Known since World War I as Devil Dogs, Marines have had what some might say is an uncharacteristically tender relationship with canines. From mascots to battle buddies, dogs in the Corps have a whole history—both alongside their human coworkers and on their own.
While the original source of the Devil Dog nickname is up for debate, most know the story from what the Germans called Marines in World War I, Teufel Hunden translated to Devil Dogs, used to describe the fierce fighting style of the Marines at Belleau Wood.
It is a fact that the moniker became widespread in its use and a source of pride beginning in 1918. Recruiting posters featuring an English Bulldog wearing a US helmet chasing a Dachshund with a spiked German helmet appeared during that year proclaiming the “Devil Dog Recruiting Station.”
The English Bulldog stuck to the Marines. In 1922, Pvt. Jiggs’ enlistment papers were signed in a formal ceremony. Sadly, the dog lived only five years before passing away and was buried with full military honors at Quantico, VA. Even so, Pvt. Jiggs lived life to the fullest and died as a Sergeant Major.
Since the 1950s, a string of bulldogs named Chesty (after famous Marine, Lt. General Chesty Puller) have served as one of the official mascots. Other bulldogs also serve at boot camp training installations including Smedley Buter, Legend, Belleau Wood and more. Mascots go through their own boot camp and spend their time participating in morale-boosting activities, walking in parades, and being present at ceremonies. The mascots are never “pressed” into service and are usually honorably discharged after a few years because their lifespan is much shorter than many other breeds.
Editor’s Note: Many families apply to become the caretakers of the Marine mascots. It’s a lengthy process that begins before the puppy is brought to the station. At Washington D.C.’s 8th and I for example, the Marine Corps was on the hunt for the best possible home for Chesty. This family will not only raise and handle Chesty, but when he retires, he will stay with the same family for life. Requirements to adopt the mascot included applications from Staff Sergeants or higher who are in the President’s Own (Band) or Commandant’s Own (Drum & Bugle Corps) because they don’t PCS. Families are considered and rated on family structure, proximity to the post, the home the family resides in, other pets and more. Interviews take place and then one lucky family is chosen to safeguard the Marine mascot for life.
Bulldogs aren’t the only dog with ties to the Marines. During World War II, the Marines drafted Doberman Pinschers into service as the official combat dog. After training at Camp Lejeune’s Marine Corps War Dog Training Facility, the First Marine Dog Platoon was sent to serve in the Pacific Theater and consisted of 48 enlisted handlers, 21 Doberman Pinschers, and 3 German Shepherds.
These dogs were trained to explore island cave systems, guard sleeping Marines, detect land minds and booby traps, and alert their masters to other dangers. The dogs served bravely and Marines leaving service after the war often asked to keep the dogs they had worked alongside. The love for these dogs is perhaps no more palpable than at the War Dog Cemetery on Naval Base Guam where a memorial pays tribute to the dogs who died during the Second Battle of Guam in 1944. You can find an exact replica of the Guam memorial on the grounds of the University of Tennessee, too.
Previously military working dogs were usually euthanized or might have been left behind in theater; however, the military has taken great strides in making it possible to adopt these dogs who have served their country faithfully. If you’re interested in learning about adoption, you can find an application along with more information from the Department of Defense Military Working Dog School.
Have you ever been a dog handler in the Corps? Or adopted a military working dog? Tell us about your experiences!
Jo is the author of Jo, My Gosh! a blog about her journey as a newlywed military wife. When she’s not working from home, she’s writing, reading, trying new recipes, watching sports or cross stitching. Catch her on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook and say hi!
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Perry C. Money
Executive VP, Vietnam Dog Handler Association