Retired Marine Dog Awarded Highest Military Honor

Diana Faria
by Diana Faria
It’s the first time in history that a U.S. Marine Corps dog was given this prestigious award, which is the animal equivalent to the Victoria Cross.

Just a few days ago, a heroic German Shepherd was awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal, the highest award in the world that any animal can receive while serving in military conflict.

The recipient is Lucca, a retired Marine Corps dog who successfully completed over 400 missions during her six years of service. During her service, she has saved thousands of lives and, best of all, there was not a single human casualty during any of her patrols.

Lucca and her owner (and first handler while serving her country), Gunnery Sergeant Chris Willingham, served together in Iraq for two years, where they conducted clearing operations along the Tigris River, South of Badghdad. They also worked together in 2008 in Diwaniyah, where Lucca would find IEDs, bombs and aid weapons caches. In November of 2011, Lucca and her second handler, Corporal Juan Rodriguez, were selected from 60 military working dogs to deploy to Afghanistan to support the Marine Expeditionary Force.

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Three years ago on March 2012, Lucca discovered a 30 pound improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan. As she searched for additional IEDs, a second device detonated beneath her. The explosion cost this brave canine her leg, and she also suffered from severe burns to her chest. Corporal Rodriguez instantly scooped Lucca up and took shelter under a nearby tree. He quickly applied a tourniquet to her injured leg and called for assistance.

Lucca was evacuated from Afghanistan to Germany, and then to the Marine Corps Base in California to complete her recovery. Corporal Rodriguez never left Lucca’s side, sleeping next to her while she recovered. After a mere 10 days, Lucca was up and walking.

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Corporal Rodriguez explains that throughout her entire treatment and recovery, Lucca’s spirit and temperament never changed. While in rehabilitation, Lucca’s adoption paperwork was submitted to officially retire from active duty. She now lives in California with her first handler, Chris Willingham.

Lucca’s heroic actions were recognized by the UK’s leading veterinary charity, People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), and she was awarded the PSDA Dickin Medal during a ceremony at Wellington Baracks in London. This prestigious honor is awarded to animals who have displayed “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defense Units.” We salute you, Lucca!


Diana Faria
Diana Faria

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