Animals who do not make wars but live, and die, in them just the same.
|Goodby, Old Man by Fortunino Matania|
This image, long ago burned into my psyche, is a big reason that I have no desire to see the movie War Horse. I didn't know it at the time, but Italian illustrator Fortunino Matania not infrequently focused on the sad deaths of animals, especially horses, in the war.
Today is Memorial Day in the United States. This holiday, celebrated on the final Monday of May each year, is meant to honor those who have served in the American military. Originally May 30 was known as Decoration Day because one tradition of the day is the decoration of the graves of veterans, a practice that began during or just after the American Civil War (1861-65). The first official observation of remembrance was May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. By 1890, all Northern states had adopted the holiday, but most Southern states refused to do so until World War I, when the holiday was extended to honor the dead of all American wars.
We usually focus our national pageants on the human price of war. Here today, for a few moments, I ask you to again expand the meaning of Memorial Day and give a thought to the millions of animals who have served, suffered, and died in human wars over the centuries. Think not only of the heroes given our attention and honors, but also of the vast majority of animals recruited into military service who did as they were asked and died unsung. Spare a thought, too, for the millions of animals, domestic and wild, who died as "collateral damage" or by intentional slaughter for political or other purposes. (Hitler, for instance, had non-German breeds of dogs systematically exterminated in Europe.)
Whole books have been written on animals in war, so I won’t attempt any kind of thorough commentary. Instead, I give you a few photos and a few links to more information, and ask that, as we remember our service people, we also remember the animals. They had no choice.
Horses, Donkeys, and Mules
"L" Battery, R.H.A. Retreat from Mons
This British Horse artillery unit made a heroic stand
against advancing German troops during the retreat from
Mons, Belgium on 1 September 1914. Mons stayed in
German hands until liberated by Canadian troops on the
last day of the war, 11 November 1918. L Battery R.H.A.
How our Gunners Won the V.C. and Silenced the Fire of
the German Guns in the Face of Overwhelming Odds.
Retreat from Mons 1st September 1914. Print by
Fortunino Matania. Canadian War Museum
Horses, mules, and donkeys naturally became less important to most militaries after World War I, but they aren't out of the service entirely. In fact, they are being used by American forces today in Afghanistan, as shown on Olive Drab's page.
Carrier pigeonsCarrier pigeons have nearly as long a history in military service as do the equines. During World War I, the U.S. Signal Corps deployed at least 600 pigeons in France alone, and Britain used some 250,000 carrier pigeons during World War II. Paddy, an Irish carrier pigeon, was the first pigeon to cross the English Channel with news of success on D-Day. One of hundreds of birds dispatched from the front, Paddy flew 230 miles in 4 hours and 50 minutes. He is one of 32 carrier pigeons to be awarded the Dickin Medal, the highest British decoration for valor given to animals. Another recipient was an American pigeon, GI Joe (below).
To learn more about carrier pigeons who have served, start with these site:
The PDSA Dickin Medal, recognised in Britain as the animals’ Victoria Cross, is awarded to animals displaying conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units. The Medal has been awarded to dogs, horses, pigeons, and one cat. The citations on the Rolls of Honour are moving tributes to the role animals play in our service during war, and to the courage of the individual animals who have received the medal.
The Dickin Medal
No such medal exists in the United States as far as I know (please let me know if I've missed it in my search). In fact, in 2010 the Pentagon refused the request of military dog handlers to establish an official medal for valorous animals.
You're in the Navy Now
Although we tend to think of dogs and, sometimes, horses when we think of animals in the military, cats have also served in the military, often in the navy, like Pooli (below). For more great photos of cats in the Navy, visit Cats in the Sea Service .
Dogs, too, have served aboard ship, often as ship's mascots and de facto therapy dogs. Imagine how much fun the sailors on the USS Texas had with this gang in 1915. The Texas is now a museum near Houston and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. It is one of six surviving ships to have seen action in both World Wars. Check out the U.S. Naval Institute's Sea Dogs page for more canine sailors.
Love and War
Not all who serve fight, of course, and just having an animal to touch, to care for, and to love can be vital to a service man's or woman's emotional health.
|Marine Pvt. John W. Emmons, and the Sixth Division's mascot dog |
sleep beside a 105mm howitzer on Okinawa, 1945. The Sixth Division
suffered almost 2700 casualties during the battle, with another 1,300
being evacuated because of either exhaustion or fatigue.
( U.S. Naval Institute's Sea Dogs)
"Accepting her fate as an orphan of war, 'Miss Hap,'
a two-week old Korean kitten chows down on canned milk,
piped to her by medicine dropper with the help of
Marine Sergeant Frank Praytor ... The Marine
adopted the kitten after its mother was killed by a
mortar barrage near Bunker Hill. The name, Miss Hap,
Sergeant Praytor explained, was given to the kitten
'because she was born at the wrong place at the
wrong time'." Korea, ca 1953
(From "Cats in the Sea Service")
Then hug your animals.