Book Review – Nonfiction, Canine Biography
Sergeant Stubby is a biography of a dog, a stray Bull Terrier who joined the American forces in France in World War-I, and (as the sub-title puts it) “stole the heart of a nation.” He fought the war right alongside his comrade in arms, with special attachment to J. Robert Conroy who served in the Headquarters Company for the 102nd Infantry Regiment of the Yankee Division, American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.) in Europe. Stubby was the regimental mascot, and he played some important roles on the battlefield—he even captured an enemy soldier. He became all the more famous back home in America after the war ended.
Today, you can see Stubby (stuffed) and a lot of paraphernalia collected and associated with him from the war, at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.
The book, by Ann Bausum, tells Stubby’s (and Robert Conroy’s) tale, along with a précis of the war itself from an American forces’ perspective.
Actually, there are two books—one biographical and historical, and the other ostensibly for kids, but of more general interest for it historic illustrations about the dog and the war. If you (and your children) like history and are fans of hero dogs, both books are recommended.
Stubby was a regular guy, so to say; a soldier’s soldier, who knew all the hoops to jump through and became beloved for his bravery under fire, and his charm on the battlefield. He could even salute senior officers on command. The author tells of all his exploits, in the context of the Yankee Division’s place in France.
That Stubby was a good soldier is revealed in several ways in the book. Here are two accounts describing his place in the ranks:
On parade in Boston (after the war), for example—
“Stubby, no stranger to parades, earned a place of honor at the afternoon event, accompanying the color guard for his own 102nd Infantry Regiment [the Yankee Division]. He knew the drill. Follow the flag bearers. Don’t stray left or right. When ordered to turn “eyes right” at the reviewing stand, cock head to that side. At the next command, face forward again…”
And, of his fame, his biographer writes—
“That Stubby was becoming famous seems hard to dispute. Newspaper articles from the postwar era claim he had become a recognizable figure wherever he traveled in France, stopped on the streets by citizens and Allied soldiers alike. He was intimately acquainted with members of the 102nd Infantry Regiment and, because of [Corporal] Conroy’s workplace mobility, had traveled widely throughout the 26th Division. Many accounts refer to him as the division’s mascot; some even characterize him as the mascot for the entire American Expeditionary Forces. When Conroy started his scrapbook for his friend, he matter-of-factly had the album’s leather-bound cover embossed with gold letters: ‘STUBBY A.E.F. MASCOT’.” (p.135)
Stubby lived a long life, for a dog, and after his death in 1926, a writer in New England’s New Britain Herald extolled—
“A dog is a dog, some folks will say . . . But there are times when a dog is more than a dog; when he has all the attributes of a human being, plus such undying love and affection as few human beings possess for anyone but their own kith and kin… Stubby only a dog? Nonsense! Stubby was the concentration of all we like in human beings and lacked everything we dislike in them. Stubby was the visible incarnation of the great spirit that hovered over the 26th.”
The author concludes the book with this bit of understanding about the importance of dogs on the battlefield—
“Robert Conway and his friends from the Great War knew something that took decades for the U.S. military to figure out: Dogs and soldiers go together. Today we take it for granted that military service dogs help soldiers find hidden explosive devices, that they are essential team members on Navy Seal raids such as the one that stormed the residence of Osama bin Laden, and that they can still add their teeth to the fight, just the way Stubby did in 1919. Today we are even learning, as David E. Sharpe has shown through Companions for Heroes, that dogs have remarkable powers for healing old wounds, for restoring a sense of purpose in the wake of unspeakable trauma, for making a person feel whole once more. The shell-shocked veterans of World War I could have used such dogs. Robert Conroy was lucky enough to have one.”
We recommend both books:
Ann Bausum, Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation (Washington DC: National Geographic, 2014). 239pp., illustrated. Foreword, Introduction, 3 Parts (9 chapters), Afterword, Research Notes and Acknowledgments, Appendix, Time Line, Bibliography, Illustrations, Credits, Index, and Reading Guide. ISBN: 978.1.4262.1310.6