Followers of PortraitofWar will likely remember that I have a penchant for stories related to unit and individual mascots during wartime. I have a soft spot for small dogs and particularly enjoy tracking down photos of dogs acting as needed companions during the boredom and contrasting hellish days of war. Cats are cool too……. I guess….
Tonight’s post was submitted by a WWII buff I tracked down online who was generous enough to share the incredibly endearing story of his father’s WWII mascot who eventually made it stateside to live an additional thirteen years as the family pet until passing away in 1958. The incredible story of Blackout takes us from a small town in England, to the shores of Normandy and across continental Europe as the German war machine is beaten into submission. The following post was submitted by Rick Hunter:
My father, Bill Hunter volunteered for the U.S. Army in 1940. After training which included participation in the Louisiana maneuvers, he was assigned to the 744th Light Tank Battalion as initial cadre when it was formed at Camp Bowie, TX. By January, 1944 he was a Master Sergeant in the service company of the 744th Light Tank Battalion, and the unit was in England training in preparation for D-Day. Dad’s job was to supervise the maintenance of the Battalion’s vehicles and the recovery and repair of battle-damaged vehicles. Light tank battalions were “separate battalions” that were typically attached to infantry units on an “as-needed” basis and as such they moved around a lot. The service company was usually located somewhat to the rear of the front lines and Dad’s position gave him a bit of flexibility and was not as dangerous as those of many soldiers. Perhaps for these reasons and his love of dogs, Dad bought a young female Scottie from a lady in nearby Manchester. He named the dog Blackout.
Although against regulations, Blackout was apparently a hit within the unit and the leadership turned a blind-eye towards her. She even received a coat crafted from an army blanket complete with sergeant’s stripes and the unit patch. Blackout and my Dad went ashore with the Battalion at Utah Beach about 3 weeks after D-Day and the unit fought through France and Belgium and into the Netherlands. They were camped near Geleen in the Netherlands for several weeks in October, 1944.
The Dutch had been starved by the Germans and were in a desperate plight. Attracted to Blackout, a 13 year-old boy and his 5 year-old sister from the town would make daily visits to see the dog. My Dad began to give the children food and candy and made them some small wooden toys. In 2008, my brother vacationed in the Netherlands and met those two children. The girl, then in her 70’s, showed my brother those toys which she still treasured.
The tank battalion crossed into Germany in January, 1945. They fought into Germany and participated in the post-war occupation of the town of Olpe before catching a crowded troop ship back to the U.S. Dad was not about to leave Blackout behind and he smuggled her onto the troop ship. Because there were many different units on the ship, it is difficult to imagine how he could have avoided detection, and in fact he did not. Upon arrival in the U.S., the soldiers were subjected to a muster to verify all were present. The officer in charge (not from my Dad’s unit) announced to the formation “Will the individual with the dog step forward?” My Dad did not move. The officer then said “Will the master sergeant with the dog step forward?” My Dad did not move. Finally the officer said “Do we have to call you by name?” My Dad stepped forward. The officer then announced “We just wanted you to know that we were aware of it all the time.” Nothing more was said or done and over the next few weeks Dad and Blackout processed out of the Army and returned to civilian life in Tulsa.
My Dad had 4 brothers and all 5 boys served during World War II and returned safely. Their mother was proud of her sons and displayed a Blue Star Mother banner with 5 stars in her front window. The Tulsa World published an article about the family in late 1945 that included the attached picture of the boys with their mother and Blackout shortly after their return.
In the picture and starting from the right, the boy in civilian clothing served on a ship in the Pacific and refused to wear his Navy uniform after discharge. Next is my Dad and the boy next to him was a navigator. I believe he stayed in the States as an instructor. Left of him is the youngest boy who had completed a pilot training program but I have little additional information. The boy on the far left was in Iran and is wearing a Persian Gulf Command shoulder patch.
As has become the norm here at PortraitsofWar, a family member of a WWII veteran has reached out with an additional photo related to the above post. Special thanks to Gail Becnel Boyd for contacting me to share this shot of Blackout that she found in her father’s WWII photo album. Thanks Gail!