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© Leslie Woolner Bardsley
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The Animals We Love
Frank Woolner
Journalist, Headquarters, 3rd Armored Division

Published in Worcester Sunday Telegram (Mass.) Magazine, August 15, 1943


Somewhere or other -- it slips my mind just where -- I have read an article on animals in the service -- and I don't mean GI "Doggies!" It so happens that "Doggie", or "Dogface", you know, is a universal Army term for Joe Buck Private. The animals mentioned here were mules and goats, dogs, ponies, and what have you -- Army mascots, officially recognized as such and traveling with the outfits which have duly chosen them as animated good luck charms.

At least, the implication that they are "duly chosen" and designated as such, is to be assumed. I don't really believe it. Perhaps certain show outfits, grandly decked and sharply drilled to demonstrate soldierly bearing to the home folks, actually go about the serious business of acquiring an organizational mascot. I'd rather believe, though, that all of the Army's pets chose the individual outfit to which they wished to belong -- and not the other way around.

Dogs have always followed the armies of the world and I suspect that they always will. Hound dogs, mongrels and beautiful thoroughbreds, for some strange reason, desert their erstwhile homes and comforts to travel with fighting men. They drift in and out of the regiments, travel all over the world with their chosen benefactors and sometimes, I am sure, follow their new masters to the heroic death of a front fighter.

We have a number of such transient animals with us. When they drift in, the Mess Sergeant forgets his hard-hearted reputation and feeds them scraps. The men always manage to save a bit of extra chow for the "mutt." The First Sergeant comes into his Orderly Room in the morning and sees a little brown dog lying before the fire. Making like a top kicker always makes at first, the Sergeant roars fiercely, and then does an about-face:

"Get that (CENSORED) hound out of here! What's wrong with him anyhow -- is he sick or tired? Okay, so he's tired. Leave him alone, let him sleep!"

Once, in Louisiana, we came as close to duly recognizing a little white spitz as company mascot, as any combat outfit ever did. The spitz appeared early one morning, how, no one knew. Some said that the First Sergeant had stolen him from a little old lady in lavender and lace. Others that he came with a bottle of rock and rye. Regardless, we had the pooch, and for a couple of weeks he became the center of attraction.

Apache -- that was his new name -- turned out for regular drill-call with the men and spent much of his time nipping at the First Sergeant's heels, in a playful manner of course. But also, of course, we all heartily hoped that he would some day bite the First Sergeant's leg off. You see, although a top kicker may be a model of non-commissioned perfection, it is traditional to growl disgustedly at all his decisions and to mark him as "enemy" along with the slum-burners (Cooks), and MP's.

Anyhow, things got too official for the spitz, because he disappeared the day after a Company Order, all drawn up by the Company Clerk and signed by the Company Commander himself, appeared on the bulletin board making our little white dog a sergeant! Sergeant Apache of Company "A"!

As I say, he disappeared -- he probably went to an outfit where there was less formality and no ratings to worry about. Some people in this Army, you know, desire no more rank than that of PFE -- Private-For-Ever. Our Sergeant Apache must have been one of these.

On maneuvers through and over the Mojave Desert of Southern California last year, there were a number of mutts who associated themselves with us. There was, for example, a thoroughbred Boxer who followed the mechanized safari wherever it went. They say he joined us in Texas, and no doubt he had, for when I first laid my eyes on those classic lines in the desert, he was already a Corporal!

Someone had painted the two stripes just where they should be, one on either shoulder. Later, by successive ratings he was made Buck and Staff Sergeant. By this time I imagine he's been to OCS and is sporting a bar!

Anyway, the Boxer turned out for reveille each and every morning. He never missed. The moment the First Sergeant blasted his infernal whistle, out from one of the tents that big tan dog would charge, to leap frenziedly up and down in the sand beside the top kicker, barking furiously as the men filed out for roll call.

The canine "Sergeant" delighted in chasing lizards into patches of sage brush and then trying to flush them into the open by pouncing again and again upon the brush. He was fascinated by the little reptiles and never ceased trying to catch them.

I always worried for fear he'd run into one of the little wicked side-winder which were so plentiful there, and try to scare it too. I figured the side-winder wouldn't scare. However, like all of the beasts which follow the Army, the Boxer was worldly wise and sensed real danger. This dog followed us to Virginia, but left the battalion soon afterward. Perhaps he became intrigued with another outfit passing through. I can never believe that an Army dog, once attached to the service, could ever return to staid civilian life!

In the desert one morning, I awakened early -- before dawn -- and found something lying on my foot, not heavily, but certainly alive. In that uncertain land, one takes nothing for granted. For all I knew, the thing might have been a voracious old rattlesnake or a Gila monster. So, very carefully, I arose, felt for my flashlight, and inspected the visitor. It was a little -- a very little black dog, and he was lying on my feet trying to keep warm. The poor little mutt was shivering very badly -- and attempting to wag his tail at the same time! Of course you know what I did -- I tucked him under the blankets with me, and we both went back to sleep until reveille. I don't have to tell you the rest, but I will. All the next day I had fleas!

The company cat has just climbed up on the desk to see what I am doing and also to remind me, rather obliquely, that we have had other pets beside dogs. This cat is sleek and large, testimony to the fine hunting grounds in Virginia camps and in Pennsylvania. He's white with a faint trace of grey about the head -- and a purr like the motor of an Army Jeep.

Back in Texas we had a skinny little no-account grey alley cat who used to stalk lizards and beetles when he wasn't bothering me at the typewriter. The keys always fascinated him and he used to try desperately to catch them as they descended. Failing this, I had to watch him more closely, for he'd invariably try to reach over and hook the paper with his sharp claws. He never seemed to grow, and yet he dined well, for the cooks were his friends. He was full of energy and pep; I knew that to my own disgust. Many a time he ripped "Immediate Action" stationery just as I was typing a letter for the Company Commander. Often too, he caught the lizards which zipped back and forth over our Company street.

In Texas, along with the little grey alley cat, and the dogs, and the lizards, which were so intimate that we almost began to call them by name -- there was a squirrel. He was an exasperating squirrel, independent in the knowledge that he was noticed and appreciated. If you'd call to him, he'd act as though you were the Lord High Executioner, and remain distant.

There was only one way to gain his interest, and that was by ignoring him completely. That, he couldn't stand. The Company Clerk and I used to stroll up near him, then turn our backs and stroll away. Immediately the squirrel would set up a murderous chatter, and a few moments later he'd come scampering to beg favors and sit on our shoulders. The company dogs, I think, sneered at this spectacle. The cat, of course, was too busy chasing lizards to notice.

Dogs of course are, and always have been, favorites among the Army's mascots. There are several with us at this writing. One is a shepherd, another is a tiny black and tan hound. A third is of uncertain ancestry, but just as friendly and appealing for all of that. He's just a composite of all the thoroughbreds and the mutts who lost their individual lineage when they enter the armed services and become plain Army Dogs, destined to follow their chosen troops on the high road which leads to victory and fame, or sometimes death.

When we go overseas, after the port authorities have carefully checked our barracks bags and equipment, when the boat is at last steaming quietly out of the dark harbor, I shall expect to see at least one Army Dog come out of hiding and sidle up to the nearest GI soldier for judgment on his crime in stowing away!

The pups have always been with us, and I think they always will be. We don't have to look them up -- they'll enlist and find us somewhere along the route of march. Army mascots are like that.

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