LONDON - Chips attacked a machine gun nest during a World War II beach landing in Sicily, going for the enemy’s throat and ripping the gun off its mount, but the U.S. Army never gave him a medal for saving his platoon.
He was just a dog.
But in London Monday, the German shepherd-husky mix posthumously was awarded Britain’s highest honor for animal bravery, the Dickin Medal, from the leading British veterinary charity, PDSA.
Southold attorney John Wren, 76, whose family donated the dog to the wartime effort in 1942, accepted the award in the Churchill War Rooms in London during the 75th anniversary of the Casablanca Conference, at which British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt plotted wartime strategy. Chips served as a sentry at the conference and met both leaders, The Associated Press reported.
“He’s a national hero,” said Wren, who was 4 when Chips returned from the war and is the last member of the family who knew him. “He did fantastic things. He was the most decorated dog in history, and they took his medals away.”
Lt. Col. Alan Throop, who attended on behalf of the U.S. Army, said that shortly after the 1943 battle in Sicily, Chips was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart, the AP reported. The awards were later rescinded because Army policy didn’t allow animals to receive medals.
But by then, Chips was already a legend.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, head of the Allied forces in Europe and later U.S. president, petted Chips and had his hand bitten by the dog. But Eisenhower was understanding.
Disney made a 1990 TV movie based on his life, “Chips, the War Dog,” and plenty of stories have been written about him.
Just recently, California author Robin Hutton, who has written about war animals, did a story on him and pushed the PDSA to give Chips the medal, Wren said.
Wren’s mother got the dog as a puppy from a friend who knew she wanted a pet and whose dog had a litter. Chips was just a few years old when the family saw he was smart and strong. When Americans were reminded to do their part for the war, the Wrens gave him to the Army for its fledgling K-9 unit.
Chips suffered scalp wounds and powder burns in the machine gun nest battle and returned home with other injuries.
Wren remembered when he and his father greeted the dog at the train station in Westchester County’s Pleasantville, where the family lived at the time. It’s where Chips is buried.
“He was a great pet when he came home.” Wren said.
Back then, Wren recounted, he would dress up in a kid’s Army uniform and Chips would accompany him.
“I remember walking down the street with my war dog, and I was saluting everybody like I was an Army guy,” the attorney said. “A boy came out from behind the bushes from this house, and he came out with a cap gun shooting. Chips went after him and ripped the gun away from him and the kid went running into the house screaming and crying.”
Another time, photos showed Chips hooked up to a sled and pulling little Wren.
“The public saw it and got furious over the way we were treating a war hero,” he said.
Chips died seven months after returning home. Wren’s mother said the war had turned the pet into a “tired dog.”
“He’d been shot, he’d been wounded,” Wren said. “He had all kinds of problems. He was pretty beat up.”
Chips’ hard-won medal will be shown at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, where Hutton and Chips’ family plan to create an exhibit about the war dog.