'A special creature': Chips the WW II hero dog honoured with posthumous medal of bravery
John Wren was just four years old when his dog Chips came back from the war.
"I remember going to the station with my father and others and having friends and all kinds of people around," the 76-year-old Southold, N.Y., man told As It Happens host Carol Off.
"But I mostly remember when I saw him in the cage and realized that was my dog coming home. I was quite excited, as was everybody."
That's because Chips was a war hero — and on Monday, he was posthumously awarded Britain's highest honour for animal bravery.
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The British veterinary charity People's Dispensary For Sick Animals awarded Chips the Dickin Medal for his actions during a 1943 beach landing in Sicily.
Wren, whose parents donated Chips to the war effort in 1942, was there to accept the honour during a ceremony at the Churchill War Rooms in London. Ayron, a military working dog, stood in for Chips.
According to U.S. soldiers, the German shepherd-husky mix raced into an Italian machine-gun nest in 1942, attacking an enemy soldier by the throat and pulling the gun from its mount.
"The soldiers were being pinned down on a beach ... and he broke loose from his handler. It wasn't his job to do that kind of thing. He was a sentry dog," Wren said.
"But he broke loose and went after the people in the machine-gun nest and single-handedly got them to give up and come out asking for mercy."
Previous medals rescinded
Chips suffered scalp wounds and powder burns in the battle but survived the war, returning to his owners in Pleasantville, N.Y.
After the battle, Chips was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
The awards were later rescinded because army policy didn't allow animals to receive medals.
"He got a lot of bad press over the years for being a rogue and being dangerous as far as the people were concerned," Wren said.
"They didn't like the fact that he'd gotten medals and things like that. So it really made me feel great to see him finally receive some recognition as a special creature — which, in our view, he was."
Hundreds of dogs were used in the war — many of them donated by American families.
"When the call came for this new idea they had of bringing dogs into the service, my parents knew that we had a very smart, very strong, very powerful dog, and that he was young and that he would be a great candidate," Wren said.
"I know it was difficult for my mother and father to make this decision because they loved him dearly ... but they felt it was a very important thing for the country for them to donate and do what they can to help the effort."
The medal was awarded on the 75th anniversary of the Casablanca Conference, at which British prime minister Winston Churchill and U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt plotted wartime strategy.
Chips served as a sentry at the conference and met both leaders.
The dog also once met Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower — but reportedly bit his hand.
"His response was, 'That's OK. I understand that's what you're trained to do,'" Wren said.
A soldier's best friend
Chip died of kidney failure about a year after he came home.
The stories Wren has of the dog were passed down from his parents and the animal's first army handler, Pte. John Rowell, who exchanged letters with Wren's mother about Chips for years after the war.
Rowell wrote that he was heartbroken when Chips died.
"He said that Chips and he and slept together an awful lot and that Chips had saved his life many times," Wren said.
"He lost his best friend."
— With files from Associated Press