By Kelly Duffy, National Museum of the American Sailor Contract Curator
Mascots, especially animals, were and continue to be an important tradition in the United States Navy. Individual ships often had mascots of their own, from roosters to dogs. Dogs were so well-loved that many of them had their own ratings and even their own ID cards. This blog tells the story of how a stray dog became a ship’s mascot and a E-3 Sailor.
The Vietnam War was an emotional, dangerous, and stressful time for sailors. They faced unknown enemies, foreign terrains, long hours, and often longed for remembrances of home. Sailors aboard the USS Chevalier (DD 805) were no different. While on shore in 1967, a Boatswain’s Mate found a stray dog and, not wanting to leave her behind, decided to sneak her aboard. News of the dog eventually reached the ship’s Commanding Officer who asked the Boatswain’s Mate to report. Much to the relief of the crew, the CO not only allowed the dog to stay on the ship, but replied “We have a new sailor aboard!” He named her Cindy after one of his daughters. Cindy became an “official” member of the Chevalier crew with an E-3 pay grade.
Now a regular member of the crew, Cindy appeared every day for muster in the electronics room wearing a life vest. She would then go about her day, greeting sailors, standing lookout, and guarding the Quarterdeck. Cindy came to recognize every member of the crew and would bark at outsiders if they tried to board. She was so well-loved that a wooden bed frame complete with mattress was made for her.
During Cindy’s enlistment, she injured her leg in an accident. When the Chevalier made it to the next port, the Commanding Officer told doctors he had an injured sailor and provided no further explanation. Cindy was part of the crew and needed help. They x-rayed and treated Cindy’s leg and she was brought back to the ship where she made a full recovery.
Cindy was as much a part of the crew as any other sailor. She provided support and boosted morale, helped sailors relax, take their mind off the war, and helped to remind them of their lives outside of Vietnam. In 1968, Cindy’s tour ended when she went home with one of the crew where she lived out her life. Sailors on the USS Chevalier will never forget their four-legged shipmate and how she pawed her way into their life and their hearts. Ship mascots are more than a fun tradition; they are as much a part of the crew as any other sailor.
To learn more about Navy mascots and other Navy animal stories, visit Navy Tails: Animals in the U.S. Navy open at The National Museum of the American Sailor from April 2018 to Fall 2019.
Special thank you to Steve Winston, NMAS volunteer and former Electronics Technician 3rd Class on the USS Chevalier for his images, stories, and interview for this article.
You can learn more about animals and the U.S. Navy by reading the article Pigeons: Not Just Air Rats on the museum’s blog. Historically, for the military, pigeons saved lives, were brave, incredibly smart, and also delivered important messages over great distances.