Yesterday Lucca was awarded a medal for bravery, the equivalent of which would be the UK’s Victoria Cross. If you are puzzled by the lack of the usual local news headlines in these matters then I should add that Lucca is a once four-legged, now three legged, dog who lost her front left leg as a result of stepping on an I(improvised) E(xplosive) D(evice) and that the award was given to her in London.
As part of the US Marine corps, Lucca, who is a cross between a German shepherd and a Belgian Malinois, had sniffed out thousands of IEDs and saved the lives of countless people both military and civilian during over 400 tours. Unfortunately, while on duty in Afghanistan in 2012 she stepped on an IED that had escaped her keen nose and was badly injured. Apart from terrible burns she had to have her front left leg amputated. But, at least her life was saved.
Now in retirement in California with her first handler Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Willingham, eight-year-old Lucca was flown to the Royal Brompton Barracks in London to receive the highest award an animal can obtain for bravery, the Dickin medal awarded by the P(eople’s) D(ispensary for) S(ick) Animals) and named after their founder. Lucca is the first US dog to have received the award.
I wonder how Lucca got her name? Was there someone in the USA who’d had family relationships with the city of Lucca? I just don’t know.
All I know is that sixty seven animals have been awarded this highest honour since Maria Dickin (1870-1951), animal rights activist, instituted the award in 1943 to recognise the bravery of animals serving in war situations, beings who truly never reason why but do and die.
The medal was awarded fifty-four times between 1943 and 1949 (to thirty-two pigeons, eighteen dogs, three horses, and one cat) in recognition of actions of gallantry during the Second World War and succeeding conflicts.
The Dickin medal was revived in 2000 and the latest recipient is (posthumously) Diesel, the Belgian Malinois dog who worked with the French police to uncover the Islamist terrorists of the November 13th 2015 Paris bombings but was sadly killed in a shoot-out in the Saint Denis district five days later. He will be the sixty eighth recipient of the medal which carries the words ‘For Gallantry – We also Serve’.
On my next visit to blighty one of the first places I’ll want to visit is Simon’s grave in Ilford, London. The only cat to-date to be awarded the Dickin medal, Simon, even when injured by enemy fire, remained both an exceptional morale-booster and a great rat-disinfester when in 1949 a British Royal Navy ship, HMS Amethyst, came under fire from hostile forces in the Yangtze river during the Chinese civil war and remained trapped for three months. Simon was almost killed when shrapnel hit him from enemy gun-fire but survived to return home to a hero’s welcome. During compulsory 6-month quarantine laws still operating in the UK, Simon caught a viral infection as a result of his war wounds and died aged just two .He was buried with full military honours.
If you want to know more about Simon there’s a delightfully moving novel called ‘Simon Ships Out’ written from his point of view by Jacky Donovan. Published in 2015 it’s available at http://www.amazon.com/Simon-Ships-brave-became-worldwide-ebook/dp/B00OWKJWKS (Kleenex tissues essential while reading it).
Incidentally, Paul Gallico (a great writer of cat-themed books) dedicated his famous children’s/adults book, ‘Jenny’ to Simon.
I believe that any loved animal deserves their own medal for devotion and for morale boosting. None of my blog posts have been written without at least one of my cats around and I doubt whether I could truly put pen to paper (or finger to key) without them.