Our furry (and sometimes not so furry) friends have made more than their fair share of appearances throughout wartime. Whether they’re sniffing out bombs or just hanging out onboard a naval vessel, they’re one of the few things that can make war a little easier to handle. Sometimes found, sometimes smuggled into action and sometimes born and bred for war, how they end up on the front lines differs, but one thing is always the same — they’re often considered heroes in their own right. Here are a few of our favorites from throughout the years.
1. Sergeant Stubby
Sergeant Stubby was the most decorated war dog of World War I and the only dog to be promoted to sergeant. A mutt, suspected to be either a Bull Terrier or Boston Terrier, Stubby was a stray at Yale University when he was adopted by a soldier drilling as part of the 102nd Infantry in 1917. When the soldier shipped out, he snuck Stubby onboard his ship, and then back off the ship again when he landed in France. Once the commanding officer discovered what the young soldier had done, Stubby showed off his latest trick — learning how to salute — charming his way into a permanent position. However, Stubby was much more than a cute mascot. He participated in 17 battles on the Western Front, saved his regiment from mustard gas and incoming artillery, found wounded soldiers and even caught one German for himself. He suffered wounds from several grenades, but lived on to become something of a legend in the United States, living until the ripe age of 10 before passing away in his sleep. Now, Sergeant Stubby is on display at the Smithsonian.
2. Cher Ami
Cher Ami was one of many homing pigeons used during World War I, but she was incredibly significant for one battalion. In 1918, a group of 500 American soldiers were trapped behind enemy lines, with no food or ammo. Allied troops were also beginning to fire on them, not knowing they were Americans. Surrounded by the enemy and unable to escape, the 500 soldiers dwindled down to under 200. Their Major began to dispatch messages via pigeon to seek assistance. The first two pigeons he sent were shot down by the Germans. Only Cher Ami was left. After being dispatched, she was shot down, but took flight again. She suffered a shot through the breast, the eye and leg. Now half-blind, covered in blood and with only one leg, she managed to make it to the headquarters 25 miles away, at a rate of a mile a minute. Her infantry division now saved thanks to her efforts, medics worked to save her life. They were able to get her back into traveling condition, and Cher Ami was sent home from the front lines, transported with soldiers back to New Jersey. She died the next year from her wounds, but received several medals and is now displayed at the Smithsonian.
3. Sergeant Reckless
Sergeant Reckless originally belonged to a Korean racetrack stableboy in Seoul; he sold the horse to the U.S. Marines for $250 so he could buy a prosthetic leg for his sister. Reckless soon became a favorite member of her unit, and would sleep in the tents, drink beer and Coke and eat about anything she could get her hooves on, including poker chips. She served for nine months, with her most significant moment occurring during the Battle for Outpost Vegas. She made 51 solo supply trips to the front lines, to make sure that the soldiers had ammunition, and that the wounded were able to make it out. During this time, she was wounded twice, but still managed to keep going. She was the first horse in the Marines to make an amphibious landing and was awarded military honors including two Purple Hearts. She lived 20 years, gave birth to four foals and has her own statue at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
While Wojtek did not sustain any injuries or run into battle, he was delightfully adorable and a tad unusual, earning him a spot on this list. A Syrian brown bear found by Polish land forces in Iran, Wojtek was a cub whose mother had been shot by hunters. One of the refugees accompanying the Polish soldiers took a liking to him, and so Wojtek was bought from a young boy and lived with the refugees before following the soldiers on to their next destination. He was raised within the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, where he was fed condensed milk from a vodka bottle, fruit, beer and cigarettes. The soldiers also taught him how to salute and carry materials. He was listed as a private with his own paybook, rank and serial number, and lived with the other men. During battles, he carried ammunition, never dropping a single crate. After World War II, Wojtek moved to Scotland and the Edinburgh Zoo, where he was often visited by fellow soldiers.
Smoky served in World War II after she was found in an abandoned foxhole in New Guinea. Originally thought to be abandoned by the Japanese, soldiers took her with them to a nearby prisoners of war camp, where they found out she understood neither English or Japanese commands. After trading hands a few times, Smoky ended up in the care of Corporal William A. Wynne, who took her on combat flights throughout the Pacific. Resilient, she lived for months on c-rations and the occasional can of Spam, surviving 150 air raids, 12 combat missions and a typhoon. She even parachuted, using a parachute specially created for her tiny size. Wynne credited her with saving his life, saying she warned him of incoming shells, leading him to safety as men died around him. After the war, the two traveled around the country, as her fame grew, before she passed away unexpectedly at 14. She is buried in a WWII ammo box outside Cleveland.