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They padded aboard submarines and proved themselves steadfast in boredom and in battle. During the worst of war these canine mascots brought their shipmates some of the comfort of home.
October 1994 | Volume 45, Issue 6
Garbo gave birth to two pups while the sub was en route to Ulithi; the father belonged to the USS Tambor (SS 198). The Gar ’s crew traded the pups to other submarines for cases of beer. At the end of the war, when the Gar returned to the States, Chief Motor Machinist Mate Jim Ellis took Garbo home with him.
Skeeter’s second trip to mast came when he mistook a chief petty officer’s leg for a fire hydrant.
Sugie joined the crew of the USS Besugo (SS 321) when he was six weeks old. At the sub’s commissioning party in June 1944, the puppy, wearing a custom-made sailor’s blue jumper, looked on from the arms of the exec.
Sugie made the shakedown cruise and all five war patrols during which the Besugo sank more than forty thousand tons of enemy shipping. He liked beer and whiskey, disdained gilly (a vile beverage distilled from the alcohol in torpedo fuel), and would, in a pinch, drink a pink lady. Submarine food suited him fine, and he especially enjoyed sitting in a chair while the crew spoon-fed him. His appetite didn’t stop there: he chewed gum (and swallowed it), he would eat soap if someone didn’t keep an eye on him, and he liked to chew up socks whenever he could, especially the skipper’s.
Skeeter, mascot of the USS Halibut (SS 232), was a swashbuckler too. The crew acquired him in Lefty’s bar in San Francisco while the sub was undergoing overhaul in 1944. During his tour on the Halibut , Skeeter appeared at captain’s mast twice, perhaps a canine record. He was first charged with disturbing the peace in the forward battery compartment and with being surly and belligerent. Cmdr. I. J. Galantin, the Halibut ’s C.O., dismissed the case with a warning. Skeeter’s second trip to mast came when he mistook a chief petty officer’s leg for a fire hydrant. But the dog eventually received an honorable discharge and was mustered out of the Navy in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in July 1945.
Others were not so fortunate. Potshot survived three war cruises aboard the USS Hoe (SS 258) only to be run over and killed by a torpedo truck during a routine stop at Pearl Harbor. Myrna, the mascot of the USS Sawfish (SS 276), another casualty of war, was one of a litter of six pups born to Luau, the mascot of the USS Spadefish (SS 411). Myrna still wasn’t weaned when her crew smuggled her aboard the Sawfish ; the corpsman fed her a formula of milk, Karo syrup, cod-liver oil, and vitamin pills. At the end of the Sawfish ’s ninth war patrol, the sub went to Camp Dealy on Guam for rest and recreation. Myrna was sleeping under a table on which several sailors were sitting; when another man joined them, the table collapsed, crushing their mascot. The accident left the crew depressed for weeks.
Myrna’s mother, Luau, was a plank owner on the Spadefish , having come aboard in February 1944, lured from the landlubber’s life by a large, tender steak after the crew discovered her in a Vallejo, California, bar. She distinguished herself in the service. When writing up the Spadefish ’s first war patrol, Lt. Cmdr. G. W. Underwood noted that Luau “contributed greatly to the morale with her ready playfulness with all hands. She was a bit perturbed by the depth charges, but soon recovered with only a slight case of depth charge nerves.”
If Hollywood had dreamed up a sea dog, it would have been Betty, a white toy poodle who was the mascot of the USS Whale (SS 239). She came aboard in Honolulu in September 1943, prevailing over the protests of the Whale ’s executive officer by licking the captain’s hand. She was then designated Dog First Class, issued service and medical records, and given the run of the ship. She avoided the noisy engine rooms and hid in the control room during gunnery practice.
The men liked to take their dog on liberty in Pearl Harbor because, as Lt. Emmett Fowler, Jr., recalled, Betty was a “girl getter”; it didn’t take long for the poodle’s escorts to strike up conversations with their mascot’s attractive admirers.
The weather was bad at Midway when the Whale returned from one patrol, and the port captain ordered the sub to remain outside the harbor till conditions improved. Unwilling to linger where his vessel might become a target for Japanese submarines, the C.O. entered port anyway. The irate port captain met the sub at the pier and yelled at the C.O. while the Whale was going alongside, then came aboard and continued to argue. Tiring of the stream of abuse, Betty slashed an eight-inch rip in the port captain’s pants leg. A subsequent admiral’s inquiry in Pearl Harbor exonerated the Whale ’s C.O. Betty had only been defending her crew. The port captain was relieved of his duties.