Historical Tidbit – Loyalty in Fur and Feather

DoughboyDepending on your age and experience, age and experience, the doughboy of World War I or the jungle fatigues of Vietnam have been replaced by the desert camouflage of the Middle East. In this post for Armed Forced Week, although it is still in keeping with the military values of honor, duty and loyalty, and has a historical perspective, the focus is not on two-legged soldiers but ones with fur or feathers.

Perhaps the most well-known dog from the era is RIN TIN TIN® (September 1918 – August 10, 1932), a male German Shepherd Dog rescued from a World War I battlefield by an American soldier, Lee Duncan. Duncan trained Rin Tin Tin and obtained silent film work for the dog. Rin Tin Tin went on to appear in 26 films. It is interesting to note that in 1929, Rin Tin Tim received the most votes for the first Academy Award for Best Actor, but the Academy determined that a human should win. He does have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The legacy of Rin Tin Tin might have begun in WWI, but continues today as the television program, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, has once again returned to the airways.

While Rin Tin Tin may have been born behind enemy lines during World War I, Stubby, the stump-tailed terrier, worked behind enemy lines, and gained military honors along the way. Private Robert Conroy casually adopted the orphan pup while attending basic training on the campus of Yale University in 1917. When Conroy’s unit shipped out for France, he smuggled his new friend aboard. According to Ann Bausum in Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog, by the time Stubby encountered Conroy’s commanding officer, the dog had perfected his right-paw salute.

The tradition of military dogs did not end with WWI. War Dogs: A History of Loyalty and Heroism by Michael G. Lemish looks at unsung canine heroes from World War I to the present. Terriers, shepherds, beagles, collies, huskies, and Dobermans are only a few of the breeds that have pulled sleds, searched caves and bunkers, and even parachuted into combat. Lemish has collected true stories and rare photographs that reflect the strong bonds that have formed between war dogs and their masters as they worked together in dangerous situations.

While dogs may be the most well-known military animal, they are not the only animals who have worked with or accompanied soldiers into battle. In Soldiers in Fur and Feathers The Animals that Served in World War I – Allied Forces, Susan Bulanda, reveals fascinating true stories of the heroic animals that assisted the Allied Forces during World War I-stories that have, for the most part, been forgotten. As we approach the 100th anniversary of WWI, this book will help preserve the role of the animals that served. Who were they, why were they used, how were they selected, how did they serve, and what became of them? Soldiers in Fur and Feathers answers those questions.

From the last mounted cavalry charge of the U.S. Army to the 36,000 homing pigeons deployed overseas, service animals made a significant impact on military operations during World War II. Through 157 photographs from the National World War II Museum collection, Loyal Forces: The American Animals of World War II by Toni M. Kiser and Lindsey F. Barnes, captures the heroism, hard work, and innate skills of innumerable animals that aided the troops as they fought to protect, transport, communicate, and sustain morale.
During this period of time to honor those in military service, remember “Freedom isn’t Free.” Thank a veteran or a man or woman in active service. There are many ways to do so and organizations worthy of support. However, even a simple nod and smile to someone wearing a cap signifying service can communicate your appreciation.

Working military dogs can also be supported. One way is through the K9 Sgt. Denny Project. Their efforts have expanded from sending material to deployed working dogs and their handlers, to supporting injured warriors suffering from PTS and TBI injuries by pairing the warriors up with a service dog that enables the soldier to return to society and become productive and most of all to move their lives forward.  Information on how to contribute to can be found at http://runwithdennis.org/k9-sgt-denny-project/.
Whether you write historical fiction or contemporary, don’t forget the four-footed or feathered companions. And service animals are not restricted to those on land or even the Earth as evidenced by the dolphins that inhabited the world of Pern created by Anne Mccaffrey. In my own fantasy novels, battle-trained stallions take to the field with their chosen riders.

To all who have served or are serving, thank you for your service.

Till Next Time ~Helen

RIN TIN TIN® is a registered trademark of Belleair Trading International LLC


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