Veterans Day, celebrated on November 11, is a holiday in the United States when we remember and honor the people who helped in wars past and present. But not only have people stepped up in times of trouble, animals have also put their best foot, paw, fin, flipper, and wing forward and answered the call of duty. These incredible animals have served too, and we salute them!
Photograph by tommygun714, istock
The United States Navy first created the Marine Mammal Program in the 1960s to study and train dolphins, beluga whales, sea lions, and other marine mammals. A dolphin named Tuffy completed the first successful open ocean military exercise. He repeatedly carried mail and tools to military personnel 200 feet underwater. Tuffy was also able to guide lost divers to safety.
Photograph by Prajit54, Dreamstime
Glowworms may seem unlikely heroes, but these bioluminescent invertebrates have one special power: light. Soldiers in the trenches of World War I would gather the worms in jars to read maps, intelligence reports, and letters from home by their light.
Photograph by Pac, Dreamstime
It’s no myth—these intelligent birds have been employed as military messengers since ancient times. Throughout World Wars I and II, United States and British forces created special pigeon service units comprised of tens of thousands of birds to transmit messages. One special pigeon flew roughly 150 miles to deliver the news of the Allied troops’ landing in Normandy.
Super Sensing Sea Lions
Photograph by Andamanse, Dreamstime
Also part of the U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program, sea lions were trained to locate and recover military hardware dropped in the ocean. Their incredible underwater vision also makes them perfect guard dogs: They can spot an approaching enemy swimmer and alert the crew nearby.
Photograph by Matthew Amery, Dreamstime
The ancient Greeks, Persians, and Indians all used the mighty elephant as a sort of animal tank, terrifying and breaking the ranks of enemy troops. Elephants famously crossed over the Alps with Carthaginian general Hannibal in 218 B.C.
Photograph by Stuart Franklin, Magnum Photos
When you hear the word “hero," a rat probably doesn’t spring to mind. But these specially trained African giant pouched rats have saved thousands of lives by detecting land mines. These hero rats sniff out the land mines and scratch at the surface to let their handlers know where one is buried. Rats are a perfect fit for the job because they are light on their feet, can cover a lot of territory, and they’re incredibly smart!
Photograph by David Cheskin-pa, AP Photo
This king penguin is a knight! Sir Nils Olav was initially given the role of mascot of the Norwegian Guard but he quickly climbed the ranks when the Royal guardsmen came to visit him at his home in the Edinburgh Zoo. In 2008 the King of Norway, King Harald V, bestowed the honor of a knighthood upon Nils.
Photograph by Bettmann, Corbis
Stubby the stump-tailed terrier worked behind enemy lines and gained military rank and honors along the way. Private Robert Conroy casually adopted the orphan pup while attending basic training on the campus of Yale University in 1917. When Conroy's unit shipped out for France, he smuggled his new friend aboard. By the time Stubby encountered Conroy's commanding officer, the dog had perfected his right-paw salute. Charmed, the CO awarded Stubby mascot status and sent him along with Conroy's unit to the Western Front. Sergeant Stubby's brave deeds earned him a place in history and in the Smithsonian Institution where his stuffed body, decorated with war medals, can still be seen. Even 100 years later, Sergeant Stubby's great deeds and brave heart make him an animal hero to remember and treasure.