By Kevin Hymel

American men left behind a great deal when they left home to fight a world war. They lost their identities, their families, and almost all their worldly goods, but they improvised. Oceans away, they either quickly adopted dogs or simply gave in when canines attached themselves to their units. Dogs provided an immense morale boost, caring for their masters with unconditional love. They reminded servicemen of home, provided them with companionship, and brought them peace. The masters easily returned their new pets’ loyalty.

In the Pacific, many sailors brought dogs with them, particularly ships’ captains who could keep a pet in their personal cabin. But in the Mediterranean and Europe, servicemen picked up dogs as they went. The dog of choice: mutts. Americans identified with their mixed breed pedigree—something the Nazis would never understand.

The fox terrier “Salvo” prepares for a drop somewhere over England. His owner, an airman from Cleveland, Ohio, claimed the dog could leap from 1,500 feet and land safely.

Lieutenant Belton Cooper and his driver, Vernon, had a typical experience adopting a mascot in Europe. They were driving through the ruins of Gorron, France, when, according to Cooper, “A small gray object emerged from beneath the charred timbers of a smoking house, ran toward our jeep, jumped into Vernon’s lap and started licking his face.” It was a wire-haired terrier puppy. Cooper told his driver to put the pup down and they roared off. A quarter mile out of town Cooper spotted the puppy bounding behind them in the rearview mirror. They braked. “The puppy, which had gathered considerable momentum, got a few feet from the jeep,” recalled Cooper, “then cleared the back end in a single leap. Vernon reached into the air and snagged it like a football pass.” The men had their mascot.

Mascots were not the sole property of frontline soldiers. General George S. Patton, Jr., adopted a bull terrier from a British kennel. Originally named “Punch,” Patton renamed him “Willie” and took him across the battlefields of Europe. Willie, in return, kept his master’s spirits up. Whether swinging from apple trees, battling General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s dog “Telek,” or urinating on a bust of Adolf Hitler, Willie kept Patton constantly amused.

Always ready for a dog fight, “Flaps,” the 3rd Depot Unit’s mascot, prepares to take off over Italy.

The bond between dogs and soldiers was as strong as that between combat soldiers, and it lasted throughout the war. While soldiers, sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen adopted many different animals as mascots while away from home, it was the dog, the mutt, the pup, they considered their best friend.

“Recall,” a German shepherd captured as a pup in St. Malo, France, keeps his paws dry by hitching a ride with two GIs in Shevenhutte, Germany.
First Sergeant “Curly” is about to lose his 2nd Infantry Division patch. He is being transferred to the 75th Infantry Division at Camp Atlanta, near Chalons, France. Dangling from his neck are his dog tags, or as he called them, “me tags.”
“Lulu” beats the line for chow. For easier carrying, her owner made a special handle for her mess kit.
With his muzzle at the ready, a GI from the 26th Infantry Division stands ready with “Little Joe” on the dangerous streets of Ottweiler, Germany.
A Coast Guard crew rescued this puppy from the deck of a sinking ship. She was the only crew member left.
This mascot sniffs out trouble to keep his master safe in Italy.
An infantryman leans out of his pup tent to shake hands with a dog in the frozen landscape of Luxembourg during the Battle of the Bulge. The weather was cold enough to make a wet nose dry.
Better than pigs in a blanket. Soldiers of a VII Corps artillery unit admire “D-13”s pups in a basket in Friendorf, Germany. The soldiers found D-13 in Normandy.
Two medics treat a dog injured in the fighting in and around Carentan, France.
War is hard enough without a monkey on your back. Two medics watch as their mascot, “Master Sergeant Chico,” waits patiently while “Private Oscar” apes a backward jockey pose in Shadazup, Burma.

Did you like these photos? Be sure to check out our more extensive collection in our companion article, “Pictures of Pets in Action.”

To take a look at pictures from the experimental U.S. Army “Parachute Animals” program, click here.

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