US Marine Dog Lucca Awarded the World’s Highest Honor for Service Dogs for Heroism

Lucca, A US Marine German shepherd, was awarded the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) Dickin Medal for her heroism as a US Marine service dog in Afghanistan and Iraq within a six-year span. Over that period, the dog displayed incredible courage in the line of duty.

The Dickin Medal was given during a ceremony held at Wellington Barracks in London Tuesday, April 5. Lucca is the first Marine Corps dog to be given the said medal which is considered the highest award for war animals throughout the world.

The heroic dog’s present handler, Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham said in an interview how incredibly honored and humbled he was to receive the award from the veterinary institution. Lucca being awarded the said military accolade helps bring awareness to the many animals – dogs in particular – working in the military as well as their handlers, he added.

Dogs have the ability, once trained, can detect explosives. They have long been used by the military for this purpose. In WWI, they were used as messengers, but in the modern era, their main role has been in the detection of explosives devices. This ability to uncover explosives means that dogs have an important role to play in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism.

Lucca spent some six years sniffing bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq.  She managed to prevent countless ambushes, both in Afghanistan and Iraq. Improvised explosive devices were one of the main threat to Coalition forces in both countries. There were no human casualties in her patrols, her career ended way back March of 2012 after she suffered chest burns and lost her leg during a bombing in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.

Her handler that time, Corporal Juan Rodriguez, stayed by her side throughout the difficult events up until her recovery. There is often a strong bond between a dog and her or his handler.

In an interview, Corporal Rodriguez remembered how huge the explosion was and that  his immediate reaction,  was to feel fear for Lucca. He quickly ran to the dog after the explosion and saw her struggling to get up. He went on to say that he picked Lucca up, ran to a nearby shelter, applied a tourniquet to her injured leg and called the medics for help.

However, ten days after the bombing and after going through an operation, Lucca was already up and walking again.

“Through all of her treatment, and despite the pain she was in, her temperament never changed,” Rodriguez said, pride for his ward evident in his voice.

Jan McLoughlin, PDSA’s director-general, stated in his speech during the ceremony for Lucca.

 “Her ability and determination to seek out arms and explosives preserved human life amid some of the world’s fiercest military conflicts,” 

Since its introduction in 1943, the Dickin Medal has been awarded to dozens of dogs and messenger pigeons during the Second World War. Additionally, its roost of recipients include three horses and a cat.

Meanwhile, Diesel, a French police dog, is also set to posthumously receive the medal this year. Diesel was killed during a raid to capture the terrorists who were behind the deadly Paris attacks last November 13.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE