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Rags - World War I Hero Dog

Grant Menzies [Facebook]

A hearty little dog, Rags won the hearts of soldiers with whom he served, many times helping to save their lives.  In October, 1918, he and his rescuer, Private Donavan, were both wounded in battle and evacuated to a military hospital in Illinois.  Donovan died in 1919 from his wounds but Rags, who had lost his right eye in the attack, recovered.  In 1920 a military family at Fort Sheridan adopted him, and took them with him wherever they were stationed.


Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the brave warriors who died while serving in the United States military. It actually began after the Civil War as Decoration Day. It wasn’t until 1971 that it became an official federal holiday.

Today, alongside our troops, you will often see America’s military dogs, accompanying sentries on their duties, or patrolling with troops, alerting them to the presence of enemy forces or explosive devices that could maim or kill.

One of the first well-known military dogs was Rags, a Scotch-Irish terrier, who would “salute” with his right front paw. In 1918, Private James Donovan found himself on leave in Paris when he came upon the small hungry homeless dog asleep in an alley. The soldier took him back to his division where the terrier, now named Rags, became a companion and mascot for the First Infantry Division. He turned out to be a real life-saver, warning the soldiers of incoming shells, delivering vital messages, even leading stretcher-bearers to the wounded.

Unfortunately, back in the United States after the war, his rescuer, Private Donovan, died as a result of war injuries, so Rags was adopted by another military family. He became a popular celebrity, and had newspaper and magazine articles written about him. Many Army generals and even politicians had their pictures taken with him. He even became the subject of a book, “Rags, the Dog Who Went to War”, published in 1930. When he passed away in 1936 at the age of 20, Rags was buried with military honors. A monument of Rags can still be found at the Aspin Hill Memorial Park in Aspen Hill, Maryland.

So on this Memorial Day, as you remember the brave men and women who fought and died defending our country, consider the contribution made by the canine heroes who willingly gave their lives to protect our soldiers; they serve as a model of loyalty and courage, when you’re speaking of pets.


Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.
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