Soft afternoon sunlight slanted through tall windows and lit the wood paneling of the schoolroom. The light caught the occasional silver glint of the insulation just barely visible where the slats didn’t over lap. A woodstove crackled reassuringly next to a short line of humming Commodore computers. The older students were diligently typing in the code that would access the rarely enjoyed games. Across the room from them a small round girl with a home done haircut skips lightly up to the reference card rack in the library.
The girl adjusts her reading glasses and stands on her toes to peer at the typed labels on the wooden drawers. “A” “B”, there are lots of “B’s”, lots of “C’s” too. She lingers over the “C’s” thoughtfully but shakes her head decisively. Her binging habits are well defined at the moment. Cats can wait till later. “D” she smiles with pride as she finds the right drawer. She hooks a plump finger under the brass handled and a small electric thrill runs through her at the touch of the bronze. She flicks through the cards carefully. There “dog” she notes the proper decimals for three or four books and carefully closes the long card drawer. Her eyes trace the shelves eagerly, following the numbers.
“More than Courage”, “Lassie”, “Bob, Son of Battle”; books featuring dogs were plentiful and even in the small library of a one room schoolhouse it took some weeks to read them all during free time. Many of them were histories of the service that dogs offer in war. And through all of these histories (and in many of the fictions) ran a thread common to such things. The First. The Beginning. For everything must have a beginning. Dogs have marched beside man into war since before recorded history but today’s war dogs were specially bred, highly trained. Where did that start?
Like so many elements of modern life it started with the first Great War. It started unintentionally. It started with teenage boys breaking the rules. No one knows how many dogs patrolled the trenches of WWI, killing rats and raising moral. No one counted at the time. But one of these scrappy little mutts was remembered, was honored for doing far more than ridding the trenches of pestilence and offering an ear to be scratched. And the soldiers who remembered asked themselves. If an untrained dog can do this, what can a trained dog do? And this thread ran through the many books I read as a child. A single sentence here, a chapter there, this one constant to the beginning of the legions of German Sheppards and Labradors who serve in militaries, police forces, and search and rescue units around the world today.
Sgt. Stubby. A little mutt, smuggled onto a ship by American boys desperate for affection in a world gone mad. A little mutt who planted an idea in the heads of the soldiers who huddled in the trenches bordering noman’s land.
This year Sgt. Stubby gets his own feature film. As a historian on the matter I offer no spoilers but I will warn viewers; the price of admittance is your heart and all the feels you have in it. I have bought my box of tissues, make sure you have yours.