War Horse, the movie and the stage production, celebrated the sacrifice that horses made to the Allied war effort in the First World War. The moving monument in London, England, Animals in War, that was unveiled in 2004 also pays tribute to the hundreds of thousands of horses, mules, dogs and every other animal who served in wartime. As one of the inscriptions reads, “They had no choice.”

Animals are still being honoured today for wars past and present, as these two stories illustrate.

This year’s National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame’s Sergeant Reckless Award is being given to Lucca K458, USMC, a German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix.

“Cowgirls have a long and storied relationship with animals and while the most common animal related to the cowgirl is a horse, the dog would be a close second,” said the Museum’s associate executive director Dr. Diana Vela. “We are pleased to honor Lucca’s legacy as one of those animals that is deserving of the Sergeant Reckless Award.”

The Sergeant Reckless Award recognizes animals, individuals, or groups who risk their lives for the betterment of others, and who stand courageously in protection of others. The award was named in honour of the most decorated war horse in modern history. And as far as fitting the bill, Lucca’s career says it all. She served with the United States Marine Corps for six years with the 1 Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). She was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in 2006, training at MCB Camp Lejeune in 2007, and then MCB Camp Pendleton, where a stature was erected in her honour, from 2008-2012 to detect explosives.

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Chris Willingham and his dog Lucca provide security during operations in Afak, Iraq, 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Eric Harris)

Lucca’s distinguished record includes leading more than 400 patrols in Afghanistan and Iraq during three combat tours. She’s credited with over 40 confirmed finds of insurgents, explosives and ammunition — and for having no human casualties during her patrols.

Lucca’s bravery and service has been recognized before; she was honored with Animals in War & Peace Medal of Bravery #6 and Great Britain’s PDSA Dickin Medal #67, the first US Marine Corps dog to receive the honour.

In 2012, while on patrol in Afghanistan, Lucca was injured by an IED blast that led to the amputation of her left leg. After recovering at MCB Camp Pendleton, Lucca officially retired in 2012 and was adopted by her original handler, Gunnery Sergeant Chris Willingham. She died peacefully on January 20, 2018 at the age of 14.

In addition to her Sergeant Reckless Award, Lucca has also been honoured with a statue, created by artist Jocelyn Russell, entitled “Send Me” that will stand in the Alice Walton Cowgirl Park in Fort Worth, Texas.

Lucca will be recognized at the 45th Annual Induction Luncheon and Ceremony on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, at the Dickies Arena.

The grave of Don the war horse, located in the Roseville Cemetery. (Roseville Historical Society photo)

Further north in Minnesota, there is a different sort of honour being bestowed on a war horse. At the Roselawn cemetery in Roseville, a gravestone is engraved with the following: “My Faithful War Horse. Don died Dec. 16, 1886, at the age of 29.”

According to the cemetery’s manager, Don is the only non-human buried on the grounds. The Grand Fork Herald reported that Don belonged to William Rainey Marshall, a private who rose to lieutenant colonel during the Civil War. He went on to serve as the state’s governor for two terms.

Marshall bought Don as a seven-year-old, and he was his mount during the Civil War and appears in several historical documents. According to the local Roseville Historical Society newsletter, when Don passed away his body was draped in an American flag and buried on the governor’s land. That land ended up becoming part of the present-day cemetery, but Don’s burial place would remain intact.