In August 1942, Edward J. Wren of Pleasantville, New York, enlisted his dog named Chips into the Army of the United States. Chips, a German shepherd, collie and husky mix was destined to become one of 10,425 dogs to serve in the Army’s new “K-9 Corps” and the only one to be awarded the nation’s second highest award for bravery.

After Chips was enlisted in the Army, he was sent to the War Dog Training Center in Front Royal, Va., where he became one of about 1,000 dogs trained as scouts. Chips was given to handler Pvt. John R. Rowell of the 3rd Military Police Platoon, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. On October 24, 1942, Chips and Rowell sailed from Norfolk, Virginia bound for French Morocco.

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Chips the War Dog

Chips and Rowell were destined to be part of Operation Torch, the US Invasion of North Africa. Later, Chips was one of three dogs who guarded the Casablanca Conference where President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met.

Chips’ next action with the 3rd Infantry Division was during Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. Coming ashore before dawn on July 10, 1943 Chips was one of the first Americans to set paws on Italian soil. As dawn broke, the military police platoon was moving inland when an Italian machine gun hidden in peasant hut opened fire on them. The platoon hit the ground but Chips broke free and raced toward the guns. Pvt. Rowell remembered: “Then there was an awful lot of noise and the firing stopped.” There was a pistol shot then Rowell saw one Italian soldier come out with Chips at his throat followed by three other Italian soldiers with their hands above their heads.

Taking the enemy machine gun nest alone had not come without a cost. Chips suffered powder burns and a scalp wound from the pistol fired at close range. Chips was taken to a medical station where he was treated and released to Rowell later that day. Chips’ long day of heroics had not come to an end as later that night he alerted Rowell to ten Italian soldiers trying to penetrate American lines. Aware of the enemies, Rowell and Chips captured all ten men.

3rd infantry division

Chips meets General Dwight D. Eisenhower along with one of his handlers, Pvt. Morris Owens

The story of Chips’ heroism became famous in the division. Although War Department regulations prohibited the awarding of military medals to animals, the 3rd Infantry Division’s commander, General Lucian Truscott’s decided that “regulations be damned” and the dog from New York was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star. Captain Edward G. Parr, the military police platoon’s commander put in a recommendation for Chips to receive the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor. In writing of the canine’s bravery, Capt. Parr cited Chips for “courageous action in single-handedly eliminating a dangerous machine gun nest and causing surrender of its crew.”

Truscott approved and on November 19, 1943 the General personally awarded Chips the Distinguished Service Cross. Newspaper stories appeared back in the USA on July 14, 1944 with the headline in the New York Times:

“Army Dog is First to Win DSC Award”

The next day the War Department released a statement in the press stating it was conducting an investigation to see if War Department regulations had been breached. Besides the War Department, William Thomas, the national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, 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. Congress began a debate that lasted for three months, deciding that decorations were to be awarded to humans only.

3rd infantry division

Chips receives a warm welcome home in December 1945

Although Chips lost his medals, he was introduced to General Eisenhower who wanted to meet the heroic dog. Eisenhower received a bite on his hand when he bent down to pet Chips, who did not respect the rank held by the Allied Supreme Commander in Europe.

Chips carried out his service with the 3rd Infantry Division until the end of the WWII. Shortly before his discharge, his platoon unofficially awarded him a European Theater ribbon with arrowhead for an assault landing and eight battle stars. Chips returned home to the Wren family in Pleasantville, New York in December 1945. Chips the dog died just seven months later at age six from the injuries he sustained duiring the war. He is buried in The Peaceable Kingdom Pet Cemetery in Hartsdale, NY.

In 1990, a TV movie about Chips was produced by Disney honoring the heroic dog. Although Chips had a short life, he remains one of the bravest and most decorated War Dogs of the American military.

For More Reading Check Out:

Always Faithful: A Memoir of the Marine Dogs of WWII

No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII

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