Chips the Hero War Dog
When Britain and France went to war with Germany in 1939, Americans were divided about offering military aid, and the debate over the U.S. joining the war was even more heated. It wasn’t until two years later when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war against the U.S., that Americans officially entered the conflict.
As America’s industries retooled their factories from manufacturing domestic goods to producing tanks, planes, ships, guns, and ammunition, serious concerns arose about the vulnerability of America’s long coastline to infiltration by enemy saboteurs. To address the concern, the War Departments launched a program to train canines as sentry dogs for the purpose of guarding our country’s factories, transportation lines, and our borders.
A goal to train 10,000 dogs was established and War Dog Training Centers were built and the procuring of suitable dogs began in earnest. But finding enough dog candidates suitable to train as sentry and scout dogs was more difficult than thought.
To address the challenge of not being able to acquire enough suitable dogs in such a short amount of time, the military put out the word for civilians to donate their dogs. Eager to aid the war effort, thousands of patriotic pet owners across America responded by donating their pets.
Chips – a German shepherd, collies, husky mix – was one of those dogs.
Chips’ owner was Edward J. Wren of Pleasantville, New York who enlisted Chips in the Army in August 1942. According to son John Wren, Chips was a rascal. He barked at the mailman and trash collectors occasionally resulting in biting incidents. “It killed my mother to part with him,” said Wren, then a toddler. “But Chips was strong and smart, and we knew he’d be good as an Army War Dog.”
Everyone in the Wren family knew that Chips was a special dog. Just how special, though, it would take a war to discover.
Chips was trained as a sentry dog at the War Dog Training Center in Front Royal, Virginia. Chips, and his handler Pvt. John P. Rowell of Arkansas were assigned to the 3d Military Police Platoon, 3d Infantry Division and served in North Africa, Italy, France, Germany and Sicily with Lt. Gen. George Patton’s Seventh Army.
In the predawn of July 10, 1943, the 3rd Infantry Division under the command of Maj. Gen. Lucian Truscott landed on the shores of southern of Sicily near Licata in Operation Husky. Among the troops that hit the beach was the 3rd Military Police Platoon, 30th Infantry Regiment were Chips and Rowell. As dawn broke, the platoon was working its way inland when a machine gun hidden in what appeared to be a nearby peasant hut opened fire. Rowell and the rest of the platoon immediately hit the ground. But Chips broke free from Rowell and snarling, raced into the hut. Rowell later said, “Then there was an awful lot of noise and the firing stopped.” The platoon members then saw one injured Italian Soldier come out with Chips at his throat. Rowell called him off before he could kill the man. Moments later, three badly bitten Italian Soldiers emerged from the hut with their hands over the heads, all shepherded by a very determined Chips.
Chips was also wounded, suffering powder burns and a scalp wound from the pistol fired at close range. Medic treated Chips and released him to Rowell later that day. That night, while on guard duty, Chips alerted Rowell of an infiltration attempt by ten Italian Soldiers. Together they captured all ten.
After the Battle of Salerno in which Chips and Rowell had taken part, General Dwight Eisenhower came to congratulate the unit, and he bent to pet Chips. Unfortunately, only the handler is to touch a War Dog, and so Chips responded as he was trained, he nipped Ike.
Another time, Chips alerted to an impending ambush. Then, with a phone cable attached to his collar, Chips ran back to base, dodging gunfire so the endangered platoon could establish a communications line and ask for the backup they so desperately needed.
Chips was a true hero. He was awarded a Silver Star for valor and a Purple Heart for his wounds. The newspapers back home heralded his exploits. Unfortunately, the press attracted the attention of the William Thomas, Commander of the Order of the Purple Heart. He angrily wrote letters to the president, secretary of war, and adjutant general of the U.S. Army protesting that the Purple Heart was a decoration for humans, not animals. Congress then got into the act. After a debate lasting three months, it was decided no more decorations were to be awarded to non-humans adding “appropriate citations may be published in unit general orders.” This meant that at least they would receive honorable discharges.
The debate surrounding the giving of medals to military dogs not only led to the denying dogs the right to recognition for their efforts but also paved the way for the military to classify them as “equipment” – a classification that would cost them dearly. When the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, the military dogs were classified as “equipment” and left behind.
Despite earnest efforts to bring the dogs’ home, the order to abandon them was firm. Over 4,000 dogs served in Vietnam, many sacrificing their lives. They saved thousands of American Soldiers from death or injury. Stories vary as to what became of these valiant canines, but one thing is known to a certainty is that they shared all 24/7 with their handler. These dogs gave their full measure of devotion – whatever the danger – but they did not get to share the freedom of coming home.
In addition to patrol duty with the infantry, Chips was posted to sentry duty in Casablanca during the January 1943 Roosevelt-Churchill Conference. Through eight campaigns across Europe, Chips was also a POW guard and tank guard dog.
Chips spent 3 1/2 years in the Army. He served in North Africa, Italy, France and elsewhere in Europe. He met President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
His family had requested his return after service, so in the fall of 1945, he was taken back to Front Royal where he was retrained so that he could go back to his family.
In December 1945, Chips was discharged from the military and returned home to the Wren family. He was accompanied by six reporters and photographers who wanted to cover the story. Mr. and Mrs. Wren and son Johnny, who was only a baby when Chips left, met Chips at the train.
Sadly, Chips died just seven months later due to complications from injuries sustained in the war. He was just six years old. Chips is buried in The Peaceable Kingdom Pet Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.
So remarkable were his exploits, that in 1990, Disney produced a TV movie based on the life of this heroic, life-saving dog. The title was “Chips the War Dog.”
There are many inspiring pets and animals in the world, but military working dogs have a special place in the hearts of many. In today’s patriotic political climate and the constant presence of war in our lives, we have a special reverence and respect for our Soldiers and there’s nothing like seeing a Soldier and his dog together to instill that feeling of pride, and possibly bring out a tear or two.
Our Soldiers overseas today often have specially trained canine troops along with them. These dogs are well trained and function as part of the unit, doing what they have been trained to do, but the deep devotion between the handlers and their dogs is just as intense as the feeling of family that all Soldiers have toward one another.
Photos emerge online showing our Soldiers in full battle gear with their dogs’ right alongside them. The dogs that are our Soldier’s friends aren’t always fellow Soldiers, either. The troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have rescued and cared for many stray dogs, and programs such as the Puppy Rescue Mission were created to help bring these adopted dogs home with their Soldiers.
For more information on how to help bring adopted dogs home with their Soldiers, visit the Puppy Rescue Mission at http://www.puppyrescuemission.com/