Captain Corky and Sergeant Stubby
Thomas Calabrese — Edward ‘Fast Eddie’ Dalton was born in Topeka, Kansas on July 4, 1897. He was one of eleven children who had minimal schooling because they needed to work to help provide for the family. They hunted, fished and hired themselves out as laborers. His father, Benjamin was a farmer and blacksmith and after his death, Eddie helped provide for the family by working as a logger and construction worker. He got the nickname ‘Fast Eddie’ because of his lightning quick speed which helped him defeat all comers in foot races and bare knuckle fistfights in which he bet heavily on himself, then used the winnings to help his mother pay the bills and feed his siblings.
Eddie received his draft notice in June, 1917 and was given 30 days to report to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for training. He owned two dogs at the time; Corky, a German shepherd that was 18 months old and Stubby, a terrier mix who had just turned one. He had both animals since they were puppies and on the day before leaving, Eddie took them out for a long exhausting run. It seemed like they ran for hours chasing rabbits and wildlife through the dense woods and when every bit of energy had been expelled from his body, Eddie sat down on a log and tried to catch his breath as tears and perspiration rolled down his face. It was a bittersweet time for the young man, who never felt more free and happy than at this particular moment, but also realized that reality waited just around the bend. Corky and Stubby sensed their master’s emotional turmoil and nuzzled up against him.
The next morning at the break of dawn, Eddie said goodbye to his brothers and sisters then put Corky and Stubby in a fenced area next to the barn, “I don’t want to go, but I have to do my patriotic duty, but as soon as this is over, I’m coming right back, I promise.” He reached over, petted both dogs, walked over to the family truck, got in and his mother drove him to town.
The two dogs refused to be confined and once Eddie was out of sight, they began trying to escape. Corky charged at the gate and hit it with his paws, but that didn’t work, so he stood next to the fence and Stubby went to the other end of the compound and sprinted forward and jumped on Corky’s back and propelled himself over the fence to the other side. Stubby ran into the barn, found a long rope and dragged it back to the gate and relayed it to Corky who pulled it through the fence with his teeth and looped it over the latch. Stubby dragged the other end to the barn, ran up the ladder to the hay loft while holding the rope tightly in his teeth. He jumped off which pulled up the latch up. Corky pushed open the gate and both dogs ran off.
By the time Corky and Stubby ran the 7 miles to Topeka, Eddie was just boarding the bus so they watched for a few seconds until the vehicle slowly pulled away. Corky barked then ran up the wooden stairs with Stubby right behind him, then jumped to the roof and ran parallel to the bus from rooftop to rooftop. Both leaped simultaneously to the top of the bus at the last second and landed inside the luggage rack. Corky almost went over the other side, but Stubby grabbed him with his teeth and pulled him back on top. The two dogs found a place to lie down among the suitcases and travel bags.
It was a 65 mile trip from Topeka to Fort Leavenworth and when the bus entered the front gate of the Army base, the two dogs looked around from their perch. They saw Eddie being led away with the other recruits then jumped down from the luggage rack to the hood of the bus and then to the ground.
“How did you two get loose?” Sergeant Tobias grumbled, “Come with me.”
Corky looked at Stubby and they decided not to run away so they followed the Army Sergeant to a fenced compound where there were a dozen kennels and an obstacle course for the service dogs.
Sergeant Tobias opened the gate and let the two dogs in, “Find a place to sleep, we start training tomorrow.”
Corky and Stubby found an empty kennel and lied down next to each other. At another area of the base, Eddie was lying on his cot in the barracks as other recruits socialized or took care of personal business. He pulled out two photos from his pocket, one was of his family and the other was of his dogs. As he stared longingly at them, another recruit walked by and commented, “Family?”
“Yup,” Eddie replied.
“Looks like you got a big one,” The recruit said.
“Ten brothers and sisters,” Eddie answered.
“Same with me,” The recruit smiled, “My name is Alvin, Alvin York.”
“I’m Eddie Dalton, glad to meet you, Alvin.”
The two young men began talking and were surprised how much they had in common and also how different they were.
“Every time I get drunk, I get in a fight, but when I’m sober, I feel I shouldn’t even be in the Army cause’ I don’t want to hurt anybody. I put in for conscientious objector when I was at Camp Gordon, Georgia and talked to Major Buxton, my battalion commander about it. He told me to finish my training before making a final decision. I would be in France by now if I hadn’t hurt my leg and got put back in training. That’s why they transferred me to Leavenworth.”
“Made a decision yet?” Eddie asked.
“They gave me ten days leave to go home and think about it. When I got back to Tennessee, I talked the local preacher man and he said; God would let me know when the time was right.” Alvin said.
“Did he?” Eddie asked
“I had this dream just before I went back and God told me, Alvin boy, go fight for your country and I’ll keep you safe.”
“I wish God would tell me what to do,” Eddie answered, “I’m kind of winging it on my own.”
“He probably already has, you just weren’t listening close enough.”
Alvin picked up the photo of Eddie’s two dogs, “Nice looking animals.”
Corky and Stubby began training with the other sentry dogs and quickly impressed the other dog trainers with their ability to follow orders, “Those two dogs are bonded, let’s make sure that we don’t separate them,” Sergeant Tobias ordered.
“Yes Sergeant,” Corporal Miles replied.
Eddie Dalton and Alvin York soon became close friends and were walking back from the messhall after evening chow when Eddie heard dogs barking in the distance, “What’s that?”
“The sentry dogs, they’re probably doing late training,” Alvin responded.
“I’m going take a look,” Eddie said, “Want to come?”
“I need to shine my boots, you go ahead. I’ll see you back at the barracks.”
Eddie began walking toward the sound of the dogs and when he got closer, two particular barks sounded eerily familiar. He couldn’t believe it as he walked around the corner of the building, and saw Corky and Stubby running the obstacle course. Eddie ran over to the fence and whistled, both dogs left the assigned duty and raced and greeted their owner. When Sergeant Tobias saw what was happening, he walked over, “You’re pretty good with these dogs, soldier.”
Eddie almost told him that they were his dogs, “They’re my…
Corky and Stubby barked at the same time and Eddie quickly changed his mind, “I’ve always been pretty good with animals, Sergeant.”
“Come in and let’s see what you can do with them.”
Eddie entered through the gate and nodded to his dogs. He gave them a series of hand signals that he used when he was back at home; sit, play dead, roll over, fetch Eddie even had Corky and Stubby do some acrobatic tricks.
“You’re a natural,” Sergeant Tobias marveled, “How would you like to transfer to my unit?”
“If I can work with these dogs then I will,” Eddie asked.
“That can be arranged, Private.”
“Then you got yourself a new dog handler,” Eddie smiled and embraced his dogs.
Eddie told Alvin about his decision to leave his current platoon, but he would still remain in the 328th Infantry Regiment. He put a cot in the kennel and for the next six weeks he slept with his dogs until he completed his training. Before deploying to France, Eddie found some discarded uniforms at the Supply Battalion and had a seamstress that worked at the Fort, make vests for Corky and Stubby, who left the rank insignia on the material,” Looking good, Captain Corky and Sergeant Stubby. You both outrank me now, don’t let it go to your heads.”
When his unit was deployed to France, Eddie found himself in the same location in the Meuse-Argonne as his buddy Alvin. Eddie came running up with his dogs beside him, all three moving too fast for the German machine gunners to get a good shot at them. When they jumped into the trench, Alvin drawled, “Hey Eddie.”
“Hi Alvin, looks like the Germans got you right smart, got you stopped dead in your tracks.”
Corporal York peered over the edge of the trench and saw his fellow American soldiers being cut down by machine guns mounted on the hills that surrounded their position.
Sergeant Bernard Early called out, “Get your dogs ready to go, Dalton!”
“Yes Sergeant,” Eddie responded.
“Corporal York, we’re going to get behind those machine guns,” Sergeant Early yelled.
Eddie looked at Alvin as bullets whizzed over their heads, “I’ll distract them,” then turned to Corky and Stubby, “Let’s go boys!” and they were out of the trench in a flash and running to the left as bullets chased them up the hill, only inches away from ripping their flesh to pieces.
Eddie had a Colt semi-automatic pistol in each hand as when he leaped over the first machine gun emplacement, he quickly shot two Germans. Corky and Stubby attacked the other two enemy soldiers and while they were fighting against the dogs, Eddie shot both of them and took control of the machine gun and began firing at the other German positions to give cover fire for Sergeant Early, Alvin and 13 privates, who were moving up the right flank of the hill.
Early and York overran the headquarters of a German unit and captured a large group of enemy soldiers, but made the serious mistake of thinking that the others Germans would not fire on their own men, but this was not the case. A German machine gun located a hundred meters away peppered the area, hitting most of the prisoners and killing six Americans and wounding four.
Eddie saw what was happening and grabbed the German machine gun and ran toward the enemy’s location, just as Sergeant Early and his men found themselves under fire from another group of German soldiers. Alvin used his sharpshooting skills and a turkey call to get the Germans to pop their heads up and ended up killing 20 of them before the rest surrendered.
Four Germans with fixed bayonets charged at Eddie, who dodged a blade by inches then punched the enemy soldier in the face and broke his jaw. Stubby also evaded a bayonet thrust as Corky bit the man in the throat. Eddie slapped another German across the face with his pistol, then reloaded and killed the last three enemy soldiers. In the distance German reinforcements were advancing quickly, so Eddie took off at a full sprint while firing in their direction, forcing the large force to take cover. With Corky and Stubby to warn him whenever the Germans tried to outflank, Eddie kept the enemy pinned down just long enough for Alvin and his seven remaining men time to escape the area with their 132 German prisoners.
When he started running low on ammunition, Eddie turned to his dogs, “Time to go,” The trio crawled out of their fighting hole and were off in an instant and out of sight before the Germans even knew they were gone.
Eddie and his dogs arrived back at the rear area just as Alvin was turning the prisoners over to Battalion headquarters. While everyone was telling Alvin what an amazing thing he did, he walked over to Eddie, “I should tell them what you and your dogs did out there.”
“Don’t do that, Alvin,” Eddie warned, “Leave it the way it is.”
“Yup,” Eddie responded.
“If that’s the way you want it,” Alvin sighed.
Alvin was quickly promoted to Sergeant and a few months later, an investigation by his chain of command resulted in an upgrade of his Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor and he eventually received 50 awards. While decorating Sergeant Alvin York with the Croix de Guerre, Marshal Ferdinand Foch said, “What you did was the greatest thing accomplished by any soldier of all the armies of Europe.”
In attempting to explain his actions, while keeping his word to Eddie Dalton to leave him out of it, Alvin was purposely vague, “God told me that if I went to war that he would keep me safe. When I was out there fighting, three angels saved me.” Nobody ever found out that Alvin was referring to Eddie and his dogs.
After the war, Sergeant Alvin York returned to Tennessee to parades and notoriety, while Eddie Dalton found his way to Hollywood, California where he got a job with the Hal Roach studios as an animal trainer and technical advisor on military movies. He eventually became an assistant director on the King Vidor movie, The Big Parade about the warfare on the Western Front during World War I. Eddie also worked on Wings, the first Hollywood film to win an Academy Award in 1927. It was directed by William Wellman, who served in the French Foreign Legion and was the first American assigned to the Lafayette Escadrille in World War I. He got the nickname ‘Wild Bill’ from his flying exploits.
The movie starred Clara Bow, Charles Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen. Gary Cooper appeared in a small role which helped launch his movie career. During the filming Eddie became close friends with the director and young actor. Wellman and Cooper were both dog lovers and thoroughly enjoyed having Corky and Stubby on location.
When there was down time on the set, Eddie and ‘Wild Bill’ talked about their experiences in the war while Gary Cooper listened intently. When Corky and Stubby got older and Eddie knew that they didn’t have long to live, he bought a ranch in the San Fernando Valley and turned it into a sanctuary for them to live out their remaining days. As time passed he began taking in animals that were used in the movie industry and had outlived their usefulness.
Service dogs were considered property and not living creatures by the military so they were often euthanized when they could no longer perform their duties. Eddie made arrangement with the Department of Defense to take as many of the animals that he could, rather than see them be killed. He brought them to the C&S Ranch, named for Corky and Stubby to live out the rest of their days in peace and comfort. Many people in the entertainment industry including William Randolph Hearst donated generously to the noble cause. Eddie relocated his family from Topeka, Kansas to live on the ranch and help run it. It was here that he also trained younger animals for the movies. A ten foot bronze monument was placed at the entrance to the property honoring Corky and Stubby’s as well as other dogs who served in combat. The inscription on it read; Dogs Also Served With Honor and Courage.
Alvin York had refused several times to authorize a film version of his life story. In 1939, Producer Hall Wallis and Director Howard Hawks drove out to the C&S Ranch to talk with Eddie Dalton.
“I heard that you’re good friends with Alvin York,” Hal Wallis extended his hand in greeting.
Eddie shook it then turned to Howard Hawks, “How are you?”
“We served together in the war, why? Eddie asked.
“We’d like to do a movie about him,” Hal Wallis said.
“You know that he’s turned down other producers in the past,” Eddie responded, “What makes you think he’s changed his mind now?”
“He’s been trying to finance an inter-denominational bible school and we would give him a substantial fee for the rights to his story,” Howard Hawks added, “Enough to build that school.”
“Gary Cooper has already agreed to play Sergeant York if that makes any difference,” Hal Wallis said.
“I’ll also be looking for an assistant director and technical advisor if you’re interested,” Howard Hawks added.
“I know Alvin and he’s a simple man. I’ll give him the facts and your offer. I would rather not have an ulterior motive for bringing this to him,” Eddie countered.
Eddie and his friend World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker flew to Tennessee to present the offer to Alvin.
“What do you think?” Alvin asked.
“This is your decision, not mine?” Eddie replied.
“Are you involved in this?” Alvin said.
“No, not at all, I’m just relaying the message.”
Alvin thought for a minute, “You were there and you know what really happened. You also know how they do things in the movies so if Mr. Wallis and Mr. Hawks want to do my story, then you need to be part of it. No other way, I’ll do it.”
Eddie went back to California and gave Hal Wallis and Howard Hawks the news with Alvin’s conditions. They quickly agreed and things moved quickly from that point. Eddie reviewed the screenplay and although it contained fictitious material, he recommended it to Alvin. The film was shot on several locations; Tennessee, Simi Valley, Calabassas and at the C&S Ranch. About halfway through the filming, Alvin came up to Eddie with a concerned look on his face, “Something is really bothering me.”
“What’s that?” Eddie asked.
“There ain’t nothing in the movie about you or your dogs and what y’all did. It ain’t fair that they’re making a movie about me being a hero, but none of this would have happened without you.”
“I appreciate your concern, I really do, but this movie is about you, not me. If they ever decide to do a story about my dogs, then I’ll deal with it. Look at it this way, this movie is going to help you, your school, your family and the animal sanctuary. The way I look at it, it is a win for everybody…right?”
“I guess when you put it that way,” Alvin smiled, “Roll cameras.”
The movie, Sergeant York was the highest grossing film of 1941 and was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won five; Best Picture, Gary Cooper won for best actor, Walter Brennan for best supporting actor, Margaret Wycherly, best supporting actress, best film editing and best director for Howard Hawks. Alvin York received $150,000 and $100,000 was donated to the C&S animal sanctuary.
Alvin York will forever be immortalized as a true American hero, but only a few people actually knew what really happened on October 8, 1918 in the Meuse-Argonne, but now you are privileged to be one of them. Long live the legends of courageous Fast Eddie Dalton, Captain Corky and Sergeant Stubby.