His eyes seemed to light up as he watched the group of young soldiers march in unison on that Yale field in New Haven, Connecticut. It was another one of those long days where he’d abandoned his search for food to arrive at the sidelines and witness the orderly procession. He sat there alone, lost in fascination at the sight.

In the previous times he had been here, a few pats and passing smiles had come his way, but mostly his mingling about went unnoticed. Except this day, something happened. As the call to “Fall Out” was shouted, one of the soldiers approached him, smiled and reached down a hand to pet the mutt, a lonely, stray pit bull mix who responded with friendly licks and feisty wagging of his stubby tail. And, in a few minutes, that became the name his friend Corporal Robert Conroy bestowed upon him.

After letting him sleep in the barracks a few times, Stubby became a hit in Conroy’s 102nd Infantry Regiment, 26th (Yankee) Division. The dog’s playful yet obedient manner found him easing the nerves of men preparing to depart for the trenches of France to take part in a distant conflict that everyone in those days called the “Great War.”

Yet, Conroy knew the rules forbade him from taking Stubby along, however, he was so fond of his little friend he couldn’t bear to give him up. After all, as an infantryman, what were his chances of returning alive? Even if he did, would he ever be able to find his dog again? No. In spite of warnings not to do so, he decided Stubby was coming with him, no matter what.

Sergeant Stubby Leads the Parade

With the tears of family and girlfriends waving goodbye, the 26th departed Newport News, Virginia on the SS Minnesota in October 1917. Safely aboard and out of sight was Stubby, Conroy and his mates seeing to it he remained hidden from officers wandering the ship day and night. They took care of his needs and appeared to be pulling off the charade until a fateful moment occurred. Conroy’s commanding officer discovered the secret.

Displeased and ready to right up infractions, he heard Conroy say “Present Arms!” He watched as Stubby brought a paw to his brow and saluted him. His heart melted. Conroy pleaded his case a little more and the officer finally agreed. They could keep Stubby. In fact, he could be their mascot. He would serve as a brief distraction to temper worries about their destination.

Once in France and marched to the frontline, Stubby settled in nicely, following Conroy about the trenches, and showing little fear for the constant shelling that made the quiet ever more alien. His presence was warming, bringing smiles across otherwise weary faces greeting the dog whenever he patrolled the trenches alone. Here they saw a symbol of kindness in a lethal world that reassured those who stroked his soft head that there still existed a calm peace beyond this Hell. They had no way of knowing that Stubby wanted to be more than just a friend to them. He wanted to be a soldier, like his master. (And boy, as the months unfolded, did he ever become one.)