A WWII Private Was Stripped of His Distinguished Service Cross for Being a Dog

"Come with me if you want to live." - Chips the Hero Dog of World War II (U.S. Army)

During the American Invasion of Sicily in 1943, the 3rd Military Police Platoon, 30th Infantry Regiment landed near Licata. As the sun rose that morning and the soldiers made their way across the island, they were suddenly pinned down by a machine gun nest. One of the privates in the platoon charged the enemy position and cleared it, taking four prisoners.

This private was already a veteran of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, and had guarded President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Casablanca Conference earlier that year. For his heroics during the invasion of Sicily, he earned the Silver Star and a Purple Heart.

But there was just one problem for the Army. This particular soldier was a dog, a collie-husky mix named Chips.

Pvt. Chips was one of more than 10,400 dogs that served during World War II. Most of those were trained as sentries, "manning" the defenses of the U.S. coastline, but an estimated 1,000 dogs were volunteered by their civilian owners to deploy overseas as scout dogs for U.S. troops.

Chips enlisted in the Army in 1942 from Pleasantville, New York. The Army sent him to the War Dog Training Center in Front Royal, Virginia, where he was teamed with his handler, Pvt. John R. Rowell. Like many American soldiers in World War II, Rowell and Chips got their first taste of action during Operation Torch in 1943.

On July 9, 1943, the United States launched Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily. Rowell and Chips were part of the initial amphibious landing that led them to the enemy pillbox near Licata. When Chips assaulted the position, he was wounded when one of the Italian defenders tried shooting him. The discharge burned his skin, but it was easily treated by medics.

On the night of July 10, Chips was on guard duty as his fellow soldiers slept. During his shift, 10 Italian soldiers tried to infiltrate their encampment. Chips alerted his handler, and the Americans captured all 10 infiltrators. As word of Chips' heroics got around, Chips was awarded his Purple Heart and Silver Star. The platoon's commander, Capt. Edward G. Parr, recommended Chips for the Distinguished Service Cross.

The commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. Lucian Truscott, waived the requirement that a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross be a human and awarded Chips the medal personally.

By July 14, 1944, the news of the heroic dog invading Sicily was published to jubilant crowds in newspapers stateside. The War Department and the national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart were not as jubilant. The Military Order of the Purple Heart wrote to President Roosevelt that the medal was meant for humans, and the War Department opened an investigation.

After three months, the War Department decided that no more awards would be given to non-humans and Pvt. Chips was stripped of his awards. In the end, his fellow soldiers would give him a theater ribbon with an arrowhead device (for his assault landing) and eight battle stars.

Chips survived the war and returned home to his original owners in Pleasantville, New York, in December 1945.

The Wren Family of Upstate New York welcomes Chips back home in 1945, blissfully unaware of the things Chips had seen. (National Archives)

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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