Hero Animals Not Limited to Dogs

veteran’s corner

Tom Krabbenhoft

I received a couple of positive emails regarding last week’s article on hero canines. Thanks for the feedback.

The application of some animals in warfare is obvious. We are mostly familiar with how the dog and horse have changed warfare. Other species are less obvious. How can such animals be utilized for war?

Cats: They are not a war animal per se. However, espionage is tied tightly to warfare. The U.S. attempted to use cats for this. The CIA spent between $2 and $15 million dollars developing micro listening devices to place under a cat’s skin. The intent was to release the feline close to those we wished to listen to.

The first effort was in Washington, D.C., very close to the Soviet embassy. The CIA agents released the cat in hopes of harvesting intelligence. Unfortunately; the cat was run over by a taxi several minutes later. Operation Acoustic Kitty was crushed, along with a couple of agents’ careers. (I could not help myself with that last sentence.) FYI, this formerly classified information was released via Wikileaks.

Elephants: In my opinion, they are the second-most influential war animal behind the horse. Battles in India have been documented to involve nearly 20,000 elephants. So fierce were the Indian armies of old and their elephants that they even repelled the Mongol hordes. Elephants were armored and had swords, spikes and other weapons fitted over their tusks. Each could carry up to seven troops.

Elephants, unlike horses, would not hesitate when faced with a wall of infantry armed with spears; they charged through. The dexterity and power of their trunks were weapons, too. They had the ability to crush opposition with a stomp; prisoners were often used in this training.

The bond between elephants and their drivers was lifelong. If the driver was killed or injured, the beast would guard over them and even sometimes carry them to safety. Elephants are still at war to this day in Myanmar, where rebels are still employing elephants to fight.

Pigs: Swine proved to be the most effective countermeasure against elephants. Their high-pitched squealing and whining terrified the elephants. The elephants sometimes retreated, trampling many of their human allies. To add to the terror, the ancient Romans would wrap the pigs in linen soaked in pitch, then light them on fire and drive them forward.

Pigeons: A pigeon named Cher Ami saved 200 American lives in World War I. Pigeons back then were donated for the war effort.. Cher was considered to be too small for a carrier.

He delivered a message from the famous Lost Battalion to stop a friendly artillery barrage. During his mission, though, he was badly wounded, losing his right leg and eye. Upon his death, soldiers who examined Cher Ami found that “he” was a “she.” Her body was sent to a taxidermist to be memorialized.

Cher Ami the hero pigeon and Sgt. Stubby, a hero dog of the same world war, are enshrined together forever at the Smithsonian Institute. 

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