By Emma Roller
On Veterans Day, it’s important to recognize those who have risked life and limb in the name of their country. But being a veteran isn’t a description limited to Homo sapiens. As long as humans have been going to war, animals have been serving alongside them in battle. Horses are the most common compatriots, but others may surprise you—even the humble glow worm has served in its own incandescent uniform. Here are some of the most unusual animals that have aided troops on the battlefield.
Dogs (and one cat)
Canines’ keen senses of smell and hearing have long helped soldiers sniff out bombs and land mines, locate wounded soldiers, and warn of impending attacks. Russian soldiers used sled dogs for transportation, and one American pit bull mix, Sergeant Stubby, was given his sergeant title after attacking a German spy in World War I. But dogs have also been used for less than noble purposes. Before the Civil War, bloodhounds were used to track down runaway slaves, and one (thankfully canceled) project in World War II used dogs to deliver explosives to the enemy.
In 1943, the United Kingdom created the Dickin Medal to award to animals who served in World War II. The majority of the 54 medal recipients were given to dogs and carrier pigeons, but one stalwart cat named Simon was awarded the medal for killing off a nefarious, ration-stealing rat population aboard a British naval ship, even after being injured by a cannon blast that killed 17 of the ship’s crew. Simon and 11 other Dickin Medal recipients are interred at Ilford Animal Cemetery outside London.
In World War I, British soldiers found bioluminescent allies in glow worms. After collecting thousands of worms in jars, soldiers would use them to illuminate messages and maps in the dark trenches. In 2004, the British government honored the glow worms and other military animals with a memorial sculpture bearing an inscription: “This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time. They had no choice.”