Rags, the World War I War Dog

By Tara Ross

On or around this day in 1916, a mixed-breed terrier is born. The little dog would go on to become an American war hero—and the U.S. 1st Infantry Division’s mascot during World War I.

“Rags” might never have been found but for Private Jimmy Donovan. The young soldier had been asked to march in Paris’s 1918 Bastille Day parade. At the time, Rags was just a nameless and homeless little dog, roaming the streets of Paris.

Several stories are told about how Donovan and Rags found each other.

Perhaps Donovan was stumbling out of a Montemartre café after a post-parade celebration. He literally stumbled upon the dog, thinking it was a pile of rags. He was late for his curfew and used the dog as an excuse. No, of course he wasn’t going AWOL or breaking the rules! He was simply looking for the dog, the division’s mascot.

Another version of the story has Rags finding Donovan and following him back to base. Either way, dog and man found each other. And they developed a bond.

Early on, Donovan concluded that battlefields were not appropriate for a little homeless mutt. He tried to continue on without Rags, leaving him in a safer location, but Rags would have none of it. He followed Donovan and basically showed up on his doorstep.

“His choice seems to have been to be with Donovan wherever he was,” one of Rags’s biographers concludes, “regardless of the dangers or even of what Donovan would have preferred . . . .”

Rags went on to serve in multiple conflicts. Donovan taught him to run messages through gunfire—and he even taught Rags to salute! Rags figured out how to locate broken communication lines, and he learned to alert soldiers to incoming shells. He led medics to wounded soldiers.

A story is told that Rags once ended up in a surveillance balloon with reconnaissance soldiers. A German fighter plane arrived on the scene, forcing the soldiers to bail out. Reportedly, the German pilot saw that one of the parachuting men was clutching a barking dog. The German grinned, shook his head, and flew away without doing any further harm to the Americans.

Rags is best known for his final mission: He successfully delivered one last message, even as explosions tore up the earth around him. His gas mask was ripped off. He was wounded by shrapnel and blinded in one eye. Donovan was wounded, too. An order was given to treat the much-loved Rags just like a soldier, and man and dog were evacuated, together. Rags went everywhere that Donovan went—until it came time to board a ship headed home.

The commanding officer of that vessel did not want a dog on his ship! He ordered Rags left behind. Fortunately, another officer saw what was happening. He brought Rags aboard, hidden in his luggage.

Many members of the 1st Division worked together in those days, ensuring Rags’s safe (and secret) transport across the Atlantic. Against all odds, Rags and Donovan found themselves together again at a hospital in Illinois. Unfortunately, Donovan never recovered from his injuries. He passed away, leaving Rags behind.

Rags didn’t eat for a week. But the story doesn’t end there.

Major Raymond W. Hardenbergh and his family would adopt the war-wounded terrier. The story of Rags got out. He was given awards, and he marched in parades. A book was written about him. People left flags on his grave when he died.

“Throughout his life,” one of his biographers concludes, “Rags had proved of what durable stuff one little dog is made.”

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Editor’s Note:

The first photo above shows Rags with US Army Sergeant George E. Hickman at Fort Hamilton in the 1920s.

The adjoining photos show Rags’ grave in Aspen Hill Pet Cemetery, Silver Spring, MD, and is compliments of Steven Michael.  

The End of the Battle of Okinawa

Raising_the_flag_on_Okinawa

On this day in history, the American flag was finally raised over the island of Okinawa, June 22, 1945, following one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.

Here is historian Tara Ross’ account of the end of the Battle of Okinawa.

by Tara Ross

On this day in 1945, Americans raise a flag over the Japanese island of Okinawa. The nearly three-month battle to capture the island was finally over. The Battle of Okinawa would prove to be one of the bloodiest in the Pacific during World War II.

The war in the Pacific had been a grueling one. Americans employed a strategy of “island-hopping,” systematically taking Japanese islands, one at a time. Okinawa was the last and toughest of these. However, once it was captured, Allied forces would have a base of operations from which to attack mainland Japan.

The attack began on April 1 when more than 60,000 Marines and soldiers landed on one of Okinawa’s beaches. The American landing was barely contested, but American forces surely knew what that easy landing meant: The Japanese were hunkered down elsewhere, prepared to fight.

And that is exactly what happened for the better part of three months. The battle that followed was brutal, with hundreds of thousands of combatants facing off against each other. In the end, Americans lost 12,520 men (killed or missing), and more than 36,000 wounded. By contrast, about 110,000 Japanese died, and many civilians got caught in the crossfire. The Japanese culture rejected the idea of surrender. Thus, ritual suicide and kamikaze attacks were not at all uncommon during this period. Sometimes, the Japanese soldiers even killed their own citizens or encouraged civilians to commit suicide with the soldiers.

Indeed, as organized resistance finally came to an end on June 21, the Japanese commander, Mitsuru Ushijima, was already preparing for his own suicide. He wrote his last reports to his superiors, and he directly ordered one officer NOT to commit suicide! “If you die there will be no one left who knows the truth about the battle of Okinawa,” he told Major Yahara. “Bear the temporary shame but endure it. This is an order of your Army commander.”

Early on June 22, Ushijima committed ritual suicide, as did his second-in-command, General Isamu Cho.

Later that same morning, Americans raised the United States flag over Okinawa as a band played “The Star Spangled Banner.”

In the end, Americans never used Okinawa as a base from which to attack mainland Japan. The battle to capture the island had been so bloody and horrific that Harry S. Truman was pushed toward his decision to drop atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If the toll at Okinawa had been high, the price of invading mainland Japan would surely be even higher.

Those bombings, of course, prompted the Japanese emperor to announce his intent to surrender in August 1945. That surrender became official on September 2.

At that point, it had been nearly 4 years since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But the war was finally over.

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