Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review: Sergeant Stubby (dog, WWI)

EverythingDogBlog #172: Canine Hero of WWI

Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation, by Ann Bausum (National Geographic, 2014, $24, 239 pages)

A Dog Truly Worthy of a Book

I kept coming back to Sergeant Stubby in the bookstore: finally, I picked the book up and purchased it to read over the weekend of the 70th anniversary of D-Day -while dogsitting, even. I found it to be “The story of a man and his dog, a dog and his man, inseparably bonded for life and ever after.” Yes, dogs and soldiers do go together.

The foreward is riveting, by David Sharpe, founder and chair of Companions for Heroes, an organization I will be writing about soon.

Decorated by Pershing

A dog “. . . smuggled to France. Off to the front. Survived four offensive campaigns. Wounded. Gassed. Captured a German, single-muzzledly. Decorated and feted. . . What a war. What an act. What a show. What a dog!” What a hero!

Good things come in three’s: each of the three sections of Sergeant Stubby begins with two pages setting the stage – what life was like in the US at the time. And the time, of course, was World War I.
The sections, Two Recruits, War and Peace, and Homecoming, are irregularly interesting. We no longer have homecomings like the one depicted in the book, war and peace is no longer the same, and two such recruits could never have gotten away with what these two recruits, Robert Conroy and Stubby, got away with.

Nevertheless, author Ann Bausum undertook a worthy project in researching and speculating on a story set nearly one hundred years ago. War and Peace, the middle section, tells much about the war: even for this combat veteran, perhaps too much - not exciting enough, not personal enough.

We have to hand it to Bausum, however, in that she does not fabricate anything. Instead, she tells what history has recorded and writes that probably Private Conroy and Stubby would have done X if confronted with Y during the Battle of Z. And the reader definitely lives though the constant rain and the cold chow that soldiers everywhere endure. So, a shorter book might have been better: surely, fewer words about the war itself and also about the apr├Ęs-war publicity. The final section seems to be merely a list of events in prose rather than a development of character or plot (reminiscent of Dogs of War [see below]).

The Myth Expands

Although the first third of the book, about the two recruits (confirmed chums Conroy and Stubby) are heartwarming and a bit suspenseful (will Stubby be successfully stowed aboard the troop ship bound for Europe?), the final part really takes the cake: Conroy sets out a public relations tour and even makes a scrapbook of Stubby happenings (uncommon in the Twenties).

The Friendship of a Dog Who Could Even Salute!
 
Stubby, though not a military working dog, befriended everyone and seemed to know who needed comfort when in a time of war, far from home. He quickly became the mascot of his unit and, indeed, in the words of some, mascot to the entire AEF (Allied Expeditionary Forces).

A friend of (three) presidents and babies alike, at war’s end, Stubby’s reputation only expanded exponentially as he was lauded in newspapers, attended veterans reunions, marched in parades (and even executed an “Eyes Right”!), joined the American Legion, and became a half-time sensation at football games.

A Dog Worthy of a Movie

Now, I await the movie version to show us a history of the bond between soldier and soldier, between man and dog, the story of a type of dog no longer in favor (a pit-type, actually a brindle and white bull terrier mix, most likely). And, of course, a children’s version of Sergeant Stubby (already published, as a matter of fact).

What a wonderful tribute to a maligned breed mix that would be!

“. . . There are Times When a Dog is More Than a Dog. . . . “

Today, a stuffed Stubby resides in the Smithsonian, along with “his” medals and Army paraphernalia. Put Stubby on your next itinerary to Washington, DC!

Read more about military dogs here: Trident K9 Warriors, Soldier Dogs, Sergeant Rex (reviews to come), Dogs of War. Also, for ages 10 and up, and also by National Geographic, Bausum’s Stubby the War Dog, packed with period photographs, family memorabilia and vintage artwork tells the true story of WWI’s bravest dog.

Local note: Although Stubby was a Connecticut dog who met Conroy at Yale, after his war service, he became the mascot of Catholic University when Conroy attended law school there, in Washington, DC. (Conroy also attended four other law schools and joined the precursor of the FBI as a special agent.)

Caveat: This article first appeared in ColumbiaPatch.com and the other Maryland Patches on 9 June 2014.

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