Smoky, the unlikely war dog

Think of a war dog and chances are, you will have in your mind’s eye,  a picture of a German Shepherd, A Doberman, a Bull Mastiff or an ancient hound with metal spikes on his collar.

But Smoky is a Yorkshire Terrier, whose breed has become obscure during the second world war.

Smoky started out life as a war dog when she was found trapped in an abandoned foxhole in a New Guinea Jungle by an American soldier.   Although the soldier initially thought she belonged to the Japanese, his opinion quickly changed when she did not respond to commands given in either Japanese or English. After taking her back to camp, the dog was sold to Corporal William Wynne of Ohio for 2 dollars, the price needed by the seller to rejoin a poker game.


Cpl. Smoky, The Yorkshire Terrier.

For the next two years, Smoky and her owner went through combat fighting in the South Pacific where temperatures and living conditions were deplorable.   The tiny terrier, never complained.  Not being a Government Issued Canine, she never had access to veterinary service or even dog food.  She ate what her owner ate and slept where ever her owner slept.

As part of the 5th Air Force, 26th Photo Recon Squadron, Smoky went on 12 sea and air photo and rescue missions. To keep enemy fighters at bay during those reconnaissance trips, machine guns were fired with Smoky contently strapped into the soldier’s backpack.

Following are some of this dog’s specific accomplishments for which she was awarded 8 battle and 12 combat mission stars.

  • She survived 150 air raids on New Guinea
  • She survived a typhoon that hit Okinawa
  • Jumped from a 30-foot high tree in a specially made parachute
  • Warned Wynne and eight of his men of incoming shells from a the transport ship

Owing to her light weight and small size, she made it across corral strewn beaches without paw injuries suffered by most large war dogs and was even volunteered by her owner to do tunneling work.   From the Latin terra, for earth, most terriers were originally bred to “go to ground” after burrowing vermin, larger rodents and even foxes. These fiery little dynamos would dig up underground dens and burrows while barking furiously, forcing the inhabitants out where hunters awaited.  Smoky was no different and was a true tunnel dog.   In fact, She was instrumental in rebuilding the Lingayen gulf airfield in the Philippines;

‘To complete construction of this critical airfield where allied war planes would land and take off, a telegraph wire had to be laid. However, there was a major challenge in that this wire had to be run through an eight-inch pipe that measured 70 feet in length. Even worse, soil had clogged approximately 50% of the pipe, thereby reducing the size to a mere four inches in diameter.

Recognizing the talent but also loyalty of Smoky, Wynne decided to tie a string to the wire and then to her collar. After being encouraged to enter the pipe, the Yorkie obeyed but then backed out. Using a more commanding voice, Wynne told Smoky to re-enter the pipe, which she did only for the line to become snagged about 10 feet in. However, this tiny dog pulled and as the string came loose, she ventured deep inside.

What seemed an eternity and with just 20 feet to go, Wynne could hear Smoky whimper. Talking to her the entire time, she soon ran full speed to the exit, emerging dirty but proud. What took minutes for this Yorkshire terrier to complete would have taken multiple men several days. The work accomplished by this four-pound Yorkshire terrier made it possible for about 250 men and a lot of equipment to keep 40 planes in operation and in the area

Smoky was so vital to WWII that once the war ended, the Cleveland Press featured her in a one-page story, complete with photos. Because of this, the entire country became aware of what one little dog could do. Achieving notoriety, Smoky spent the next decade traveling with her owner to Hollywood and several overseas countries where she performed her amazing tricks to include being blindfolded while walking a tightrope.

In addition to being on shows televised in Cleveland, Smoky was given her own show called “Castles in the Air” where she once again showed off her amazing abilities. However, what makes this so incredible is that during 42 shows televised live, not a single trick was repeated. In addition to television, Smoky entertained people in VA hospitals throughout the country.

This tiny Yorkshire terrier who was rescued in the South Pacific from a foxhole went on to worldwide fame.

In 1957 she died at the age of 14. To honor this amazing animal, Wynne carefully placed Smoky’s body in a .30 caliber ammo box from World War II, which was then buried at the Rocky River Reservation in Ohio.

In 2005, a life-size bronze sculpture of Smoky sitting inside a GI helmet was erected on top of a two-ton blue granite base on her grave site. Today, there are six memorials in the United States that honor this small but powerful dog to include:

  • AKC Museum in Missouri
  • Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii
  • University of Tennessee-College of Veterinary Medicine in Tennessee
  • Ohio Veterinary Medicine Association in Ohio
  • “Smoky and Dogs of All Wars” in Ohio
  • Smoky Award given out by the annual Yorkshire Terrier National Rescue organization.

According to an Animal Planet investigation, Smoky was the first therapy dog of record. Her service in this arena began in July 1944 at the 233rd Station Hospital, in New Guinea, where she accompanied nurses to see the incoming battlefield Casualties from the Biak Island invasion. Smoky was already a celebrity of sorts, as her photograph was in Yank magazine at the same time, which made it easy to get permission. Dr. Charles Mayo, of the famed Mayo Clinic, was the commanding officer who allowed Smoky to go on rounds and also permitted her to sleep with Wynne in his hospital bed for five nights. Smoky’s work as a therapy dog continued for 12 years, during and after World War II.

Excerpts from Yorkie Doodle Dandy: Or, the Other Woman Was a Real Dog,  a book authored by Bill Wynne.  It is the memoir of his time with Smoky during World War II and thereafter. It features highlights of their service in the Pacific and their adventures in Hollywood, as well as advice on training dogs.

– Kerwin