World War II produced many heroes, but very few of these courageous individuals weighed just four pounds and stood a mere seven inches tall. But those were the vital stats for one valiant combatant in the 1940s, and this wartime wonder was female too. “Corporal” Smoky the Yorkshire terrier was a four-legged member of the U.S. forces that fought the Japanese in the Pacific theater. But despite the tiny critter’s size, her massive contributions helped to save American lives. And what’s more, she subsequently brought great succor to many wounded servicemen.
The facts about Smoky’s birth and lineage are shrouded in mystery. The first thing we can say for a fact is that a G.I. came across the stray in a forgotten foxhole in the eastern rainforest of Papua New Guinea in February 1944. The U.S. Army Air Corps had established an airbase close to the nearby village of Nadzab the previous year.
Apparently, the tiny terrier was not in great shape when she was found. Half-starved, her looks were not improved by a buddy of her rescuer shaving off the dog’s fur, thinking she was too hot. Seemingly, this impromptu makeover left the pooch looking like a badly abused brush. But nevertheless, one soldier who shared a billet with the good Samaritan G.I. could see past the canine’s bizarre appearance.
Corporal William A. Wynne, a 22-year-old member of the Army Air Corps from Cleveland, Ohio, knew something about dogs. And he believed that this disreputable looking terrier had potential. Consequently, he passed over a handful of dollars for the animal. Reportedly, the G.I. was happy to take the money, as he needed it for a stake to buy back into a poker game he had been playing in.
Wynne served as an aerial photo reconnaissance operator who served on a variety of Pacific Islands during WWII and later in the Korean War. Unfortunately, the corporal fell ill with dengue fever not long after he bought Smoky. But it was while Wynne was recuperating in a military hospital at Nadzab that the terrier unveiled one of her amazing talents.
Dengue fever is a particularly unpleasant tropical illness transmitted by mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus. Symptoms include feverishness, nausea, skin rashes, and joint and muscle pain. Recovery can take up to a week but after a couple of days at the 233rd Station Hospital, Wynne’s buddies brought little Smoky in to cheer up his new owner.
The hospital staff took a shine to the diminutive doggo and asked Wynne if Smoky could meet some of the other patients. At that point the hospital in question was treating a number of soldiers who had been wounded in the invasion of Biak Island off the north coast of Papua New Guinea. A fierce battle against the Japanese there had resulted in almost 500 U.S. dead and nearly 3,000 casualties.
It quickly became apparent that the charismatic and entertaining Smoky had a restorative effect on the wounded men. They were delighted by the dog’s antics, such as chasing and failing to catch the massive Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterflies which fluttered about the 233rd Station Hospital. Believe it or not, but these brightly colored insects were bigger than Smoky. Nevertheless, this did not stop her and the authorities recognized the canine as a curative force in raising the morale of the recovering G.I.s.
In addition, the tricks that Wynne had taken the trouble to teach Smoky were also great source of mirth. When the corporal would point a finger at the furry girl and shout “bang,” the playful pooch would drop dramatically to the ground and play dead. Even when jabbed at or lifted, the terrier would stick to her lifeless role. But we will learn more about Smoky’s vaudeville repertoire and therapeutic value later on in our tale.
After their five days in hospital together – indulgent nurses had allowed Smoky to sleep in Wynne’s bed at night – it was back to action for both of them. Wynne was subsequently posted to various locations around the Pacific as the war against the Japanese ground on during 1944 and ’45. But wherever Wynne went, Smoky went too.
Living conditions for the serving men were often primitive but, like her master, Smoky could take whatever the war threw at her. She slept on a piece of green felt fabric cannibalized from a card table, and dined like her human daddy off the standard U.S. Army canned rations. To give an indication of the privations endured, the occasional tin of Spam was considered a treat. Although Smoky was not being fed an orthodox canine diet, she nonetheless maintained bouncingly good health throughout the war.
Indeed, the little dog would sometimes feel on top of the Earth. Admittedly, this was because Wynne would take Smoky up on his reconnaissance flights with him. In fact, the dogged companion clocked up a dozen of these missions. During their time in the Pacific, Wynne and Smoky survived 150 air raids together, not to mention a full-blown typhoon when they were stationed on the Japanese island of Okinawa.
In one extraordinary escapade – which perhaps should not be replicated with a domestic pet – Smoky actually made a series of parachute jumps. In an attempt to win her the honor of best mascot, Wynne made his mutt a custom parachute and she jumped repeatedly from a tree. In fact, the ’chute failed on her seventh go, and Wynne later recalled that Smoky could have died in the fall. Fortunately, the jump was only from 30 feet and the terrier survived the equipment failure. Come to think of it, you definitely should not try this at home.
Actually, Wynne was convinced that he owed the canine his life. One time, while he was being transported aboard a tank-landing ship, Smoky guided her owner away from his position on the vessel’s deck. Moments later, a shell landed, killing eight men on the very spot the corporal had been occupying.
And Smoky was to prove her worth as a serving military dog yet again on Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines. The U.S. forces had wrested an area around the north-western Lingayen Gulf from the Japanese with an amphibious invasion in January 1945 and established an air base there. The facility subsequently suffered heavy daily attacks from the Japanese, creating havoc and disrupting communications.
There was an urgent need for a telegraph line to be run under the airstrip to aid communications at the beleaguered base. But that would have meant digging up the runway and then recovering it, a job which was estimated would take three days. This was a scenario that the commanding officers could ill afford. The 250 men thought neccessary to carry out the job would be placed in great jeopardy. Moreover, the base’s 40 fighter planes would be grounded. This would make the facility exceptionally vulnerable to attack.
There was a small pipe running under the airstrip, but it had let some soil in at the joints. This meant that in some places its eight-inch diameter had been reduced to four. If a line could be run through this half-blocked pipe, there would be no need to place men in danger and disrupt operations. But how could this be achieved? Perhaps a small, intelligent animal could do it. Step forward Smoky…
Cometh the hour – cometh the canine. Wynne attached a string to Smoky’s collar, and placed the terrier at the opening of the buried pipe. He then hurried over to the other end. The corporal had to call her a couple of times, but then the intrepid doggo soon started along the pipe. Wynne waited anxiously; would Smoky make it through?
In a televised interview on NBC after the war, Wynne well remembered his anxiety. “I called and pleaded, not knowing for certain whether she was coming or not,” the corporal recalled. “At last, about 20-feet away, I saw two little amber eyes and heard a faint whimpering sound… at 15-feet away, she broke into a run. We were so happy at Smoky’s success that we patted and praised her for a full five minutes.” Mission accomplished.
After the war, Smoky continued her career as perhaps the first-ever therapy dog. She spent her time with Wynne, visiting wounded servicemen around the world and cheering them up with her beguiling personality. Her portfolio of tricks now included scooter-riding and tightrope walking while blindfolded, and she became a post-war TV star. A deserving Smoky retired from public life in 1955 and died aged about 14 two years later. She was buried at Ohio’s Rocky River Reservation. If you ever happen to be there, you may even bump into the very-much-alive Corporal William A. Wynne paying his respects before a life-size bronze statue of “Corporal” Smoky – an all-American hero hound if ever there was one.