The U.S. Marine Corps awarded a medal to a German Shepherd on Tuesday for its heroic deeds in the war. The dog lost one of its legs during a bomb explosion in Afghanistan in 2012.
Lucca, who is a Marine Corps military dog, received the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) Dickin Medal, during a ceremony at the Wellington Barracks in London. The medal is considered the highest award that a military animal can earn and is equivalent to the British Victoria Cross.
The award-winning military dog provided her services for the U.S. Marine Corps for six years, and she took part in about 400 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In her military career, there were no human casualties during her bomb-sniffing patrols.
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“It is very humbling to be part of this entire process,” said Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham, who is Lucca’s current handler. “I think more importantly is that Lucca’s accomplishments are going to help bring awareness and recognition to all our military working dogs and their handlers.”
Willingham added that it was an “incredible honor” to receive the award for the former military dog.
Unfortunately, Lucca was severely injured when she was sniffing out bombs in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. In March 2012, she successfully found a 30-pound improvised bomb in the province. However, a second bomb detonated in front of her in the process. She lost a leg and suffered chest burns in the incident.
Fortunately, no other military personnel were injured.
GySgt Willingham Talks About Marine Corps Dog, Lucca
Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, who was Lucca’s handler at the time, recalled what happened and said he feared the worst might happen to the bomb-sniffing dog.
Rodriguez said that he saw the dog struggling to get up.
“I picked her up and ran to the shelter of a nearby tree line, applied a tourniquet to her injured leg and called the medics to collect us,” he said.
Lucca, who was about eight years old at that time, then underwent an operation and was up and about after just ten days.
The military dog was moved to Germany and then transferred to the Marine Corps Base Camp in Cam Pendleton, California.
“Through all of her treatment, and despite the pain she was in, her temperament never changed,” Rodriguez said of Lucca’s attitude even after the tragic incident. “Her fighting spirit was plain to see, and I was so proud of how quickly she recovered.”
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Now, Willingham, who is the dog’s owner, takes care of Lucca in California and provides for her needs during her well-deserved retirement. The two traveled to London to receive the award.
Willingham and Lucca trained together and were assigned to a couple of tours in Iraq. The two underwent several missions together, including clearing operations near Baghdad and counter-insurgency operations in Diwaniyah.
In 2011, Lucca and her new handler, Rodriquez, were picked to provide support to the Marine Expeditionary Force. The two led 75 patrols in the area, making sure that IEDs would not injure any military troop.
Jan McLoughlin, director general of the PDSA, commended Lucca for her gallantry and her ability to sniff out weapons, arms, and bombs during her stint with the military. Lucca is the first ever Marine Corps military dog to receive the award.
The PDSA Dickin Medal was introduced back in 1943 and has been awarded to dozens of World War II dogs, messenger pigeons, three horses, and even a cat. Lucca is the 67th animal to receive the prestigious award.
Another dog, Diesel, will also receive the award later this year. The French dog was killed during the raid on a suburban apartment to capture terrorists in November.
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[Photo by John Moore/AP Images]