WWII hero dog awarded Top Honor
Chips, a US Army dog, has been posthumously awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal, 75 years after protecting the lives of his human colleagues during the invasion of Sicily in 1943.
Chips, a German Shepherd-Husky-cross, has been recognised for his key role during the beach landings on the Mediterranean island. He and his handler, Private Rowell, were attached to the Third Infantry Regiment of the American Seventh Army. The award, given by PDSA, the UK's leading veterinary charity, is the animal equivalent of the Medal of Honor or the British Victoria Cross. As well as his heroics on the battlefield, Chips served as sentry at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, where Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D Roosevelt met to map out the Allied Forces' strategy for the next phase of the war. Chips met both leaders while he performed his protection duties.
Chips' story was discovered by historical author Robin Hutton and the medal was presented by the UK's leading veterinary charity, PDSA, on January 15, 2018, the 75th anniversary of the Casablanca Conference. The presentation took place at the Churchill War Rooms, London. US Army Attaché, Lieutenant Colonel Alan Throop, received the medal on Chips' behalf, along with Military Working Dog Ayron.
Also present at the event was John Wren, who was just four years old when Chips – John's family pet – returned from the war effort. John's father, Edward J Wren donated Chips to the newly formed USA Dogs for Defense in 1942 after the United States joined WWII. John, now age 76, and his wife Sharon traveled from New York State for the presentation. John said: "Chips was something of a celebrity when he returned from the war but we were just pleased to have our dog back. The letters that my father received from the soldiers that Chips served with prove just what a valuable asset he was to the US Army and I am so thrilled to see his service recognised here today." Chips' PDSA Dickin Medal will be loaned to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans to be displayed.
PDSA Director General Jan McLoughlin said "Chips was a real war hero. His actions saved many lives as a US platoon came under fierce attack." On 10 July 1943, Chips took part in 'Operation Husky', during the invasion of Sicily, one of the largest combined operations of the war. As they landed, the soldiers were attacked on the beach by an enemy machine-gun team, hidden in a nearby hut. As the platoon dived for cover, Chips broke free. Rushing at the hut 'with ferocious intent', he went in despite the barrage of gunfire.
Private Rowell described what happened: "There was an awful lot of noise and the firing stopped. Then I saw one soldier come out of the door with Chips at his throat. I called him off before he could kill the man." Private Rowell reported that three other enemy soldiers followed, hands above heads. During the incident, Chips sustained a scalp wound and powder burns, and required treatment for his injuries. The hut turned out to be a machine-gun nest. Chips had grabbed the machine-gun by the barrel and pulled it off its mount. Chips' actions undoubtedly saved the lives of the men in his platoon.
On 9 September 1943 it was recommended that Chips be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for 'extra heroism in action'. This was signed by Captain Edward G Parr who stated that Chips' courageous action 'single-handedly eliminated a dangerous machine-gun nest and caused the surrender of its crew, reflecting the highest credit on himself and the military service'.
Major General Lucian K Truscott, Jr. Commander of the Third Division, decided to waive the War Department regulation that prohibited bestowing medals on animals. On 19 November 1943, Chips was the first, and only, dog to be awarded the Silver Star.
However, Chips' medals were later revoked, following complaints that such medals were not intended for animals.
After the war, Chips was honorably discharged and the men in his platoon unofficially awarded him a Theater Ribbon with Arrowhead – an honor reserved for airborne and amphibious assault landings – together with eight battle stars: one for each of his campaigns.
In a happy ending, Chips returned to New York to resume life with the Wren family.