[The WWII New Guinea Campaign in the Pacific Theater of Operations lasted from January 1942 until August 1945. In 1942 Japan invaded the Australian Territory of New Guinea (January 23) and the Territory of Papua (July 21) and overran western New Guinea, part of The Netherlands East Indies, in late March of that year. The Japanese occupation of New Guinea, north of Australia (see map below), was a strategic threat to the Allies and to Australia.]
On September 5, 1943, the Allies began an airborne operation to capture Nadzab, New Guinea. It had an important airfield which became a major Allied air base in New Guinea. The operation began with a parachute drop by the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the US Army and the Australian Army 2/4th Field Regiment. An overland route to Nadzab was taken by the Australian 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, 2/6th Field Company, and B Company Papuan Infantry Battalion. After capturing and preparing the airfield an Allied transport plane landed the next day.
This story about Smoky and William “Bill” Wynne begins in New Guinea in 1944. Smoky’s travels with Bill during the war took her from New Guinea, to Australia, to Biak Island, to the Philippines, Okinawa, and Korea. When WWII ended Bill “smuggled” her back to the United States (US) (more on that later).
Follow Smoky and Bill’s WWII journey on the map below.
Bill Wynne was drafted in 1943. He trained with the US Army Air Force (USAAF) as a aerial photographer and attended mapping school. Bill’s unit left for Australia on a Liberty ship in December 1943 and arrived in Brisbane, Australia, later that month. On December 21, 1943, Bill with hundreds of other soldiers left Australia on the Steamship (SS) Contessa, an ironclad wooden ship, which transported them to New Guinea. He was assigned to the aerial photography laboratory of the Fifth USAAF, 26th Photographic Reconnaissance (Photo Recon) Squadron, Hollandia Airfield Complex at Nadzab, New Guinea. In April 1944 Bill was selected to fly combat as a aerial photographer.
[During WWII the 26th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron moved from Australia to New Guinea; to Mokmer Airfield, Biak Island, The Netherlands East Indies; Lingayen Airfield, Luzon, Philippines; Kadena Airfield, Okinawa; and Kimpo Airfield, Korea.
Photo Recon planes, unescorted with no armament for protection, photographed Japanese military installations, coastal defenses, harbor facilities, and airfields to provide vital information for the planning of Allied operations.
Reconnaissance aircraft were nicknamed “Spies in the Sky.”]
In March 1944 Bill Wynne’s tentmate, Ed Downey, was driving on a primitive jungle road near Hollandia when his Jeep broke down. As he worked under the hood he heard a strange noise coming from the surrounding jungle. While investigating the sound he found a little dog scratching in the dirt at the bottom of a foxhole. He brought the dog back to the base and gave her to Hollandia Airfield mechanic, Sergeant Dare. When Bill visited Dare and saw the dog, he offered him two Australian pounds for the dog. Dare replied Bill could have the dog for three Australian pounds. Bill was debating with himself how he would care for the dog in that environment, and he left. The next day Sergeant Dare, carrying the dog with him, went to the photo lab where Bill was working and offered to sell the tiny dog to Bill for two Australian pounds, the equivalent of $6.44 in US dollars at that time. Dare said he needed the money to get back into a poker game. This time Bill, an ardent dog lover, said yes. Bill decided to call her Smoky. And so began a lifelong “partnership” between Bill Wynne and a dog named Smoky.
Taking care of a dog during wartime and in a jungle environment like New Guinea was challenging. After adopting Smoky, Bill would give her daily baths in his helmet to keep her free of ticks and other insects. With no dog food to feed the dog, he discovered Smoky liked bacon, ham, eggs, and bully beef (canned hash).
But many at the Hollandia base continued to wonder where the dog came from, and how did she get there.
Whenever Bill talked to Smoky, she got very excited. He tried out several words and names to see how she responded; names/words such as Sport, Rover, Christmas all got her excited and turning in circles. Bill started teaching her commands and tricks; she was very smart and learned quickly. Bill and Smoky began putting on shows for people at the base. He took the dog with him most everywhere, and they became a team.
In 1944 a military publication Yanks Down Under had a contest to select “The Best Mascot of the Southwest Pacific Area.” Smoky won! This recognition would be very helpful later.
In July Bill woke up with a 105 degree fever. He was taken to the US 233rd Field Hospital in Nadzab. He was diagnosed with dengue fever (a mosquito-borne tropical disease). While in the hospital Bill’s friends smuggled Smoky in, and they presented Bill with the announcement of Smoky’s contest win. A few nurses discovered Smoky; Smoky won them over, and they asked to take her on rounds to “cheer up” the patients. But the hospital commanding officer had to give his permission. [The commander was Dr. Charles W. Mayo. His family was one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.] Dr. Mayo saw how the dog brought smiles to all who saw and interacted with her; her fame as the newly crowned “best mascot” was helpful also. While Bill was hospitalized, the nurses would pick up Smoky (who was allowed to sleep in Bill’s bed) every morning to go on rounds and would return her to Bill’s bed at the end of the day.
After Bill was discharged from the hospital, his squadron doctor, Dr. Beryl D. Rosenburg, offered him some recuperative leave in Brisbane — with Smoky, of course.
While in Brisbane, Bill was asked by Barbara Wood Smith, Assistant Field Director, with the American Red Cross to take Smoky to the US Navy 109th Fleet Hospital to visit the patients. This was the first hospital where they put on a planned show; they performed in eight wards that day to the delight of all the patients and hospital staff. Barbara also asked if Bill and Smoky would visit the patients at the Brisbane US Army 42nd General Hospital. They performed in 12 wards there. The little dog brought smiles and joy to her audiences of injured, wounded, homesick, and war-weary troops.
In September 1944 Barbara Wood Smith wrote a thank you letter to Cpl. (Corporal) “Smoky” on American Red Cross stationery:
Dear Cpl. Smoky:
It has been several weeks now since you visited our hospital and I suspect that by now you and Bill are back at work. You should certainly feel a nice warm glow of satisfaction at all the pleasure you brought to the patients here at our hospital. They enjoyed your visit so much and are still talking about you. Some of them are boys who have lain in bed for months and have gotten very tired of looking at nothing but four walls and other sailors. We all know that laughter is something that helps people get better and you certainly administered enough of it here to improve the health of any number of our boys.
May we congratulate you for being that almost unheard of combination — a lady artiste without temperament! You entertained in eight wards that one afternoon and seemed just as full of energy and just as obliging at the end of your tour as at the beginning. The boys particularly liked your “dead dog” act and the way you jumped up and streaked after Bill when he gave you the word. We think that you’re a wonderful morale builder and we hope that you’ll have the opportunity to entertain a lot more boys later on, go back to Bill’s home in Cleveland and carry on the good work there.
There’s always a welcome for you here, where you and Bill will be pleasantly remembered.
Sincerely, and with thanks from all of us,
Barbara Wood Smith
Assistant Field Director
[American Red Cross letter dated September 19, 1944, © Smoky War Dog LLC]
After two weeks in Australia, Bill returned to his squadron which had moved to Biak Island after its capture from the Japanese.
[The Battle of Biak (see location on map above, just north of New Guinea) May 27 – August 17, 1944, was an Allied victory and resulted in the capture of a strategic airfield from the Japanese. The airfield was renamed Mokmer Airfield. It was of vital importance as the Allies prepared for the invasion of the Philippines.]
On September 16, 1944, Bill accepted an assignment that would take him out of the photo lab and into the air flying with the 3rd Emergency Rescue Squadron looking for downed pilots. On his first mission he flew in a Stinson L-5 Sentinel. The small plane crew was a pilot and a photographer. The aircraft sometimes flew 50 feet above the ground as they surveyed battle sites. They found a crash site, circled it three times, saw that the plane had dived into the ground, and a tree had ripped off the cockpit. Bill took photos as proof of the crash and that there were no survivors.
When Bill returned from his first mission and the dangers of this type of flying were revealed to his friends, they asked Bill who would get Smoky if he never came back.
On Bill’s second and future missions he (and Smoky) flew in a PBY Catalina. The usual Catalina crew was comprised of a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, engineer-mechanic, radio operator, and two medics. Bill and Smoky were crew additions. Bill explained that Smoky was a mascot and would bring them good luck; the crew had no problem with Smoky. Smoky flew inside a canvas musette bag (a type of knapsack); she sometimes ran around the plane when there was no combat/rescue action.
In Bill Wynne’s memoir Yorkie Doodle Dandy written after WWII he recounted a mission that one could say is “luck” during wartime. He and Smoky were already in the plane. The mission was to rescue six downed men floating in a raft. At the last minute a decision was made to send an extra medic instead of a photographer. Bill would hear later that the aircraft and the men in the raft had disappeared. Bill counted his blessings.
As WWII progressed the next base for the 26th Photo Recon was the Philippines. It was Smoky’s help here that Bill said she went from a pet companion to a war dog.
Communication lines needed to be strung under a runway at Lingayen Gulf, Philippines. It was estimated that without this successful endeavor using Smoky to pull a line through the culvert it would have taken about 70 men digging for approximately three days to accomplish the job and would have shut down the airfield to Allied planes. With daily air attacks by the Japanese the lives of many men could have been lost. Smoky completed the job in about three minutes.
After WWII Bill Wynne recounted the story in an appearance on NBC-TV:
- “I tied a string (tied to the wire) to Smoky’s collar and ran to the other end of the culvert . . . (Smoky) made a few steps in and then ran back. `Come, Smoky,’ I said, and she started through again. When she was about 10 feet in, the string caught up and she looked over her shoulder as much as to say `what’s holding us up there?’ The string 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 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.”
- When his duties and time permitted Bill would take Smoky to hospitals to visit with the patients. They would also put on shows for people living around the base and children’s groups wherever the 26th Photo Recon was based.
The 26th Photo Recon Squadron moved on from the Philippines to Okinawa and then to Korea.
On November 1, 1945, the squadron got orders to return to the US from Korea on the USS (United States Ship) General William H. Gordon. One problem — the rumor (or truth?) was that US Army regulations stated no animals will go back to the US on a War Department ship.
Bill knew he couldn’t leave Smoky behind. He devised a way to bring Smoky (hopefully undetected) aboard the ship in an oxygen carrying case.
Smoky made it on board; she never barked, and the bag was not inspected. Bill found a top bunk in a corner (the bunks were stacked five high). The next morning, after 5,000 men had been loaded on the ship, there was an announcement that the man who brought a dog on-board needed to report to the troop office. Bill did not respond to the announcement; he found out later that another man, his friend Randall with his dog Duke, had responded to the order. Randall was ordered to remove Duke from the ship. But as luck would have it, as Randall was leaving the troop office a member of the ship’s crew approached him and said he would hide Duke in the hold of the ship; the sailor said he was already hiding two dogs and could fit in one more.
On high tide the ship set sail for Washington state from Inchon Harbor, Korea. At the start of the voyage the ship encountered rough seas, and Bill got very seasick. Bill spent days sick in his bunk. Men from the 26th would sneak Smoky to the upper deck for “potty” breaks; they would form a ring around her as they walked on the deck to keep her hidden.
Then came another announcement that men onboard who had brought dogs or monkeys on the ship needed to report to the ship’s office NOW. Still feeling sick Bill made his way to the troop office and was surprised to see five other “guilty” men there.
Bill retreated to his bunk and vowed to keep Smoky hidden. But a US Navy officer looking for someone else discovered the dog. The officer asked if the dog was registered to be on the ship. Bill said “no.” An hour later he was called to report to the ship’s office. Bill explained he was too sick to report earlier. He showed pictures of Smoky entertaining the sick and wounded; the letter from the Red Cross thanking Bill and Smoky for helping the morale of patients in the hospital; and noted Smoky’s 1944 selection as “The Best Mascot of the Southwest Pacific Area.” Bill was told he may have to pay a bond to bring the dog into the US and could be expected to pay up to $1,000 dollars to do so. Bill said he would accept those terms. Bill and the ship’s captain signed a document that cleared the ship of any responsibility for “one dog.”
With Smoky officially recognized and out of hiding, Bill and Smoky put on some shows on the deck for the men. Bill noticed that the ship’s captain and the troop commander would sometimes watch the show from the bridge and had smiles on their faces. AND, everyday the sailors would bring Duke up from the hold to play with Smoky.
On November 13 the USS William H. Gordon docked in Seattle.
Smoky and Bill’s story started to take on a life of its own after arriving in the US. At one train stop on their way to Bill’s home in Ohio a man with the United Services Organization (USO) noticed Bill carrying Smoky. After hearing their story someone called the Indianapolis Star. The newspaper ran a story which was picked up by a wire service.
Bill and Smoky arrived home in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 30, 1945.
Before leaving to go to war in 1943 Bill had given the love of his life, Margie Roberts, an engagement ring. They were married September 28, 1946.
A week after Bill arrived home the Cleveland Press asked to interview him. On December 7, 1945, the paper ran a front page story headlined, “TINY DOG HOME FROM THE WAR.” The New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun, and Herald America also published stories.
Smoky and Bill continued to entertain people after the war and performed at veterans’ hospitals, schools, orphanages, nursing homes, hospitals, and other organizations.
From June to August 1946 Bill was hired by the Cleveland Zoo to be masters of ceremony for a traveling circus — with Smoky as one of the stars. In October 1946 Bill and Margie went to Hollywood after hearing that then famous animal trainer, Rennie Renfro, was looking for an assistant to help him train dogs for motion pictures. The job did not materialize, and they returned to Ohio where Bill took a job at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) [NACA would become the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958.] as a member of a crew to test new de-icing equipment for aircraft.
In 1947 live television shows became popular. One of the shows in Cleveland that Bill and Smoky became part of was a children’s show Castles in the Air.
In 1953 with a growing family Bill accepted a job with a Cleveland newspaper The Plain Dealer as a photographer; he would later become a writer/photographer (now called a photojournalist) and was associated with the paper for 31 years. [Bill received many international, national, and local awards for his work as a photojournalist. In 1973 Bill was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.]
When Bill returned home from work on February 21, 1957, he found Smoky in her bed; she had died in her sleep. Bill said he was inconsolable. Margie suggested they bury the little dog near “Our Tree.” [In 1940 on a bike ride though the Cleveland Metroparks System young Bill and Margie had carved their initials in a gray beech tree.] The next day, with their children, Bill and Margie found the tree, and with Smoky’s body in a shoebox they buried her. Their seven year old daughter, Susan, cried, “Daddy, Daddy, how is Smoky going to breathe?” Bill, taken aback, told Susan that Smoky doesn’t need to breath anymore, she is in dog heaven.
Josephine Robertson, a writer at The Plain Dealer, wrote an obituary for Smoky and told her wartime story. The Wynne’s received a call from a local Cleveland woman after she read the obituary. Grace Guderian Heidenreich was a US Army nurse in New Guinea in early 1944. Her fiancé, later her husband, had bought a Yorkshire Terrier for her from a veterinarian in Brisbane, Australia. The dog was a Christmas holiday gift, so Grace named her “Christmas.” [“Christmas” was one of the words that got Smoky excited and turning in circles.] When Grace attended a Bob Hope USO show in New Guinea, little “Christmas” disappeared. She had photos of the dog to show Bill. As the stories merged, Bill concluded that his little dog, found in a foxhole, was indeed one in the same. How many Yorkshire Terriers in WWII were lost in the jungles of New Guinea?
Margie Wynne passed away in 2004. They had raised nine children together.
In 2003 Bill was informed that a monument to honor Smoky would be placed near the beech tree in the Rocky River Reservation Metropolitan Park in Cleveland where Smoky was buried in 1947. Bill searched for Smoky’s grave for hours and finally found the then fallen beech tree with its initials which led to finding the grave. Smoky’s remains were placed in a WWII .30 calibre ammunition case. The monument marks Smoky’s grave and was unveiled on Veterans Day, November 11, 2005.
Bill said that Smoky taught him much more than he had taught her.
On April 19, 2021, Bill Wynne passed away at the age of 99.
Smoky is recognized as the first documented therapy dog. Her work began in 1944 in New Guinea and continued through WWII. After seeing the effect that Smoky had on people, Bill and Smoky continued their work after WWII.
This is a selected list of remembrances of Smoky over the years since WWII:
— Ohio Veterinary Medicine Association “Animal Hall of Fame,” Columbus, Ohio, 1995.
— Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. The successor to the WWII 26th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron was the 26th Air Space Intelligence Squadron which displayed Smoky’s memorabilia in 2003.
— The Imperial War Museum , London, England. From November 2006 – May 2007 an “Animals of War Exhibit” displayed Smoky’s war blanket.
— Australian Defense Force Trackers and War Dogs Association awarded Smoky the “War Dog Operational Medal” in 2010.
— The World War II Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, displayed a bronze statue of Smoky in a helmet in 2010 as part of an exhibit to “Animals of War.”
— The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals “Certificate of Bravery and Devotion,” England, 2011.
— Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Brisbane, Australia, 2012.
— Australian War Dog Museum, Sydney, Australia, 2014. Awarded the Australian “War Dog Medal.” The award was backdated as the first combat medal to be awarded to a dog.
— Papua New Guinea, 2015.
— The Australian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, “Purple Cross,” December 11, 2015. The “Purple Cross” is a rare and high honor awarded to an animal war hero. In 163 years, Smoky was only the tenth animal to receive this honor.
Dogs for Defense was a WWII program that many people may not be aware of at this point in time. It was a military program started after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Pet owners were asked to donate their dogs to be used by the military for patrol and guard duties. For more information about this program see attached link Dogs for Defense.
For even more in-depth information and stories about Smoky, William A. Wynne’s book Yorkie Doodle Dandy (Or, The Other Woman Was A Real Dog) is a great book written by Smoky’s best friend.
Another wonderful book written in consultation with Bill Wynne is Smoky, the Dog That Saved My Life, The Bill Wynne Story by Nancy Roe Pimm.