A 1928 flagpole in the center of the New Haven Green’s eastern section honors residents lost in the First World War. The dedication on the east face of the monument’s eight-sided base reads, “In grateful memory of her heroic sons who fell in the service of their country, 1917-1918, the city of New Haven erects this staff, 1928.” The other seven sides of the flagpole’s base bear bronze plaques that list the names of residents who were killed in the war. A fountain that was added to the site in 2003 surrounds the flagpole.
Sometimes, visitors in the park at dusk claim they hear taps and see just a ghostly hand or two raised in salute near the flagpole. A few lucky people spot a pit bull terrier at the flagpole. The dog is silent and respectful. In life, he was Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog of World War I. In death, he is still on patrol, in search of his buddies from the 102nd Regiment, 26th Infantry Division, the Rainbow Division.
Sergeant Stubby was a homeless stray adopted by the regiment that was training on the Yale University Campus for service in World War I. They named him “Sergeant Stubby” on account of his stubby tail. Sergeant Stubby learned how to march like the men and follow the orders of the bugle. He even raised his paw to salute his superior officers.
Although it was against regulations, Sergeant Stubby was smuggled aboard a ship to Europe by his master, Private John Robert Conroy. When he was discovered, he had such a winning personality that he became the official mascot of the American Expeditionary Force. Sergeant Stubby wounded a few times while taking part in seventeen battles in the course of four campaigns. His presence improved morale; his barking during combat saved countless lives. He could sniff out mustard gas before it became lethal, thus giving the men enough time to don the gas masks that would save their lives. With his keen sense of hearing, Stubby could detect incoming artillery shells and the distant whine of German infantry attacks. His barks would alert the soldiers the direction of the danger coming their way. Stubby could also identify the German language. He earned his rank as Sergeant after uncovering a German spy hiding in the bushes.
In 1921, General “Black Jack” Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, personally pinned a one-of-a-kind “Dog Hero Gold Medal” on Stubby’s military jacket. The American Legion made him an official member of their veterans’ organization. Three presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge insisted upon meeting him. When his master Robert Conroy ended up attending Georgetown University law school after the war, Sergeant Stubby accompanied him. The dog immediately became the official mascot of the football team.
Sergeant Stubby died of old age 1926. The New York Times honored his passing with a half-page obituary. A taxidermist preserved the good Sergeant, whose body is now on display at the Smithsonian. His spirit, however, roams free. Stubby rejoices and rolls in the New Haven green, remembering where he first met his master, Private John Robert Conroy, and the rest of his battle pack.