A Private, the 26th Infantry
...and a Dog Call Rags!
On July 14th of 1918 a picked battalion of the American 1st Infantry Division took part in the Bastile Day ceremonies in Paris. One of the participants was Private James Donovan, a Signal Corps specialist, who had somewhat over-stayed his time in Paris. That evening he found himself lost in a cul-de-sac in the dark streets of Montmartre. In the darkness he suddenly stumbled over what at first appeared to be a pile of rags. When the pile of rags emitted a whimper and then a bark Donovan realized it was a small dog. As Donovan bent to examine his newly found, shaggy haired friend three rather unfriendly American military policemen arrived upon the scene.
They immediately ascertained that Donovan did not have a pass and was officially A.W.O.L.. The quick thinking U.S. Army private used the existence of his new friend to create an excuse for his missing pass. He convinced the M.P.'s that the little terrier dog was the missing mascot of the 1st Division and that he was part of a search party. He also very ingeniously came up with a name for the dog, Rags. The ruse worked and Rags and his new owner were escorted back to Donovan's unit.
In this way a French dog of the streets of Paris became the mascot of one of America's most honored fighting divisions. In the next few months Rags would more than earn his right to be the division mascot.
Upon returning to his unit Donovan was called before his commanding officer and was prepared for a stiff reprimand. Instead the young captain informed him that they were both moving up to division headquarters to establish a special communications service between infantry and artillery units of the 1st Division. The captain also gave Donovan permission to keep Rags. The dog's shaggy coat, moist, black nose and wagging tail had won over the officer. His friendly manner would continue to win over officers of even higher ranks throughout Rag's military career.
It did not take long before both Donovan and Rags underwent their introduction to the trench warfare of the western front. Both of them became involved in the Franco-American 2nd Battle of the Marne that was waged from July 18th to August 6th of 1918. During this time they were active in the sector from Ville-En-Tardenois to Soissons.
Donovan's job was to string communications wire between the advancing infantry units of the 26th Infantry Regiment and the supporting 7th Field Artillery Brigade. He was responsible for stringing and repairing the wire as it was damaged by shellfire.
Rags Becomes A Messager!
At first he tried to leave Rags in the rear area with headquarters troops but Rags would inevitably sneak off and join Donovan. Donovan soon decided to put Rags to good use. When the communications wire was badly cut by shell fire the only way to get messages through was by runners. But the runners had difficulty getting through barbed wire and frequently were killed or wounded by rifle, machine gun or shell fire.
Donovan began training Rags to carry written notes from Donovan back to the 7th Field Artrillery. Rags, usually contempuous of learning tricks that the doughboys tried to teach him, seemed to grasp the importance of his job. He soon learned to take the messages towards the sound of the American guns and had little trouble in finding Donovan with return messages.
In late July of 1918, during a counterattack driving towards the Paris-Soissons road Rags was to deliver the first of the messages that was to make him famous throughout the 1st Division. Rags and Donovan found themselves with a group of advancing infantry that had been cut off and surrounded. The only officer surviving was a young lieutenant. From the wording of his message it is probable that he was an artillery forward observer. Wire communications had been cut off by the Germans. The following message was written out and attached to Rags collar:
I have forty-two men, mixed, healthy and wounded. We have advanced to the road but can go no farther. Most of the men are from the 26th Infantry. I am the only officer. Machine guns at our rear, front, right and left. Send infantry officer to take command. I need machine gun ammunition.
Rags was able to dig his way through the barbed wire, avoid the Germans, and make his way through the shell holes back to the 7th Field Artillery. The message was passed on to headquarters. A supporting artillery barrage was layed down and reinforcements were sent out that rescued the cut off group and helped secure the objective. The news of Rag's achievement was quick to pass through the fighting men of the 1st Division.
Early Warning System!
It was during this campaign that Rags came under shell fire for the first time. At first he simply learned to imitate the men around him who would drop to the ground and hug it tightly upon hearing the sound of an incoming shell. Then the soldiers observed Rags hugging the ground with his paws spread out in front of him before anyone had heard the sound of an incoming round. This caused some laughter until they realized that with his acute and sensitive dog's hearing that Rags could hear the incoming shells before they could. The doughboys quickly learned to keep their eyes on Rags and he became a World War I early warning system and ingratiated himself even more to the appreciative soldiers.
After the end of the Marne fighting elements of the 1st Division rested in the area around Domartin-La-Montagne. Rags had time to practice his message carrying and was fitted for a special gas mask that was adapted from a regular soldier's mask. With Donovan's help Rags learned his own form of saluting. He had frequently seen soldiers saluting in his travels about the rest area and Donovan had little trouble in teaching Rags to join an activity he so often observed. Instead of raising his paw to shake hands like a civilian dog, Rags would just raise it a little bit higher and closer to his head. The story soon circulated that Rags had even exchanged salutes with the new C.O. of the 1st, Major General Charles P. Summerall, who had a reputation of being the most demanding general in the A.E.F.
R & R And Teddy!
During the rest period Rags began a ritual that he was to carry out for the rest of his life. He would tour the various mess halls and eliminate from his tours those whose fare did not appeal to him or whose personnel did not meet his standards of hospitality. It was on one of these tours that he became involved in a fight with the pet cat of a division staff officer, Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. After this incident Donovan had to restrain Rags wanderings but soon after the division moved back into action and Rags regained his freedom.
Into The Thick Of Things!
From the 12th of September until the 16th of September Rags and Donovan participated in the first all American offensive of the war, the drive to eliminate the St. Michel salient. After the opening artillery barrages the Germans began an immediate withdrawal and pulled their big guns out first. The fighting was mainly hand to hand infantry actions as the advancing Americans caught up with retreaing Germans. For four days Rags and Donovan moved forward with the infantry units of the 1st Division. Twice Donovan became engaged in hand to hand combat as Rags barked, snarled and grabbed German legs with his teeth. The Germans, usually out of food and ammunition, did not put up all out resistance. From this point on Rags greeted any grey uniformed figure with a low rrowl and snarl. He had ample opportunity as the U.S. soldiers captured 15,000 German soldiers in the four day offensive.
The final American campaign of W.W. I , the Meuse-Argonne, lasted from September 26th until November 1918. Donovan and Rags would be in at the start but by the time of the armistice both would be in the same military hospital. The two companions were again serving as the communications link between the 26th Infantry and the 7th Field Artillery. Unlike the St. Michel action the U.S. forces from the start faced strong German resistance and progress was slow. Rags was used several times to take messages through the mist shrouded, rugged terrain of the Argonne Forest.
On October 2nd he carried the following message:
From C.O. 1st Bn. 26th Infantry Oct.2-12:30
To Captain Thomas, Intelligence Officer
Have artillery that is firing in small, oblong-shaped woods, directly in front and on right of first objective, lengthen range and pound hell out of the woods. Machine gun nests are located there.
The requested artillery rounds were delivered and the 26th secured its objective. Once again Rags had helped a 1st Division unit to succeed and surely saved the lives of a number of American doughboys.
Wounded And Gassed!
The war was to come to an end for Donovan and Rags on October 9, 1918. They were working with elements of the 26th Infantry that were engaged in cleaning out the Argonne Forest. A thick fog hung over the entire region. The 26th had captured Hill 263 and were preparing to repel a German counterattack. Artillery support was needed to keep the Germans from mounting an attack. As the fog and terrain made it almost impossible to find any breaks in the communications wire it was decided to send Rags back with a message. As he was headed back the Germans began their attack by firing in gas shells. Rags was without his gas mask and was mildly gassed as he scurried towards the rear. Before Rags could reach the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Field Artillery on the rear of Hill 212 an all out artllery barrage was launched by the Germans. A round exploded not far from Rags and his forepaw was cut by a shell splinter, his right ear was mangled and a needle-like sliver was embedded under his right eye. Rags continued his journey but was then dazed by the concussion of a second round. An American infantryman found him and delivered both Rags and the message to the 7th Field Artillery. Donovan, who was still with the forward elements of the 26th , was more severely gassed and was further wounded by shell fire as he was carried to the rear. Members of the 7th Field Artillery placed Rags on Donovan's stretcher and bearers carried the two towards a dressing station behind the lines.
As Donovan and Rags made their way through the various stages of medical evacuation Rags reputation and demeanor gained him exceptional attention. Whenever anyone took exception to giving such treatment to a mere dog the words "orders from headquarters" were quickly invoked. In the early part of the journey this was interpreted to be the 1st Division C.O.. As the duo moved farther to the rear headquarters was taken to mean Gen. John Pershing himself. By the time they arrived at a French hospital far to the rear Rags had had the shell splinters removed but would be blind in his right eye and deaf in his right ear for the rest of his life. His paw soon healed and Rag's condition continually improved. Donovan, on the other hand , grew worse rather than better. The winter climate of France was not good for his gas damaged lungs and he was labeled as a priority case to be shipped home as soon as possible.
Both Went Home!
After a two-day train trip the dog and his master arrived in Brest. A friendly American colonel, with a leg injury, smuggled Rags aboard the hospital ship. Men of the 1st Division kept Rags fed and hidden and the pair soon arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey. From there Rags was again smuggled aboard a train that took the gas cases to Fort Sheridan in Chicago. Much intrigue on the part of the men of the 1st had managed to keep the two wartime buddies united.
1st Division Rags!
At Fort Sheridan Rags would post himself outside the hospital door each morning and wait until some understanding soldier would take him in for a visit with Donovan. Donovan's lungs showed no improvement and he remained bed ridden. Rags settled in at the post fire house and slept each night beneath a hose cart. During the day he would visit with Donovan and then wander the post, stopping at mess halls and the kitchens of the officer's post housing. He became well known on the post and the fort commander had a collar made for him with a tag identifying him as "1st Division Rags". It was at Fort Sheridan that Rags started to show up each evening for the retreat ceremony which included the firing of the post cannon, playing retreat on the bugle and lowering the flag at the post flagpole. He would frequently be seen joining the troopers of the fort as they stood at attention saluting the lowering flag.
His Adopted Master Was Gone.
Some time in 1919 Donovan's lungs finally gave out and he died. Rags continued to show up at the hospital door until a hospital staff member suggested a remedy. For several days Rags was taken to Donovan's empty bed and set down it. Apparently Rags realized that his adopted master was gone and stopped coming to the hospital door.
In the year following Donovan's death units and individuals would come and go but Rags remained as the Fort Sheridan post dog. He continued his daily tour of the post visiting homes and mess halls and spending his nights in the fire hall. It became accepted that Rags had no individual owner but belonged to everyone on the post. This situation was to change with the arrival of a new officer and his family.
About early 1920 Major Raymond W. Hardenberg was transferred to Fort Sheridan along with his wife and two daughters, Helen, who was fifteen, and Sue, who was seven. Hardenberg had enlisted in 1898 and worked his way up through the ranks. Rags, on his daily tours of the post, started to encounter the young girls, especially during their travels to and from school on their bikes. Up until this time Rags human contact had been chiefly with adult males in the military. Rags welcomed the new attention and the attraction between the girls and the dog was immediate and mutual. Rags began meeting them on the way home from school each day and staying for dinner. He still spent his nights at the firehouse.
Major Hardenberg became concerned and warned the girls that Rags belonged to the post and that their stay at Fort Sheridan was limited. In spite of these fears Rag's visits with the family expanded, largely by Rags choice. He saw the girls off to school each morning and greeted them upon their return in the afternoon, staying for supper. Before long he started sleeping the night on a blanket and his fire house days ended.
At this point Major Hardenberg approached the post commander with the problem. It was decided that it would be best for all concerned that the Hardenberg family be given the trusteeship of Rags, so that a single military family would always be responsible for the dog. Shortly after this decision the major and his family and Rags moved on to Fort Benning in Georgia.
Over the next several years Rags would travel with the Hardenberg family from Fort Benning to Camp Knox to the Plattsburgh, N.Y. Training Center to the Army War College in Wahington, D.C.. The Hardenberg sisters would always be sure to introduce Rags as a "real war dog who had been wounded in battle". It was at Fort Benning that Rags received injuries far worse than those from the war. Because of his blind eye and deaf ear on his right side Rags was vulnerable to the auto traffic at Fort Benning. He was hit by a car and suffered several broken bones. As with his wounds of World War I Rags was quick to recover.
Sometime around 1924 Major Hardenberg was transferred to Governor's Island in New York Harbor. The 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Division, along with other 1st Division troops, was stationed at Governor's Island at that time. Most were new recruits but many had served with the division in the Great War and were familiar with the saga of Rags. He was soon well-known and re-established as the 1st division mascot. He resumed his old habits of visiting his division friends daily and was soon touring the island. He visited the stables, explored Castle Williams and rapidly identified all the best mess halls. Many of the units set out their own water bowls especially for Rags.
As Governor's Island was rather small and confining Rags soon discovered he could expand his explorations by hitching rides on the various ferries that serviced the island. He was soon traveling by ferry to Fort Hamilton, Fort Wadsworth and to Battery Park and the Army Building at 39 Whitehall Street. On at least one occasion he traveled on an old army mine layer that sailed from Governor's Island to Sandy Hook, N.J..
Rags ...The Celebrity!
The 18th Infantry Regiment of the 1st division was stationed at Fort Hamilton and Rags found many old and new friends there and it became his favorite spot to visit. About this time Rags began to become somewhat of a New York celebrity. In October of 1926 he was a special guest at the Long Island Kennel Club dog show at the 23rd Regiment Armory in Brooklyn. He was awarded a special ribbon recognizing his wartime achievements. A book and a number of newspaper and magazine articles were written about him. A ceremony was held at which Rags had his paw placed on an ink pad and then pressed onto the flyleaf of the book. This "autographed" copy was then presented to the British Imperial War Museum in London, to take its place along with other records of the Great War. Rags continued to be presented with medals and awards, among these was the induction of Rags into the Legion of Dog Heros by the N.Y. Anti-Vivisection Society in 1931.
By 1928 Rags and the Hardenbergs were living at Fort Hamilton and Rags was a major participant at the 1st Divisions reunion on the tenth anniversary of their actions in World War I. He took part in the parade down Broadway, appeared at receptions and took part in the battle re-enactment on the parade grounds at Fort Hamilton. The high ranking brass were especially fond of having their photo taken with Rags. His picture was taken with W.W.I 1st Division commander Summerall, who was now a four star general. Former division commanders Major General Robert Bullard and Major General Frank Parker also were happy to share a photo opportunity with the canine hero.
When the third decade of the century began Rags could still be found living at Fort Hamilton. By this time he was about fourteen years old. He was now mostly limited to the Fort Hamilton Base and only occasionally took one of his ferry rides. But he could still be seen taking his daily tours, although a bit more slowly. Frequently he could be observed standing retreat with his fellow soldiers by the flagpole upon the Fort Hamilton Parade Ground.
Rags Passes On...
Early in 1934 Major Hardenberg was transferred to Washington, D.C. to serve at the office of the Chief of Infantry at the War Department. Rags went with the Hardenberg family but little is known of his activities during the next few years. On March 22, 1936 word was received at Fort Hamilton that Rags had died in Washington at the age of 20. The story received considerable news coverage in the N.Y. Times. Members of the 1st Division at Fort Hamilton began laying plans for a military burial and monument. Major General Frank Parker, the commander of the 1st Division at that time, was quoted as agreeing that Rags deserved full honors and suggested a burial in front of the headquarters at Fort Hamilton as being most approprate.
At this point Rags seems to have disappeared into history. No further newspaper accounts appeared in the N.Y. Times. The grounds of the Fort Hamilton Base were considerably changed by the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
There is no evidence today that indicates that Rags was ever buried at Fort Hamilton or that any monument was ever erected.
SiteBuilder Note: This condense version of 'Rags, War Hero' was found in cyber space; the original "Rags" book's author was Jack Rohan, Pub. 1930; Rags' grave however was found in Silver Spring, Maryland, at the Aspen Hill Memoial Park, a pet cemetery.