This past Veterans Day, a special memorial was unveiled in our nation’s capital: for the first time, a memorial including a Military Working Dog is now part of the Washington, D.C., landscape. A United States Navy Memorial statue depicts the soldier and its handler, “Navy sailor John Douangdara and his Belgian Malinois, Bart” who were lost in Afghanistan with other members of the Navy SEALS, when the helicopter they were traveling on was destroyed by enemy fire. A well-earned tribute to those who sacrificed their lives in service to our country, the “war dogs,” I feel, are just as deserving of honor as any soldier that has been lost to enemy action.
Looking online, it’s not hard to find that there are many such tributes around our country. American society has a soft spot for our K-9 friends, no matter if they are just guarding our homes, giving us love as a valued companion, or serving with the military in far-off lands. Looking at all the statues, I started to do a bit of soul-searching and one thing stood out to me that I feel needs to be corrected. The majority of all these statues depict breeds like the German Shepherd, or dogs of similar stature, that shows the strength of a powerful dog that we would associate with an American soldier in combat. However, as the saying goes, sometimes good things come in small packages! Throughout our history, there have been many small dog breeds that have performed heroic deeds and have earned the right to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their larger counterparts. Case in point: a story that goes to show that in the heat of combat, a little four-legged soldier can be a two-legged soldier’s best friend and a lifesaver when the chips are down.
Yorkie Doodle Dandy: World War II Dog Hero
This adorable dog, given the nickname Yorkie Doodle Dandy, became famous in history as a World War II dog hero for her brave acts and charming qualities. She weighed only four pounds. Looking up some information on War Dogs that did not fit the physical description of the powerful breeds we have become accustomed to in the media and history, I found a bit of a story about a long-forgotten Terrier that was just as valuable to its bunk mates as any dog that ever served in a combat zone.
The little Yorkshire terrier was found in an abandoned foxhole, dirty and hungry, in the New Guinea jungle. Ed Downey, who did not have a liking for dogs, discovered her and passed her on to a sergeant named Dare. Dare, who needed money for a poker game, sold the dog to Cpl. William Wynne in March 1944 for two Australian pounds ($6.44 American), a lot of money during that time. Wynne, a 22-year-old Ohio native, named her Smoky, and the two spent the next 18 months together in combat. Unlike official war dogs, Smoky did not receive a balanced diet formulated for dogs or veterinary services. She shared Wynne’s C-rations and an occasional can of Spam, and amazingly she was never ill despite the harsh conditions. Both Wynne and Smoky survived 12 combat missions, 150 air raids and a typhoon.
Smoky was awarded eight battle stars. One notable feat she performed helped save the lives of some 250 men and 40 planes, thanks to her small size. In January 1945, a communications cable was urgently needed to run through a 70-foot pipe under the runway at an airbase in Luzon. The pipe was only eight inches in diameter and was half-filled with dirt and mold. Not having the proper equipment, the men pinned their hopes on Smoky to solve the problem. They tied kite string to her collar, which was used to thread the wires through the pipe. Wynne coaxed her forward by calling her to come to the other side. Smoky was hesitant at first, but made it through and the communication network was established. If it wasn’t for the brave dog, dozens of men would have had to dig a trench to get the wire underground, putting their lives at risk from constant enemy attacks. What took Smoky only minutes to accomplish would have taken the men three days to complete.
Heroic acts of war dogs are often portrayed as attacking an assailant, discovering hidden dangers or performing intel operations, but little Smoky did the best she could with her little four-pound body.
Corporal Wynne, who had been around dogs all his life, credited Smoky with saving his life. While on a tank landing ship near the Philippines, under attack from enemy planes, Smoky guided Wynne to duck the fire that hit eight men next to him. He called her an “angel from a foxhole.”
Many times, as we all know, it’s the connection to a beloved family dog that can help us overcome life’s challenges both physically and mentally. For many soldiers suffering from wounds of the flesh and the mind, Smoky was just what the doctor ordered. Naturally affectionate and smart, she became the first therapy dog on record.
Not only was Smoky a hero, saving lives from the enemy, she helped make life a little easier for those going through a difficult time. Wynne had noticed what a strong and uplifting effect she had on the troops with her presence and personality and antics, like chasing after butterflies almost bigger than her. Shortly after Wynne got Smoky, he was hospitalized for dengue fever. Friends would bring Smoky to see him, and the nurses, charmed by her and her story, asked if Smoky could visit other patients. During his five day stay at the hospital, Smoky would sleep with Wynne at night and make rounds during the day, cheering up other patients. Wynne began teaching her tricks like walking a tightrope, riding a handmade scooter and spelling her own name by picking up letters as Wynne called them out to her. In the down time, Smoky performed her tricks to entertain troops with Special Services and in hospitals from Australia to Korea.
Over time these stories can get lost to history, but every once and a while a light again shines on them, and we are reminded of the great importance that all the War Dogs, big or small, need to be recognized for their contributions and deservedly so. The reality is that little trooper has six statues that honor her service and as recently as 2017, a book was written about her patriotic service to our country and our freedoms. Reading the story about the well-deserved commemoration of John Douangdara and Bart that took place this past Veterans Day, it also pulled a bit at my heartstrings. I just wanted to give this four-pound hero a little bit of love from a guy that has a special place in his heart for the “little” dogs that give us so much love.
At the end of the war, Wynne and Yorkie Doodle Dandy continued to visit hospitals to help recuperating soldiers back home. Smoky retired in 1955 and passed away two years later in her sleep at the age of 14. This famous and incredible little war dog has earned her place in the history books of the American military and from this old veteran; I respectfully salute this champion of the American spirit.
Until next time, Bob out!