By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
"Rags took a kind of bow and licked his chops
again." -The NY Times, November
Last week, in our inaugural post in the Wardog series, we visited a brave bomb-sniffing dog who patrols the roads in Afghanistan.
This week I thought we'd take a step back in time to one of the first, and most
On March 22, 1936 a lengthy obituary ran in the New York Times:
"Rags, Dog Veteran of War, Is Dead at 20; Terrier That Lost Eye in Service
is Honored." The article goes on for 16 paragraphs recounting the heroic
escapades and brushes with death this wardog faced during his stint of service:
The dog was adopted by the men of the First, played with them and fought
-- in the only way he could -- beside them. He underwent heavy fire in the
Meuse-Argonne campaign. He sped messages through shell-studded, gas-hung
sectors. He became a personality in the division, a symbol of courage and of
good luck. Apocryphal stories sprang up about him, but there was generally a
generous basis of fact for the yarns."
It was not the first time the little Scotch-Irish terrier called
Rags would get mentioned in the prominent paper, nor would it be his last -- subsequent articles about Rags's final resting place were published in
the days following his death.
The scrappy Rags was always loyal to the soldier who found him as a "gutter
puppy" in Paris, Private Jimmy Donovan, followed him any and everywhere,
including the front lines of WWI battle. War-dog legend has it that Donovan
trained Rags -- whose job was to run messages attached to his
collar back and forth when shellfire made communication wires impossible -- to discern American gunfire from that of the enemy. He led medics to wounded men in the field through fog and gunfire. It was also said that Rags learned to use his
superior canine ears to listen for the sound of incoming shell fire, flattening
himself to the ground in anticipation of a hit alerting his unit to danger.
More harrowing still is the tale of how Rags lost the sight
of his right eye. It was in the forest of Argonne, the devoted pair had
just successfully delivered a communique revealing the location of
German artillery when the enemy attacked:
Rags and Donovan were wounded and gassed together, during the peak of the
Meuse-Argonne drive. The dog was badly cut, and fumes destroyed the sight of
his left eye."
Rags's gasmask was displaced by the blast (I know -- he was wearing
a gas mask?). Like all great stories the details of this account vary, at least
among the ones I was able to find. (Other sources say Rags lost his eye to
stray shrapnel.) And though I haven't gotten my hands on it yet, Rags's life
story, including the sad end to his relationship with Donovan who died in 1919,
is well-documented in a book published in 1930 by Jack Rohan called Rags:
The Story of a Dog That Went to War. Copies appear to be limited and
paperbacks run about $35, should you want to read more of this sweet wardog.
U.S. Army Signal Corps