This Day in History: Chips, the war dog
On this day in 1943, a dog becomes a World War II hero. Chips was a German shepherd-collie-husky mix who’d traveled with the U.S. Army from New York to Europe.
His family knew they had a special dog on their hands. When the Army put out a call for good dogs who could serve on sentry or patrol duty, the Wren family donated Chips.
“It killed my mother to part with him,” John Wren later said. He was a mere toddler when Chips left for war. “But Chips was strong and smart, and we knew he’d be good.”
In the end, Chips was gone for more than 3 years. During that time, he traveled the world, serving in North Africa, Italy, and France, among other places. He even met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
That’s because he was serving as a guard dog during the Casablanca Conference in January 1943.
Yet Chips is most remembered for his actions on July 10, 1943, as Allied forces began their invasion of Sicily. Chips was with his handler, Pvt. John Rowell, when their squad became pinned down by fire from an Italian machine-gun nest. The determined dog broke free from Rowell and charged.
Our soldiers watched Chips disappear, then they heard a shot ring out. “There was an awful lot of noise,” Rowell later said, “and the firing stopped. Then, I saw one Italian soldier come out the door with Chips at his throat. I called him off before he could kill the man.” Soon three other Italian soldiers emerged with their hands in the air.
Chips had single-handedly forced their surrender.
The encounter left the brave dog with a wound to the scalp and burns around his mouth and eye. Chips didn’t seem to notice. Later that day, he sniffed out 10 enemy soldiers, forcing their capture.
Chips was awarded a Silver Star for his heroism that day. He was also recommended for a Distinguished Service Cross and a Purple Heart, but neither of those would come to be. Some people were objecting to an animal getting such awards. In the end, the Army even reversed the award of the Silver Star.
Nevertheless, Chips received another honor before he returned home. He’d already met Churchill and Roosevelt. Now he met General Dwight Eisenhower, too. The future President reportedly bent down to pet the heroic dog, forgetting that a sentry dog would be trained to bite anyone but his handler.
Let’s just say that Chips didn’t make an exception for the General.
Finally, Chips came home. “I mostly remember when I saw him in the cage,” John Wren later remembered, “and realized that was my dog coming home. I was quite excited, as was everybody.”
Chips had one last act of heroism in him. He hadn’t been home for more than a few months when he’d saved little John’s life.
“My mother told me the story about how we were all at Quogue Beach one day,” Wren recalled, “and I wandered out to the water. Suddenly the undertow took me under, and Chips was the only one who saw it happen. He ran into the water and pulled me out by my swim trunks. He was quite an animal.”
Sadly, Chips didn’t get to enjoy too much of his retirement. Seven months after he came home, he passed away of kidney failure. His family would later receive one last honor on his behalf, though. Just a few years ago, Chips was awarded the Dickin Medal, which is the highest honor for an animal’s wartime bravery.
John Wren flew to London, England, to receive the award on Chips’s behalf.
“[I]t really made me feel great to see him finally receive some recognition as a special creature,” Wren concluded, “which, in our view, he was.”
Ace Collins, Man's Best Hero: True Stories of Great American Dogs (2014)
Chips, a U.S. Army Hero Dog That Served in World War II, Gets Posthumous Medal (Inside Edition; Jan. 25, 2018)
John M. Kistler, Animals in the Military: From Hannibal's Elephants to the Dolphins of the U.S. Navy (2011)
Maria Goodavage, Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America's Canine Heroes (2012)
Marylou Tousignant, Heroic dog is honored 75 years after saving the lives of U.S. soldiers (Wash. Post; Jan. 25, 2018)
Robin Hutton, War Animals: The Unsung Heroes of World War II (2018)