Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Honor of Rags, the War Hero

From A Better Pet Sitter

As we honor those humans today, who have honorably served our country and thank them for their contributions, I'd also like to remember our 4 legged friends who served along side them.  In particular, today, I am remembering Rags.

Excerpts taken from, Rags:  Dog Hero of World War I
On July 14th of 1918 a picked battalion of the American 1st Infantry Division took part in the Bastile Day ceremonies in Paris. One of the participants was Private James Donovan, a Signal Corps specialist, who had somewhat over-stayed his time in Paris. That evening he found himself lost in a cul-de-sac in the dark streets of Montmarte. In the darkness he suddenly stumbled over what at first appeared to be a pile of rags. When the pile of rags emitted a whimper and then a bark Donovan realized it was a small dog. As Donovan bent to examine his newly found, shaggy haired friend three rather unfriendly American military policemen arrived upon the scene. They immediately ascertained that Donovan did not have a pass and was officially A.W.O.L.. The quick thinking U. S. Army private used the existence of his new friend to create an excuse for his missing pass. He convinced the M.P.'s that the little terrier dog was the missing mascot of the 1st Division and that Donovan was part of a search party. He also very ingeniously came up with a name for the dog, Rags. The ruse worked and Rags and his new owner were escorted back to Donovan's unit. In this way a French dog of the streets of Paris became the mascot of one of America's most honored fighting divisions. In the next few months Rags would more than earn his right to be the division mascot.
[...]  It did not take long before both Donovan and Rags underwent their introduction to the trench warfare of the Western Front.  [...Donovan] was responsible for stringing and repairing the wire as it was damaged by shellfire. At first he tried to leave Rags in the rear area with headquarters troops but Rags would inevitably sneak off and join Donovan. [...] Donovan began training Rags to carry written notes from Donovan back to the 7th Field Artillery. Rags, usually contempuous of learning tricks that the doughboys tried to teach him, seemed to grasp the importance of the job. He soon learned to take the messages towards the sound of the American guns and had little trouble finding Donovan with return messages.
 In late July of 1918, during a counterattack driving towards the Paris-Soisssons road, Rags was to deliver the first of the messages that was to make him famous throughout the 1st Division. [...]   It was during this campaign that Rags came under fire for the first time. At first he simply learned to imitate the men around him who would drop to the ground and hug it tightly upon hearing the sound of an incoming shell. Then the soldiers observed Rags hugging the ground with his paws spread out in front of him before anyone had heard the sound of an incoming round[...]with his acute and sensitive dog's hearing Rags could hear the incoming shells before they could. The doughboys quickly learned to keep their eyes on Rags and he became a World War I early warning system and ingratiated himself even more to the appreciative soldiers.
[...]During the rest period Rags began a ritual that he was to carry out for the rest of his life. He would tour the various mess halls and eliminate from his tours those whose fare did not appeal to him or whose personnel did not meet his standards of hospitality. [...] Rags was used  several times to take messages through the mist shrouded, rugged terrain of the Argonne Forest [...]   Rags had helped a 1st Division unit to succeed and surely saved the lives of a number of American doughboys. 
[...] on October 9, 1918 [...] the 26th had captured Hill 263 and were preparing to repel a German counterattack. Artillery support was needed to keep the Germans from mounting an attack. As the fog and terrain made it almost impossible to find any breaks in the communication wire it was decided to send Rags back with a message. [...] Rags was without his gas mask and was mildly gassed as he scurried towards the rear. [...] A round exploded not far from Rags and his forepaw was cut by a shell splinter, his right ear was mangled and a needle-like sliver was embedded under his right eye. Rags continued his journey but was then dazed by the concussion of a second round. An American infantryman found him and delivered both Rags and the message to the 7th Artillery. Donovan, who was still with the forward elements of the 26th, was more severely gassed and was futher wounded by shell fire as he was carried to the rear. Members of the 7th Field Artillery placed Rags on Donovan's stetcher and bearers carried the two towards a dressing station behind the lines.
As Donovan and Rags made their way through the various stages of medical evacuation Rags reputation and demeanor gained him exceptional attention. Whenever anyone  took exception to giving such treatment to a mere dog the words "orders from headquarters"  were quickly invoked. [...] Rags had had the shell splinters removed but would be blind in his right eye and deaf in his right ear for the rest of his life. His paw soon healed and Rags' condition continually improved. Donovan, on the other hand, grew rather worse than better.  
[...] After a two-day train trip the dog and his master arrived at Brest. A friendly American colonel, with a leg injury, smuggled Rags aboard the hospital ship. Men of the 1st Division kept Rags fed and hidden and the pair soon arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey. From there Rags was again smuggled aboard a train that took the gas cases to Fort Sheridan in Chicago. Much intrigue on the part of the men of the 1st had managed to keep the two wartime buddies united. At Fort Sheridan Rags would post himself outside the hospital door each morning and wait until some understanding soldier would take him in for a visit with Donovan. Donovan's lungs showed no improvement and he remained bed ridden. Rags settled in at the post fire house and slept each night beneath a hose cart. During the day he would visit with Donovan and then wander the post, stopping at mess halls and the kitchens of the officer's post housing.
[...] Donovan's lungs finally gave out and he died. Rags continued to show up at the hospital door until a hospital staff member suggested a remedy. For several days Rags was taken to Donovan's empty bed and set down on it. Apparently Rags realized that his adopted master was gone and stopped coming to the hospital door. In the year following Donovan's death units and individuals would come and go but Rags remained as the Fort Sheridan post dog. He continued his daily tour of the post visiting homes and mess halls and spending his nights in the fire hall. It became accepted that Rags had no individual owner but belonged to everyone on the post.
Eventually, Rags was drawn to the children of a General and became part of the family.  They moved to Georgia, but Rags continued to be a part of Infantry rituals and stayed involved with the members of the military.  Rags died at the age of 20 and was buried at the Aspen Hill Memorial Park and Animal Sanctuary in Silver Spring, Maryland.  His tombstone is below:

From A Better Pet Sitter

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