Animals in War & Peace Medal of Bravery: Honoring our animal heroes


There is a new Congressional Medal of Bravery for those who perform acts of bravery in service to America. This one is for our animal heroes. The first medals were presented to one horse, five dogs, and two pigeons.

We have a woman in California to thank for recognizing these animals. The honor is patterned after one in the U.K.

The Animals in War & Peace Medal of Bravery is patterned after the PDSA Dickin Medal, created in the United Kingdom in 1943 to honor exceptional bravery or devotion to duty by animals in wars and other conflicts. The Dickin Medal has been awarded 71 times in 75 years, including to eight American animals.

After attending a Dickin ceremony in 2016, California resident Robin Hutton, who has written two books about animal heroes, says she thought “Why don’t we have this in America?”

Now, thanks to a charity she heads and some other groups, we do.

As it happens, four of the first eight animals to be honored also hold Dickin Medals. Two dogs were present at the ceremony last week who are the only two living recipients. Bucca and Bass attended the ceremony. Bucca, an 8-year-old rescue dog, was the first animal to honored. Bucca worked during hundreds of investigations, including 29 murders, in New York City.

Bass served during four deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia from 2014 to 2019 as an explosives detector.

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“He is by far the most intelligent, courageous and clearheaded dog I’ve ever worked with,” said his handler, Staff Sergeant Alex Schnell. “His personality is awesome. He’s playful at heart, but he can tell when it’s ‘game time.’ ”

In more than 400 searches, raids and other military operations, Bass never had a Marine die on his watch. Last month, he and Schnell left active duty. “He deserves to be retired,” Schnell said. “He’s worked really hard.”

Good boy, Bass.

The other animals have impressive stories, too. A small Mongolian mare named Reckless served during the Korean War. My father was a Korean War veteran and I think he would like her story, as did former U.S. senator John Warner. Warner was a Marine officer in the war.

Despite being wounded twice, Reckless made 51 round trips carrying a total of 9,000 pounds of ammunition (10 times her own weight) across open fields and up steep mountains. She covered 35 miles, often alone and under enemy fire, and even transported wounded men to safety.

After the battle, the Marine Corps promoted Reckless to the rank of staff sergeant, the first and last time that has been done for a horse. Reckless died in 1968. A veteran who served with her in Korea accepted her medal Thursday.

In awarding it, former U.S. senator John Warner, a Marine officer in that war, recalled the mud, snow and ice of Korean winters. “Let the record show Reckless was a lot more courageous than I,” Warner said. “I climbed some of those hills, but not 50 times in one day!”

Six of the medals were awarded posthumously. Three dogs – one each from World War ll, the Vietnam war, and the war in Afghanistan – received the medal. One characteristic of American patriotism during the days of World War ll is often described as a deep level of personal sacrifice that most families were willing to make. In this case, one family volunteered their pet dog for military service.

Three dogs who were given posthumous awards included Lucca, who lost a leg in Afghanistan while searching for roadside explosives, Stormy, a German Shepherd who helped coral enemy soldiers during Vietnam, and Chips, a pet huskie whose family volunteered his assistance during World War II.

The importance of carrier pigeons in military use wasn’t overlooked. Two carrier pigeons were recognized. Both birds are stuffed and mounted for display. According to the Washington Post, “Cher Ami is at the National Museum of American History and G.I. Joe will be at the National Museum of the United States Army when it opens in June at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.” Cher Ami was shot down by Germans in World War I. She resumed flight and delivered a lifesaving message despite one leg being barely attached. G.I. Joe served during World War ll.

Carrier pigeon G.I. Joe posthumously received the medal for carrying vital messages to Allied troops during World War II that saved more than 100 servicemen. The pigeon, who died 58 years ago and appeared at the ceremony inside a plexiglass display box, flew 20 miles in 20 minutes to deliver the message that stopped a bombing that would have cost lives through friendly fire. A caretaker for G.I. Joe emotionally patted the bird’s case as he recalled the pigeon’s bravery that day.

Reckless (Sergeant Reckless) is also honored with a life-size statue at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia. Our animal heroes have played an important part in the military as well as in service to our first responders. Sniffer dogs work in airports and other public places to alert law enforcement of drug trafficking or explosives. Police use horses for patrol.

Ms. Hutton hopes to make this an annual event. She hopes to open a war animal museum in the Washington, D.C. area. More than 300 military service members, veterans, lawmakers, animal lovers, and service animals attended this year’s ceremony.

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