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West Haven Veterans Museum reopens with honor, fanfare

New Haven Register - 4/15/2019

April 15-- Apr. 15--WEST HAVEN -- The unveiling of a restored painting of legendary war dog Sgt. Stubby, who saved countless lives and could stand and salute with his right paw, was at the center of a ceremony to celebrate the grand reopening of the West Haven Veterans Museum and Learning Center, where vast displays honor veterans.

Although there was fanfare over Stubby and the portrait restoration that required moving peeling paint layers -- in some cases those as small as a pinhead -- the occasion that brought the community together was that the vast museum on Hood Terrace reopened after a long closure to build a media center.

The media center, on display Saturday, is named after late longtime community activist and businessman Edward N. Silver, and was paid for by a $60,000 gift from the West Haven Rotary Foundation.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who spoke at the reopening, called the museum "a treasure," and the new addition, "special."

"I always learn something when I come here," Blumenthal told the audience of about 50, including Mayor Nancy Rossi, state Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven, City Council Chairman Ronald Quagliani.

Blumenthal said military working dogs such as Sgt. Stubby have saved many lives throughout history and as a dad of two sons in the military, he has seen firsthand how the military dogs of today can sniff out explosive devices.

The new media center -- which includes a library, conference room, computer access and large flat screen television for educational and other presentations, will get its special day in June when a dedication is planned.

Also unveiled at the ceremony was a Word War I trench diorama by Joseph J. Buydos.

The painting of Sgt. Stubby, once described as the "pride and joy" of the museum, was restored by a student through Yale University'sInstitute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage on the Yale West Campus.

The portrait was done by Charles Ayer Whipple in 1925.

The institute's director, Mark Aronson, said he got a call from a museum representative: "I have a painting that needs help." Normally when they get those calls, they refer people to restoration businesses, but then his assistant, who loves dogs, suggested using the opportunity as student practice.

Graduate student Emily Landry said it was a fabulous learning experience and thanked museum officials for the opportunity. Consolidating peeling paint layers was a big part of the job from June to November .

Stubby was immortalized last year in an animated feature film: "Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero."

Sgt. Stubby got his start in New Haven and his enlistment wasn't exactly through official channels.

Pvt. J. Robert Conroy, a young New Britain soldier was camped out and training with other members of the 102nd Infantry of the U.S. Army's 26th Yankee Division near Yale Bowl in the spring of 1917 when a stray dog started hanging around the troops. Conroy named the dog Stubby because of his stub of a tail.

According to Ann Bausum's book "Stubby the War Dog," when the soldiers prepared to ship out to Europe that summer, Stubby followed them to the train depot and hopped on board. After the troops and their mascot arrived in Virginia, Conroy persuaded a crew member of the European-bound ship to wrap Stubby inside a blanket and walk up the gangplank with him.

Stubby was allowed to stay on board because he was so friendly.

Stubby had a trick that would come to charm everyone he met. He could sit on his haunches and salute with his right paw.

He would come to be known and greeted by three U.S. presidents.

Sgt. Stubby was said to save many lives through his acute hearing and ability to smell the mustard gas before the soldiers could.

"The soldiers wouldn't go into the trench until Stubby sniffed it out. If Stubby ran out, no one went in. He's credited with saving hundreds of lives," Frank Chasney, president of the veterans' all-volunteer museum has said.

Conroy, always careful to protect Stubby, had a gas mask made for him and according to Conroy's accounts, Stubby saved the inhabitants of the French village of Chateau-Thierry from a gas attack. The grateful women of the town made an "Army" coat for him.

An April 1, 2001, cover story of Parade magazine, on display at the museum, reported: "Stubby was in 17 battles, saving U.S. lives, capturing Germans and comforting the wounded."

According to Laura Macaluso's book "New Haven in World War I," Stubby was gassed during one of the battles and hospitalized. Even there he entertained and consoled the bedridden soldiers.

The museum has a thick file of Stubby memorabilia.

In the fall of 1920, Conroy and Stubby moved to Washington, D.C., where Conroy enrolled at Georgetown University Law School. Stubby became the mascot for the university's football team.

On March 16, 1926, at the estimated age of 11 or 12, Stubby died in Conroy's arms. Conroy never owned another dog.

The New York Times ran a lengthy obituary for Stubby, a copy of which is in the files of the West Haven museum.

Stubby's remains have been preserved at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Museum admission is free, but donations are gladly accepted, officials said.

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(c)2019 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

Visit the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.) at www.nhregister.com

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