Throughout my training, education and writings, I had never heard the phrase “Angel from a foxhole,” especially pertaining to a war. Yet, in February of 1944, a little angel was found in a foxhole in the middle of a world war. The location was in the insufferable humidity and equatorial heat of New Guinea.
An American G.I. named Ed Downey was trying to maneuver a jeep out of a mudhole when he heard what he thought was a dog whine coming from an abandoned foxhole. He decided to investigate. Sloshing around in tall weeds and mud, Downey spotted a pair of dark eyes gazing at him beseechingly. The eyes seemed unreasonably large for the shaggy mop of hair that resembled a dog. Downey rescued the little dog, although he wasn’t a real dog lover. Once back at camp, Downey gave the tiny canine to another G.I. The adorable Yorkshire terrier weighed in at 4 pounds and stood 7 inches tall.
Naturally, the American soldiers thought the dog belonged to the Japanese, so they took the terrier to a nearby POW camp. However, they quickly realized the tiny dog didn’t respond to commands in Japanese or English. The G.I.s decided to keep the dog and named her “Smokums” due to her smoky blue-grey coat. The name Smokums quickly morphed into Smoky, but the dog’s new owner lost his shirt in a poker game and sold Smoky for $6.44 so he could get back in the game. Her new owner, Corporal William A. Wynne of Cleveland, Ohio, took a liking to the little dog, and she soon became the mascot of the 5th Air Force, 26th Photo Recon Squadron. Smoky and Wynne were inseparable.
For two years, Smoky back-packed through the rest of the war and flew with Wynne on combat missions all over the Pacific. Wynne made a doggie-bed for Smoky out of green felt from a poker table, and she slept alongside Wynne in his tent. Her diet was shared C-rations and an occasional treat of canned Spam.
Official “war dogs” received veterinary care and a balanced diet specially formulated for canines. Being “unofficial,” Smoky did not receive medical care nor a proper diet. Regardless of her “unofficial” status, Smoky was never sick. For four months she ran on coral yet never developed paw ailments that tormented the official “war dogs.”
In Wynne’s book, “Yorkie Doodle Dandy: Or, the Other Woman Was a Real Dog,” he writes about his time with Smoky during WWII and their life together after returning stateside. In one segment he writes of her service: “Smoky served in the South Pacific with the 5th Air Force, 26th Photo Recon Squadron and flew 12 air/sea rescue and photo reconnaissance missions. On those flights, Smoky spent long hours dangling in a soldier’s pack near machine guns used to ward off enemy fighters. She was credited with 12 combat missions and awarded eight battle stars. Smoky survived 150 air raids on New Guinea and made it through a typhoon at Okinawa. She parachuted from 30 feet in the air, out of a tree, using a parachute made just for her.”
Wynne also credited Smoky with saving his life. While on an LST (Landing Ship, Tank), she warned him of incoming shells, then guided him to duck the projectiles that hit the eight men standing next to them. Wynne called Smoky, “an angel from a foxhole.”
The little dog developed a repertoire of tricks way beyond any dog of that day. She was intelligent beyond a normal canine’s I.Q. When not flying combat missions and/or dodging bombs, she served with Special Services entertaining troops and flew to amuse injured G.I.’s in hospitals from Australia to Korea. Yank Down Under magazine named Smoky the “Champion Mascot in the Southwest Pacific Area.”
Smoky even helped engineers build an airbase at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon. The base was a vital airfield for allied aircraft. Engineers needed to run a telegraph wire through a 70-foot-long pipe less than 8 inches in diameter. Soil had filtered into the pipe and in some places the clearance was only 4 inches. Wynne told the story after the war during an interview on NBC-TV.
“The wire was tied to a string, and I tied the string to Smoky’s collar and ran to the other end of the culvert. Smoky made a few steps in, then ran back. ‘Come, Smoky,’ I said sharply, and she started through again. About 10 feet in, the string caught on something and she looked over her shoulder as if to say, ‘what’s holding us up?’ The string finally loosened from the snag and she came on again. By now the dust was rising from the shuffle of her paws as she crawled through the dirt and mold and I could no longer see her. I called and pleaded, not knowing for certain whether she was coming out or not. At last, about 20 feet away, I saw two little amber eyes and heard a faint whimpering sound …. at 15 feet away, she broke into a run. We were so happy at Smoky’s success that we patted and praised her for a full five minutes.”
How important was Smoky’s contribution? The job would have taken about 250 ground crewmen to move around 40 fighters and recon planes while a construction crew dug up the runway, a job that would have placed the men and planes in danger of enemy strafing and/or bombing. The task would require three days of digging. Smoky completed the job in minutes.
In July of 1944, Wynne became sick. He was hospitalized at the 233rd Station Hospital in New Guinea with chills and high fever, most likely the dreaded Dengue Fever. Dr. Charles Mayo (of the Mayo Clinic) was the commanding officer and authorized Smoky to go on rounds with the nurses to visit the battlefield casualties form the Biak Island invasion. He also permitted the little dog to sleep with Wynne in his hospital bed for the five nights he was there. Smoky is chronicled as the first “therapy” dog, a job she continued for 12 years, during and after WWII.
After WWII Smoky became a national marvel. She and Wynne traveled to Hollywood and all over the world to demonstrate her unbelievable talents, including walking a tightrope while blindfolded. She performed on 42 live TV shows, and never repeated the same trick. Smoky was a hit in the VA hospitals and entertained millions of people during the 1940s and early 1950s.
The “angel from a foxhole,” Corporal Smoky, died unexpectedly on Feb. 21, 1957 at the approximate age of 14. The Wynne family buried Smoky in a WWII .30 caliber ammo box in the Cleveland Metroparks, Rocky River Reservation in Lakewood, Ohio. Fifty years later, on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, 2005, a bronze life-size sculpture by Susan Bahary was unveiled on the very spot where Smoky was laid to rest. Smoky is sitting in a G.I. helmet atop a 2-ton blue granite base. The monument is dedicated to, “Smoky, the Yorkie Doodle Dandy, and the Dogs of All Wars.”