Smoky: Yorkshire Terrier War Heroine

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Smoky the Yorkie

The Second World War involved a lot of people from the United States: by war's end, 16 million men and women were in uniform. Many of them ended up in places they had never even heard of before the conflict began. More than 400,000 of them died. That is only the human toll: 20,000 dogs were volunteered for war duty by their owners. Those animals did heroic service as guard dogs, sentries, scouts, and messengers. The survivors were returned to their grateful humans.

This number does not include the untold thousands of dogs – as well as cats, monkeys, and other animals – picked up by the soldiers, sailors, and aircrew on their journeys. Animal companions were common on all fronts. Some became famous – almost as famous as canine movie star Rin Tin Tin, a German Shepherd rescued from a battlefield in the First World War. The dogs of the Second World War came in all shapes and sizes, but one of the most unusual was Smoky, the four-pound (1.8 kg) Yorkshire Terrier. Smoky saved lives, including her human's, and is credited as being the first therapy dog. This is her story.

How They Met

She was an unbelievable mite of a thing, spinning like a whirling dervish, jumping and bumping my legs. I bent down until we were face to face. 'What kind of beast is this?' I asked myself.

William A Wynne, Yorkie Doodle Dandy: A Memoir

Ed Downey of the aerial photography unit rescued the tiny dog from an abandoned foxhole, but Downey didn't like dogs. He gave the dog to Sgt Dare. Dare decided he didn't need a dog: what he needed was money to get back into a poker game. He sold the dog to Cpl Bill Wynne, a third member of the unit and Downey's roommate, for £2 Australian ($6.44 in US money at the time and 10% of his monthly salary). To Downey's displeasure and Wynne's delight, the photography unit now had a mascot.

This was in 1944, in New Guinea. New Guinea was hot, humid, and unpleasant. It was also dangerous: disease was rife and there were predators in the jungle. Not all of those predators were of the animal variety: it was reported that more than one downed pilot had been eaten by cannibals. Other tribal people in the area were friendly, though. It was important to get to know the neighbours.

Bill Wynne and his comrades spent 12-hour shifts developing and interpreting aerial reconnaissance photos taken by advance scouts in light planes. The work was important but exhausting. In between, they had empty hours to fill. The men took up hobbies. Bill decided to train his new dog, whom he named Smoky. She turned out to be as eager to learn as he was to teach – in a short time Smoky had acquired an amazing repertoire of tricks, much to the enjoyment of the soldiers. Upon request from the medical personnel, Bill began taking Smoky on hospital visits, where she contributed greatly to morale.

None of the soldiers had ever seen a Yorkshire Terrier before. It wasn't until one of them saw photos in an issue of National Geographic that they knew Smoky belonged to a breed. On leave in Australia, Bill Wynne discovered that people there knew exactly how valuable his elite pet was: he had to keep sharp watch lest the locals try to steal his 'Silkie'.

Yank, the GI1 magazine, had a contest for unit mascots. The men took a photo of Smoky sitting in an upturned helmet and another of her midair in a tiny parachute – they hitched her to a pilot parachute and dropped her 30 feet (9 meters) from a tree, which didn't bother Smoky at all. To their surprise, Smoky won the competition and received a trophy. Bill Wynne got a free subscription to Yank.


When Bill volunteered for flight photography duty, he took Smoky along on mission. She rode in a specially-rigged carrier bag. When the time came for the troops to follow General MacArthur's invasion of the Philippines, Smoky was in the LST2 on the way to Luzon. They dodged kamikaze planes. Smoky saved Bill's life: the soldier was so concerned to cover his little friend's ears from the sound of bombardment that he ducked when she did, and dodged what would have been fatal bullets.

At Luzon, Smoky performed a notable military feat: she carried a string through seventy feet (21m) of narrow tunnel. This allowed the airport crew to install vital telegraph cables without diverting air traffic and tearing up the field while being exposed to enemy fire. Smoky was now officially a war heroine. Her rank (corporal) and unit, as well as citations, were stitched onto her personal blanket by a local seamstress.

Smoky (and Bill) managed to weather a typhoon, combat, kamikaze attack, tropical diseases, and wild animals from pythons to aggressive monkeys. Smoky enjoyed chasing chickens, other flightless birds, and butterflies that were larger than she was. In between combat assignments she continued to cheer up weary troops and hospital patients. The two friends were on Okinawa when the atomic bombs were dropped. That meant they would not be required on their projected next assignment: invading Japan. The war was finally over. They joined a transport for Korea, where they awaited shipment to Smoky's new (and Bill's old) home – Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

Career and Family

Back in Cleveland, Bill Wynne married his sweetheart Margie and began looking for work. Smoky turned out to be a help. After all, she could ride a barrel and walk a tightrope, blindfolded. She could perform tricks for 40 minutes and never repeat one. She was photogenic. What wasn't to like? The team of Smoky and Wynne spent that first postwar summer touring the city with a performing menagerie for the Cleveland Zoo. They also visited hospitals. They were featured in newspapers and on radio (Smoky barked).

After a performing trip to Chicago, Bill decided to try his luck in Hollywood. An adventurous journey later – their automobile broke down in the desert, spectacularly, causing the young couple to curse all smooth-talking used car salesmen – they arrived in California. Bill looked for work and found it, irregularly, in the process getting to know some of the best animal trainers in the business and meeting their famous dogs: Daisy (from the Blondie series), Rin Tin Tin IV, even Asta from the Thin Man films. But Margie didn't like Hollywood, and there was a guaranteed job waiting for her in Cleveland – as well as another for Bill Wynne, with NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. They went home.

Over the years, Bill and Margie had nine children. Bill worked for NACA, analysing data that resulted in workable de-icers for airplanes. Then he became a photojournalist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where he worked for over 30 years. The family was busy. But in their free time, Bill and Smoky still entertained – at hospitals, in clubs, and beginning in 1947, on the new medium of television.

Smoky always seemed to enjoy herself with an audience and made friends easily. Margie wasn't always thrilled and complained that in her marriage, 'the other woman was a real dog3.' After ten years of the show-biz life, Smoky retired, spending her remaining time with the Wynne children and their other pets.

When Smoky died peacefully in her sleep in 1957 at the ripe old age of 14, the Wynnes buried their tiny friend in the Cleveland Metroparks under 'their' tree – the one they'd carved their initials into in 1940. Almost fifty years later, in 2005, a monument was erected on the spot. A bronze life-sized sculpture shows Smoky in Bill's helmet.

A Surprising Footnote

When Smoky died, the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran an obituary for her. The day the item appeared in the paper, the Wynnes received a surprising phonecall. The callers, Mr and Mrs Heidenreich, had their own story to tell. One that possibly solved a mystery that had long puzzled Bill Wynne: just how had a Yorkshire Terrier ended up in a foxhole in New Guinea in the first place?

In December 1943, Captain Heidenreich of the field artillery bought his fiancée, Grace Guderian, a Christmas present: a very expensive Yorkshire Terrier puppy. They were both in Australia at the time. Lieutenant Guderian, a nurse, took the dog, appropriately named Christmas, with her to New Guinea. But Christmas went missing at a Bob Hope troop show in Dobodora. They could only guess that someone had found the little dog, taken her with them to Nadzab, where she was lost again and then found by Ed Downey. The Heidenreichs had never heard from 'Christmas' again.

The biggest coincidence of all? The Heidenreichs lived only a few blocks from the Wynnes in Cleveland.

For More Information

Bill Wynne's memoir about his life with Smoky is called Yorkie Doodle Dandy: Or, the Other Woman Was a Real Dog, and is now in its 7th printing.

A film about Smoky can be seen online: it's called Angel in a Foxhole.

1'GI' was common shorthand during World War II. It referred to US soldiers and came from the term 'General Issue'. A soldier was GI Joe, food was GI rations, being tired of the army was having the GI blues, etc.2LST=Landing Ship, Tank.3'A real dog' is Second World War-era US slang for 'an unattractive woman.'

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