Friday, November 2, 2012

Honoring Animals That Have Served in War

Armed Forces
Each November 11th, we honor and celebrate those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.  This includes veterans who have served in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.

Civil War Cavalry
But there is one group of “vets” that is usually forgotten during this time – the military animals. These are the animals used to assist the military in combat, and behind-the scenes.  They have been trained to act as scouts, sentries, trackers, messengers, and pack animals; they have been used in battlefield experiments; to guard, carry, patrol, detect explosives, and for search and rescue.

The first animals documented as used for fighting were horses.  They were originally used in chariot warfare.  But, once the saddle and stir-up were invented, they became war-horses; carrying warriors into battle, offering the rider a vantage point from which to fight and maneuver.  In Medieval times, a knight’s horse was used as a weapon; trained to bite and kick the opponent and his mount. Once warriors and soldiers were on horseback, they organized into a fighting group known as a cavalry.

Military Mule
Military Camel
Horses were not the only animals used in warfare.  Dogs, oxen, and pigs were also used, many times to transport or detect bombs.  Elephants, mules, donkeys, monkeys, rats, pigeons, bats, and camels have also been called into action. Dolphins, orcas and sea lions are now in active use.

Egyptian War Dog
Ancient War Dog
Dogs have been use by Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Slavs and Britons since ancient times. They have provided soldiers with protection, acted as scouts, trackers, messengers, and guards.

WW II Soldiers & Dogs
A Belgian Malinois
In the 20th century, dogs continued to assist the troops. During WW I, dogs delivered messages and communiqu├ęs to America’s allies. In WW II, dogs were trained to drag the wounded and dead off the battlefield. During the Vietnam War, dogs helped scout for mines, and patrol. And dogs are still serving in all branches today.  On the May 1st, 2011 during the operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed, a Belgian Malinois took part in the raid.

War Elephant
Elephants Attack
Elephants were first used in battle around the 4th century BC.  Designated as war elephants, they were trained to charge the enemy, break their ranks, and trample them.  Their use remained the same until the advent of gunpowder in the 15th century.  Elephants then began to be used as transport for humans and battlefield equipment.

WW I Elephant
WW II Elephant
During WW II, elephants were used to cross difficult terrain, and as heavy labor, assisting crews in buildings bridges, and moving heavy munitions.  Although elephants were still listed in the 2004 U.S. Special Forces field manual, their use is discouraged as they are now listed as an endangered species.

Pigeons in WW I
A Soldier & his Pigeon
Pigeons were first used in the Franco-Prussian War to carry messages past enemy lines. In WW I, the U.S. Army Signal Corps used 600 pigeons in France to relay messages.  During WW II, American and British forces used pigeons to send messages back and forth. The birds were trained to carry tiny capsules that contained maps, messages and cameras.  After the war, 32 pigeons, including U.S. Army pigeon, G.I. Joe, received the Dickin Medal, the highest possible decoration of valor given to animals.

Dickin Medal
Awarding a Dicken Medal
Maria Dicken
Maria Dicken of Great Britain introduced the Dickin Medal in 1943. She created the award as a way to honor any animal that displayed “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty whilst serving with British Empire armed forces or civil emergency services.”

Face of Medal
From 1943 to 1949, 54 animals received the award, which is inscribed “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve”.  The award is referred to as the animals’ Victoria Cross.

Theo's Medal
The medal is still being given today; in 2002, three dogs were honored for their assistance in the September 11th attacks.  And on October 25, 2012, the Dickin Medal went to a British service dog in Afghanistan. Theo, an English Spring Spaniel, received the medal posthumously for having located the most improvised explosive devices (IEDs) during the war, a record 14.*

Today & Tomorrow
Military Dolphin
In today’s military, animals still play a vital part in security and detection. Along with the usual participants, Dolphins have been used by the military to detect and locate mines, along with suspicious swimmers.
Military Sea Lion

Sea lions have been trained to tag mines, and to cuff unknown divers so that sailors can hoist them up for identification.

Honey Bees
Military Insects
As for the future, it has the look of a science fiction movie; Honeybees are now being trained to recognize the scent of a bomb, and insects could be used to gather or transmit information with a microphone implanted in their bodies.

So this Veterans Day, pause for a moment when remembering those who serve our country, and also acknowledge those paws that help support our men and women on the battlefield.

~  Joy

And in Remembrance:

*British service dog, Theo, and his handler, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, died during a mission on March 01, 2011.  The two set a new record for bomb discoveries during their deployment time in Afghanistan.


  1. The side of war we forget about and how our animal friends help us.

  2. Thanks for this wonderful post. And war monkeys? Really? Who knew?

  3. Thank you, Joy, for posting your in-depth information about the animals of war and their roles in helping humans win their wars.

    In 2011, I wrote a story about "Frank the War Horse" which was published in the "Ohio Civil War Genealogy Journal" -- Volume 4, pages 198 - 201. Page 198 has a photograph of "Frank" who served with his owner, Abe Conger, in the 12th OVC. I

    Learning about Frank and Abe was a wonderful project for me. During my research I learned so much about the bonding animal and owner/handlers have with each other. I truly feel the animals also help to keep the soldiers going when they might have not been able to do so without them. Thank you.

  4. Thank you all for the kind words! As an animal lover, I just wanted to draw attention to their war contributions, too.

  5. What a sweet article!! I have a friend Theresa who is going to love this! She's a military wife and loved German Shepherds. She was the first person to tell me about dogs being in the service. I'm going to share this with her on FB right now. :) Thanks!

    1. Thank you Tina for sharing this with me. What a beautiful article and such a lovely tribute. Animals have played many roles in helping our Military as well as Police Fire and Resuce for many years. This was a lovely reminder of just how wonderful they are. My German Shepherd is a beloved part of my family and he is such a support to Blaz since he has injuries, as a Veteran with PTSD and TBI our Rocco has helped him thru many years of depression and more. now our Rocco is not doing well so Blaz is caring for his buddy now. its a bittersweet moment
      Thank you Tina God Bless

    2. Tina, thank you for sharing this with Theresa!
      And Theresa, just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate what our military personnel and their four legged partners are doing for us!! All the best to you, Blaz, and Rocco!!