LONDON - A U.S. Army dog who saved the lives of his platoon during the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 has been posthumously awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal, which recognizes the actions of animals serving in military conflict and is seen as the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
"Chips" began life as a beloved pet of the Wren family in Pleasantville, New York. His owners first laid eyes on him when a family living nearby offered the Wrens a puppy. John Wren, who was a young boy at the time, recalls his parents’ reaction.
WATCH: Chips awarded Army medal
"The runt of the litter was this German Shepherd-husky mix thing. And they said to my mother, 'Would you like him?' And she said, 'I’d love to have him.' So, she took him, and she named him Chips. And he was smart and obeyed well. And then the war effort came on, and they asked for dogs to go into the K9 Corps. And they thought he was a perfect fit for it. Although they were sorry to have to do it, they knew it was the right thing to do. And they did it."
Chips passed his military entrance tests with flying colors. He was attached to the Third Infantry Regiment of the Seventh United States Army and was shipped out to North Africa.
In January 1943, Chips was a sentry at the Casablanca Conference in Morocco, where then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met to plan the war.
The same year in July, Chips joined "Operation Husky," the Allied invasion force landing on the Italian island of Sicily.
"After his team and handler came under direct fire, Chips broke away from them and essentially forced the surrender of an enemy machine gun team," says Lt. Col. Alan Throop, who attended the ceremony Monday in London.
Chips’ handler described at the time how the dog emerged from the machine gun hut with his jaws clamped around a German soldier’s neck and had to be called off before the man was killed.
The dog suffered burns and injuries but survived, having saved the lives of the men in his platoon. Chips was awarded the Silver Star and was nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross. But the medals were later rescinded over complaints that they were not intended for animals.
Seven decades later, Chips has been posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal — an award for military service bestowed by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a British charity.
In a ceremony Monday in London, Ayron, a U.S. military working dog based in Britain, accepted the award on Chips’ behalf, alongside Throop. The presentation was held at the Churchill War Rooms, named after the former British prime minister, who along with the British government, plotted military strategy there. Among those attending the ceremony was Randolph Churchill, Winston's great-grandson.
Chips survived the war and returned home, much to the delight of then- four-year-old Wren, who was with his parents to welcome Chips off the ship. Wren said he is touched by the Dickin Medal.
"It’s just a nice way of honoring a war hero," he told VOA.
Heroics now officially recognized, 75 years later.