New animal bravery medal honors heroic dogs, pigeons and horse

The Washington Post

As one speaker after another rose to pay tribute at a special event on Capitol Hill in Washington last week, one of the night’s honorees sat nearby, quietly munching on bits of doughnut.

“He doesn’t like playing ball, but he loves doughnuts,” Fire Marshal Joe DiGiacomo said about Bucca, the 8-year-old rescue dog he has teamed with on hundreds of investigations, including 29 murders, in New York City.

Bucca’s actions and attention to duty led to his being among the first to receive a new award called the Animals in War & Peace Medal of Bravery. In all, eight animals — a horse, two pigeons and five dogs — were honored for their service and sacrifice dating back more than 100 years, to the battlefields of World War I.

Bucca and the other living medal recipient, a dog named Bass, attended Thursday’s ceremony.

Bass, an explosives detector, served four deployments with U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia from 2014 to 2019.

“He is by far the most intelligent, courageous and clearheaded dog I’ve ever worked with,” said his handler, Staff Sergeant Alex Schnell. “His personality is awesome. He’s playful at heart, but he can tell when it’s ‘game time.’ ”

In more than 400 searches, raids and other military operations, Bass never had a Marine die on his watch. Last month, he and Schnell left active duty. “He deserves to be retired,” Schnell said. “He’s worked really hard.”

The Animals in War & Peace Medal of Bravery is patterned after the PDSA Dickin Medal, created in the United Kingdom in 1943 to honor exceptional bravery or devotion to duty by animals in wars and other conflicts. The Dickin Medal has been awarded 71 times in 75 years, including to eight American animals.

After attending a Dickin ceremony in 2016, California resident Robin Hutton, who has written two books about animal heroes, says she thought “Why don’t we have this in America?”

Now, thanks to a charity she heads and some other groups, we do.

Bucca waits to be recognized during the awards ceremony. Bucca works with the Fire Department of New York and has helped on hundreds of investigations. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Four recipients of the new American medal also were awarded Dickin Medals. One of them is Reckless, a small Mongolian mare (female horse) whose heroism occurred in 1953 during the Korean War.

Despite being wounded twice, Reckless made 51 round trips carrying a total of 9,000 pounds of ammunition (10 times her own weight) across open fields and up steep mountains. She covered 35 miles, often alone and under enemy fire, and even transported wounded men to safety.

After the battle, the Marine Corps promoted Reckless to the rank of staff sergeant, the first and last time that has been done for a horse. Reckless died in 1968. A veteran who served with her in Korea accepted her medal Thursday.

In awarding it, former U.S. senator John Warner, a Marine officer in that war, recalled the mud, snow and ice of Korean winters. “Let the record show Reckless was a lot more courageous than I,” Warner said. “I climbed some of those hills, but not 50 times in one day!”

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