I’ve known Bill Wynne for many years; I am honored to call him my friend. His book, Yorkie Doodle Dandy, is one of the real treasures in my library. Having an opportunity to interview him, author to author, is a treat and a great opportunity to share this special man with more readers.
1. Did you ever think that your life would be forever changed by one little Yorkshire Terrier? What would you have said to someone who told you that because of Smoky you would achieve a special kind of fame?
Smoky came into my life in early ’44, an unknown breed at the foremost airbase in the Far Pacific. She was a miraculous find in the Nadzab, New Guinea, jungle, rescued by my buddy Ed Downey, a proclaimed dog hater. My life changed very gradually with Smoky as it was purely surviving day to day in World War II. I hadn't the slightest idea how significantly in the future my little soldier would change my life, or that of my wife, Margie, who insisted that my book—titled Yorkie Doodle Dandy fifty years before publication—tag on the subtitle, or The Other Woman was a Real Dog.
2. What made you buy Smoky from the poker player?
Downey came back to the tent and told about finding this strange little mutt in an abandoned foxhole, and he gave it to Dare, the 91st Photo Recon Wing motor pool sergeant. I asked Downey, "Why didn't you give it to me?" "I don't want a dog in my tent!" he proclaimed.
I went to see it … It was a mite of a thing no bigger than my GI shoes. She hit me in the ankles in greeting. I went to see Dare. "Hey I'll give you two Australian pounds for her," I offered. He countered, "Give me three and you can have her." I wasn't sure she would live. I told him that and left. The next day there was a rap in the photo lab door. It was Dare. "Hey Wynne you want the dog? You can have her for two pounds. I want to get back in a poker game." I slipped two pounds ($6.44) into his hand for what was destined to be the best deal—outside of Margie—of my life. Smoky died in February 1957. Yet this angel is much alive today at age 70.
3. Did you keep any sort of journal or did you write Yorkie Doodle Dandy from memory alone?
I wrote Yorkie Doodle Dandy mostly out of my head. We weren't allowed to have journals. Our letters home were censored for fear of possibly falling into enemy hands. Our Squadrons even had nicknames to keep things as secret as possible. Our 26th Photo Recon squadron was the "Shutter Bugs." We were in combat for eighteen months, under the most horrible circumstances in which to fight a war. Our food, to reduce rapid spoilage, was hardly fit for man or dog. How could I forget these details or the fact there was a brutal yet mystical beauty about the islands, no fewer than 75,000 of them? I did have to research some actual dates and exact locations. Much was not available until lately thanks to government releases of details of battles after sixty-five years and now much is available on the Internet.
4. Smoky has received so many posthumous honors and I had the honor of seeing Smoky’s helmet, jacket, etc. at The Museum of The Dog in St. Louis. What, for you, has been the greatest honor?
This is so difficult to answer. Perhaps it is the memorial at Memorial Field in Cleveland, which is the only memorial where service men and war dogs are honored at the same place. Here Smoky lies, in a .30 cal. ammunition case beneath a two-ton black granite monument that includes the first life-size bronze of her in a GI helmet, sculpted by by war-dog artist Susan Bahary. The inscription reads "SMOKY, Yorkie Doodle Dandy and Dogs of All Wars."
Possibly it’s the Australian combat medal Smoky received as "Australia's First War Dog." The Defence Force Tracker and War Dog Association Medal is awarded to dogs now in Afghanistan after twenty-eight days in combat. Smoky's is the only medal to leave Australia. (She was born in Brisbane, Queensland, in mid-1943.)
Then it may be the Memorial Bronze unveiled by the Governor of Queensland on December 12th, 2012, at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital in a very moving military ceremony. This is on the site of a former U.S. military hospital where Smoky served as a therapy dog in August 1944.
5. Tell me about some of her experiences as the world’s first therapy dog.
Smoky holds the honor of being the first therapy dog of record by Animal Planet research. The first time she lent an assist was in Nadzab, New Guinea, when I was in the hospital with dengue fever and nurses asked permission of the CO to have Smoky visit with incoming casualties from the Biak Islands invasion. "They will love her, she is one of them." The CO agreed to take her with him on rounds and Smoky was allowed to sleep on my hospital bed for five nights while she went on rounds from 7 am to 7pm daily. The nurses took care of all of her needs. It took me sixty-two years to find who the CO was that allowed Smoky to sleep on my hospital bed. Thanks to revelation on the History Channel it was none other than Maj. Dr. Charles W. Mayo, of the Mayo Clinic, at the 233rd Station Hospital. I have it in my books as the 3rd Field Hospital. (I learned just lately that it was in London at the time. Sometimes I do have trouble pulling up far-back figures.)
Smoky's greatest physical achievement, the pulling of the critically needed communication wires under the only taxi strip during the invasion of Luzon, most probably saved forty U.S. war planes and the lives of 250 ground crewmen over a three-day period. For this Smoky became the U.S. unofficial war dog of World War II. On July 20, 2012, Smoky received her combat medal and title "Australia's First War Dog." The Australians had no war dogs until some twenty years later in the Vietnam War.
6. Smoky put the Yorkshire Terrier breed back on the map. How did you go about training Smoky for so many things and how much of it was innate to her?
Smoky was the brightest dog I could have had. She learned obedience off the leash the first two days I had her, typically a ten-week course. She also learned to play dead and sing at the same time. There was little to do in the tropical jungles and on the coral rock Biak Islands, 65 miles south of the Equator. We had 5000 enemies trapped in caves two miles from where our squadron was located. Smoky loved retrieving thrown sticks with brisk fearless ocean swimming. We could play cards, go to a show we saw twenty-five times, or write letters home.
We were so isolated that if a man didn't go to the hospital and see nurses or be lucky enough for a furlough in Australia, he didn't see a woman for over a year. I was lucky having a sick and combat furlough to Australia. We did therapy work in Brisbane but I allowed no publicity. Too dangerous. I had to smuggle her in each time because of tough quarantine laws. I didn't want to lose her as a penalty, to say nothing of the jam I would be in with my military. I had Smoky to train tricks, a great diversion from hardships of war. Later this training produced our act in show business and for our own television show as a second job for ten years after the war.
7. For me, the standout part of the book, among all of the standouts, was when Smoky pulled that wire underneath the tarmac, saving days’ worth of work for the military. What, for you, is the standout part of the book?
The same one. The sand was so unstable for an airfield that we had to use Marsdon steel matting even where we parked our planes. This is why Smoky's communications run was so important. Our combat engineers with the heavy equipment to take up the heavy matting and replace it had moved with the infantry to fight at Bagio forty miles away. The heavy matting would have to be moved and replaced by hand. How important? The Japanese had dropped over 300 parachutists on our sister Photo Recon Sqs. and 5th AAF headquarters at Leyte, 400 miles south five weeks before. We didn't have enough men working at the airfield to defend it in case of a similar attack. Phone calls to three squadrons' working areas would bring over a thousand men to help defend the airfield, which is the first place an invasion force takes, in order to control the air.
8. What’s the one thing that your readers consistently tell you?
People write and tell me they are getting therapy from just reading her story. Just think of all the therapy dogs that are working everyday worldwide. My little four-pound Yorkie, eighteen months in combat, eating the worst of tropical people-food, surviving the severe heat, over 150 bombings, and other hardships; and yet she was the beginning of a most peace-loving mission: the calming serving by therapy dogs. Now there are so many therapy organizations in the U.S. and worldwide, there must be tens of thousands of dogs consoling hospitalized patients, those in rest homes and orphanages, people in need. Some readers have pointed out to me a quote in YDD that symbolizes the power of the therapy mission: "Sometimes under stress, it takes only a delightful moment of diversion from the path heading for mental disaster."
9. I know that you always have a rescue Yorkie. And I assume you’re still writing. What’s next on the agenda for you, Bill?
The Smoky story is unending. I learned so many new things and so much has happened and is happening since YDD came out I feel compelled to write Angel in a Foxhole: Smoky, Yorkie, and Her Friends. Smoky is one of the rarest of good things that came out of that horrific war with the loss of 75 million human beings and many times more bearing the scars.
Darlene Arden's journalism career has included covering women's issues, travel, celebrity profiles, and more. Her passion for cats and dogs led her to become a certified animal behavior consultant, university instructor, and author of several books about pet behavior. Her newest book is The Complete Cat's Meow: Everything You Need to Know about Caring for Your Cat.
This interview is one in an exclusive series of original author interviews arranged by Red Room editors as part of our Author Matchmakers series. Learn more about the series here, and arrange to be an interviewer or interviewee by writing to email@example.com.