conflicts as everything from warriors to morale boosters. 

Dogs can give us hope, love us unconditionally, and protect us. This makes them uniquely gifted at accompanying us into battle and K9 Veterans Day is a time to honor furry heroes from past and current conflicts. Read on to learn more about this holiday and some of the most iconic US military dogs.

How K9 Veterans Day Came to Be

Stories of dogs fighting in wars alongside their humans date all the way back to 600 B.C. when they were employed to break the ranks of enemy soldiers and create chaos on the battlefield. As fighting tactics evolved, military dogs filled roles as everything from scouts, to couriers, and even bomb detectors, but it wasn’t until March 13th, 1942 that the US Army officially recognized canine soldiers. It was on this day that the US Army’s K-9 Corps was established and that is why we celebrate K9 Veterans Day on March 13th.

K9 Veterans Day is a national holiday set aside to honor the bravery and sacrifice of all military working dogs, big and small. Below you will find just a few of the many inspiring stories of four-legged heroes from our nation’s past and present. We hope you will join us in saluting these truly remarkable canines.

Sgt. Stubby - The Legendary WWI Military Dog

Sergeant Stubby (pictured above) is perhaps the most famous American military dog. Stubby, as he was called throughout his life, was a stray mutt that wandered onto military training grounds, winning over the hearts of James Robert Conroy and his fellow soldiers. When it came time to deploy, Private Conroy smuggled Stubby with him on his transport ship to France. Legend has it that when Pvt. Conroy’s commanding officer found Stubby, the precocious pup saluted the commander, garnering himself acceptance into their unit.

During his tour in France, Stubby participated in 17 battles and 4 offensives. His 15 paragraph obituary that was later published in the New York Times tells stories of his heroism, including the following excerpt.

“In the Chemin des Dames, Stubby captured a German spy and saved a doughboy from a gas attack. Hearing a sound in the stillness of the night, the dog, who guarded sleeplessly, stole out of the trenches and recognized--a German. Attempts by the German to deceive the dog were futile. Seizing his prisoner by the breeches, Stubby held on until help arrived.”

Sgt. Stubby returned from the war a hero and lived out his remaining years with Conroy stateside. He became a mascot for the military and was awarded a gold star by General John Pershing in 1921. Stubby’s remains are preserved in the Smithsonian and his story was the inspiration for an animated film titled, Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, which was released in 2018.

Smoky - The WWII Yorkie

Smoky may be the smallest dog in stature to make this list, measuring only 7 inches tall, but that didn’t hold her back from making an impact. Smoky was purchased by Corporal William A. Wynne while he was deployed in New Guinea. A fellow American soldier had found Smoky in a foxhole and traded her to Cpl. Wynne in exchange for 2 Australian dollars, so he could buy into that evening’s poker game, but it was Cpl. Wynne who won big.

During their time overseas, Smoky accompanied Cpl. Wynne on 12 combat missions. She was credited with warning troops of incoming fire and even saved Wynne’s life during an air raid. She was awarded 8 battle stars even though she was not an official war dog.

Both during her time overseas and after returning to the states with Cpl. Wynne, Smoky spent time entertaining soldiers and boosting morale. She performed on TV and in live shows for stateside soldiers doing adorable tricks that Cpl. Wynne had taught her. Smoky lived to be 14 years old and is buried in Cleveland, OH, near the home of Cpl, Wynne. Smoky is proof that some of the greatest things come in small packages.

Chips - The Most Decorated American K9 of WWII

Patriotism was at an all-time high during WWII and Americans were so eager to support the war effort that they were even willing to donate their family dogs. Chips was one such canine that was enlisted as an Army dog by his owners, the Wren family. As a shepherd/collie/husky mix, Chips was originally barred from inclusion in the Dogs for Defense program because he was not one of the approved military dog breeds. However, the military quickly found out that there weren’t enough purebred dogs to support the war effort and opened entry to mixed breeds like Chips, who was one of more than 11,000 military dogs that went on to fight alongside American soldiers in WWII.

Over his 3½ year service Chips and his handler fought throughout Europe and North Africa. On July 10th, 1943 Chips and his unit were pinned down by enemy forces on a beach in Sicily. Chips freed himself from his handler, charging the enemy’s location only to emerge a short time later at the throat of an enemy soldier followed by several more enemy combatants with their hands in the air. 

Chips suffered facial burns and a scalp wound in the altercation but saved the lives of his fellow American soldiers. For his “extra heroism in action” Chips was awarded the Silver Star. Unfortunately, there was public outcry over dogs being awarded the same honors as humans and Chips’ award was rescinded. 

75 years later Chips was posthumously awarded Britain’s Dickin Medal for bravery. Record shows that he was awarded the Silver Star, Service Cross, and Purple Heart, even if he didn’t get to keep them. Chips returned to the United States in 1945 living out the final year of his life stateside. He got to meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and is said to have nipped at future American President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Sallie - The Civil War Pittie

If you visit Gettysburg, you’ll find a monument to the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry situated on Oak Ridge. Atop this monument you will see the statue of an infantryman wielding a musket and as your gaze falls, you’ll notice another statue resting below his feet. This one depicts a loyal hero with four paws and two floppy ears, a pit bull named Sallie.

In 1861, the 11th Voluntary Infantry was preparing for the Civil War when the regiment’s lieutenant was presented with a gift from a nearby townsperson – a pit bull terrier puppy who was eventually named “Sallie”. Sallie spent her whole life with that infantry, following them into battle and standing guard over the bodies of fallen soldiers. She is said to have joined the infantry at the front lines during the battles of Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Antietam, and Gettysburg. Legend has it that in the spring of 1863 Abraham Lincoln saw Sallie at the front of the infantry and tipped his hat to her during the Army of the Potomac’s review. Sallie was killed in action at the battle of Hatcher’s Run, but the tales of her loyalty and bravery live on.

Conan - The Belgian Malinois Who Helped Take Down ISIS

On November 25th, 2019 President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence gave a press conference on the steps of the White House Rose Garden alongside a Belgian Malinois named Conan. Trump referred to this four-legged hero as the “world’s most famous” dog and while the identities of the special forces soldiers that accompanied Conan on his high profile mission remain classified, Conan seemed to relish the accolades and ear scratches throughout the press conference.

Conan was awarded a Medal of Honor for his instrumental role in taking down former ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Conan chased al-Baghdadi into a dead-end tunnel during a raid in Syria, which led to al-Baghdadi detonating his vest. Conan was injured during the altercation but has made a full recovery and Trump shared that this brave military dog has completed even more missions since.

Saluting Canine Heroes on K9 Veterans Day

One of the best ways to celebrate K9 Veterans Day is by supporting military dogs currently on deployment. Here are just a few of the many ways you can help these brave canines:
  • Donate supplies such as dog biscuits, flea and tick preventatives, dog beds, rope chews and more to military working dogs through The Support Our Troops K-9 Soldier Treats program
  • Donate funds to one of the many charity organizations that support military working dogs, such as the United States War Dogs Association
  • Adopt a retired K-9 Veteran through an organization, such as K9 Hero Haven or Mission K9 Rescue