Rags was found abandoned on the streets of Paris by an American doughboy, Private James Donovan, an A.E.F. signal corps specialist serving with the U.S. 1st Infantry Division. Donovan named the dog Rags because when he first found him he mistook him for a pile of rags. Donovan had marched in the Bastille Day parade and was late in reporting back to his unit. To avoid being Absent Without Leave, Donovan told Military Police that Rags was the missing mascot of the 1st Infantry Division and that he was part of a search party. That is a role that Rags was to play for almost twenty years. Upon returning to his unit Donovan escaped punishment and was allowed to keep Rags largely because Donovan was being ordered to the front lines.
Donovan’s job in the front lines was to string communications wire between advancing infantry and supporting field artillery. He also had to repair field telephone wires that had been damaged by shellfire. Until wire was replaced, runners had to be used, but they were frequently wounded, killed or could not get through shell holes and barbed wire. Donovan trained Rags to carry written messages attached to his collar.
In July 1918, Rags and Donovan and an infantry unit of 42 men were cut off and surrounded by Germans. Rags carried back a message which resulted in an artillery barrage and reinforcements that rescued the group. News of the exploit spread throughout the 1st Division.
In September 1918, Rags and Donovan were involved in the final American campaign of the war. Rags carried a number of messages and on October 2, 1918, carried one from the 1st Battalion of the 26th Infantry Regiment to the 7th Field Artillery that resulted in an artillery barrage that led to an important objective, the Very-Epinonville Road, being secured. It saved the lives of a large number of doughboys].
On October 9, 1918, Rags and Donovan were both the victims of German shellfire and gas shells. Rags had his right front paw, right ear and right eye damaged by shell splinters, and was also mildly gassed. Donovan was more seriously wounded and badly gassed. The two were kept together and taken back to a dressing station and then several different hospitals. Whenever this unusual treatment for a mere dog was mentioned, the term “orders from headquarters” was brought into play. Rags’ reputation helped smooth the way. The dog quickly healed after excellent treatment. Donovan’s health, however, grew worse. Both were returned to the United States.
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