Animal soldiers of World War II: they were heroes too

LOYAL FORCES: THE AMERICAN
ANIMALS OF WORLD WAR II

By Toni M. Kiser
and Lindsey F. Barnes

LSU Press ($35)

Asked to identify heroes of World War II, people are likely to name Audie Murphy, Joe Foss and the Doolittle Raiders. Very few have heard of Chips, Chick and Blackie Halligan.

Which is a shame, even if they were, respectively, a dog, a mule and a homing pigeon.

In an interesting irony, with the National World War II Museum in New Orleans having just opened a new pavilion telling the story of how America’s industry might have won the war, two museum staff members have produced a book showing that the age-old tradition of military animals did not end with the advent of halftracks and high-altitude bombers. Numerous victories were won, and countless fighting men owe their lives because of the work of such animals.

In some cases, these animals displayed all the attributes commonly associated with human heroes — courage, indomitable spirit, loyalty. More often, they simply did what was expected of all soldiers and sailors. They did their duty.

Kiser and Barnes detail how American military officials recognized the contributions these animals could make to the war effort, and explain how efforts were made to recruit, train and deploy them to the best effect. Dogs were the most versatile, serving as messengers, sentries and pack animals from the snows of Alaska to the jungles of the south Pacific. Mules moved equipment where vehicles could not venture. Pigeons delivered messages when no other method was available. Some of these animals distinguished themselves in the worst of circumstances.

Loyal Forces also details the last horse cavalry charge in American military history, as well as other ways animals were used. The military came up with other ideas that did not work, at least one that was downright batty. But interesting. The writing is a bit matter-of-fact, but the book includes 157 photos from the museum’s collection, and tells some of the individual stories of animals who were more than pets, mascots or even comrades. They were heroes.