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This Day in History: Coast Guard Chief Dog Sinbad

On this day in 1951, the only dog to earn a United States Coast Guard NCO rank passes away. Sinbad has been described as a “rough tough and rowdy” dog who was a combination of “liberty-rum-chow hound with a bit of bulldog, Doberman pinscher and whatnot–mostly whatnot.”

Sinbad’s life at sea began by accident. Chief Boatswain’s Mate A. A. “Blackie” Roth meant to give the dog to his girlfriend because his shore leave was coming to an end. The landlord wouldn’t let her have a pet, though, so Blackie smuggled the brown and black mutt aboard USCGC Campbell.

His fellow sailors wanted to give the dog a “salty” name. They settled on Sinbad.

Sinbad with his crew mates.

The Captain discovered Sinbad, of course. But the dog had worked his way into everyone’s hearts, and Sinbad was soon treated just like any other sailor. He had enlistment papers that he signed with his paw print. He had his own bunk (a hammock), and he had his own battle station.

He was even subject to court martial, which was proven when he went AWOL in New York. More famously, he nearly sparked an international incident in Greenland.

Campbell had been dispatched to the area to conduct surveys, but Sinbad apparently got bored. He began chasing local sheep—not just once or twice, but every day! The sheep were losing weight and dying of sheer exhaustion. Locals wanted the dog put down, but Campbell’s captain declined. The dog was a Coast Guardsman, he said, and must be treated accordingly. A court martial was held and Sinbad was found guilty.

His penance? He was banned from Greenland and demoted in rank. First Class Dog Sinbad was demoted to Seaman Pup.

“Sinbad was a salty sailor, but he’s not a good sailor,” an old Coast Guard magazine noted. “He’ll never rate gold hash marks nor good conduct medals. He’s been on report several times, and he’s raised hell in a number of ports. On a few occasions, he has embarrassed the United States government by creating disturbances in foreign zones. Perhaps that’s why Coast Guardsmen love Sinbad; he’s as bad as the worst and as good as the best of us.”

Indeed, Sinbad was known in many ports for his love of beer and whiskey. Mostly, though, the dog was a morale booster and a good luck charm during World War II.

Sinbad was a constant support. When he saw a crew member looking glum, he’d run over and perform tricks until he had the sailor laughing. He ate with the crew, served at battle stations, and even stood at attention when the other men did.

The spirited dog is most remembered for his presence during a 1943 World War II battle. “During the climax of the fight,” his biographer reports, “when the U-boat was sighted, Sinbad was right on deck, barking furiously at the sub and the Nazis pouring out of the conning tower, his teeth bared, his whole body tense and quivering with anger. ‘Sinbad led the attack’ say the crew, and certainly the little mongrel, braving shellfire and heavy seas was a stirring sight for all who took part.”

Campbell had to be towed back to port afterwards because of its severe damage. All but the most essential crew were evacuated . . . but not Sinbad. The Captain felt that nothing bad would happen to Campbell while the ship’s dog remained aboard.

Sinbad was soon promoted to Chief Dog.

The spunky dog retired in 1948 and lived at the Barnegat Coast Guard Station in New Jersey for a few years before his passing. The ship upon which he served was decommissioned, but a new USCGC Campbell was launched in 1986.

Maybe you won’t be surprised to hear that the new Campbell has a statue of Sinbad aboard—for good luck. And the cutter flies a large “Sinbad lives” flag while it is underway.

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