Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Rags the WWI Hero and the Men Whose Lives He Changed

From Stray Dog to World War I Hero: The Paris Terrier Who Joined the First Division by Grant Hayter-Menzies tells the story of Rags, a lovely, heartfelt story that will appeal to dog lovers and to those interested in WWI history.

This new biography of Rags includes his post-war life as a family dog and media sensation American Hero. We learn about Rags' war record and the soldier he loved and who loved him, about other great canine heroes of  the war, and the founding and fate of the first cemetery for animals.

Sometime in 1916 a scruffy, taffy colored, floppy eared dog with a fluffy arching tale was born in the streets of war-torn Paris. The winter of 1917 was one of the coldest on record but somehow the little dog survived the bitter cold, living off scavenged food. Like the Parisians around him he learned to dive for cover when the sirens sounded; he would fall flat to the ground. Life on the street was harsh.

In 1918 American soldiers Donovan and Hickman encountered the scruffy mutt. The dog lovers must have shown him some care and they were followed. Hickman had a mascot so the dog went along with Donovan. An MP picked Donovan up but was charmed by his made-up story of searching for his lost mascot Rags and they were let go. Within four days the First Division of the American Expeditionary Force, Rags included, went into battle at Soissons. Donovan doubted his decision to bring the dog into the melee and took Rags to the division headquarters. On his return to the field he found Rags had followed him back. Rags had made his decision; Donovan was his.

Donovan found that Rags hated to do tricks but loved work. Somehow the two novices worked together to make Rags a message carrier. One day when Donovan was on patrol a shell downed the soldier watching Rags. Rags ran to find Donovan; coming across artillerymen instead he barked at them until they followed him back to the downed soldier.  Another time Rags came across a runner killed in the field; Rags found the paper he had been carrying, picked it up, and took it to Donovan. Rags became expert at finding broken communication wires. He also wandered off, one day finding himself in an surveillance balloon when it was launched. The Germans shot the balloon down, and a soldier took Rags in his arms as he parachuted down. A Fokker came towards them, but seeing the dog he waved and banked off. Killing American soldiers was one thing; but the German was not about to kill a gallant little dog! The stories of his heroism and love go on.

Rags' life changed when he and Donovan were gassed. Donovan was severely wounded, his lungs badly burned. Rags suffered injuries, his eye blinded and shrapnel wounding his paw and ear. Against all Army rules Col. Holbrook, soldiers, and nurses helped the two stay together, even helping Rags enter the United States. There were no provisions for the returning of service dogs; they were usually dispatched. Rags arrived at Ft. Sheridan hidden under a coat. He was taken up by the local fire hall but spent days hidden under Donovan's hospital cot. Chief medical officer Col. Bispham had a special collar made for Rags. Rags kept his vigil until Donovan's death, and he spent days in grief before rallying.

A new life awaited Rags. Rags fell in love with Lt. Hardenbergh's two daughters. Over the next sixteen years Rags was cared for by the Hardenbergh family. They noted his love for sweets and hatred of sudden noises. Rags would sit and salute soldiers. They made Rags a new collar with chevrons marking his war service and battle wounds. Rags became a media sensation and a prideful symbol of the First Division. Rags was briefly reunited with Sgt. Hickman, a joyous reunion for both.

The stories tell of the love between a street mutt and soldiers of all ranks. Rags never forgot a friend.

Rags was buried in Aspin Hill Memorial Park, the resting ground of many mascots and beloved pets.

The author is donating a portion of each book's sales to the non-profit Nowzad Dogs which reunites Afghanistan soldiers with the dog or cat they adopted while deployed.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

From Stray Dog to World War I Hero: The Paris Terrier Who Joined the First Division
Grant Hayter-Menzies
University of North Nebraska Press
Publication Date: November 1, 2015
$26.95 hard cover
ISBN:9781612347219