Popular Children’s Movie Is Concealing A Dark History That People Didn’t Suspect

In 1995, Steven Spielberg brought us Balto, the tale of a brave sled dog and his perilous journey through the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness. This, however, was no mere work of fiction: Balto was real, and his heroism made him a legend. Yet while people were quick to celebrate the dog as a hero, he may not have been so deserving of the title.

There’s no denying Balto’s role in preventing one of the greatest crises in Alaskan history, though there was another dog present during it all that truly deserves the most credit. History and Hollywood may have forgotten him, though from here on out, you’ll never forget the name of the courageous canine that saved thousands from a terrible fate.

It all began in Nome, a small city on Alaska’s western coast. Today, the population sits at just under 4,000 people — in 1925, however, it was the most populous city in the entire state.

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Despite this fact, Nome was also one of the most difficult cities to reach, especially during the winter. The port that serviced steamship travel to Nome froze November to July, leaving the Iditarod Trail as the only link to outside world.

Sled dogs served as the primary means of transport along the Iditarod, delivering mail and other supplies to the people of Nome. But during the winter of 1925, these dogs were asked to carry something far more valuable.

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The call was put in by Dr. Curtis Welch, Nome’s sole physician, after an increasing number of children were brought to him for treatment. Initially, he diagnosed them with sore throats and tonsillitis — until they started dying.

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Welch soon discovered that diphtheria was running rampant through Nome, and to make matters worse, his clinic’s supply of antitoxin had expired. If he didn’t get a new batch fast, the people of Nome and the surrounding region — some 10,000 residents — didn’t stand a chance.

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With the Iditarod only somewhat navigable, superintendent Mark Summers of the Hammon Consolidated Gold Fields proposed a dog sled relay to deliver viable antitoxin. From the central Alaskan city of Nenana to Nome, the journey would cover 674 miles of arctic wilderness.

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Two teams were recruited for the trip, each starting at opposite ends and meeting at the small village of Nulato. A normal journey from Nenana to Nome typically took over a month to complete — they planned to do it in just six days.

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Beginning on January 27th, musher “Wild Bill” Shannon departed Nenana in -50-degree temperatures. By the time he met the next musher on his route, parts of his face had turned black from frostbite.

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From there, the antitoxin supply continued to change hands as each musher traversed the unforgiving Alaskan terrain. All the while, the death count was rising in Nome, and more cases of diphtheria were popping up each day.

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When the last member of the first team arrived at the town of Shaktoolik, he was met ahead of schedule by Norwegian musher Leonhard Seppala. A record holder and legend among the sledding community, Seppala was tasked with making the grueling trip back to Nome on his own.

At this point, however, the number of diphtheria cases in Nome had epidemic proportions. In response, Governor Scott Bone ordered additional mushers to meet Seppala on the trail, though in such harsh conditions, a rendezvous was no sure thing.

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Fortunately, Seppala was able to hand off the antitoxin to Charlie Olsen at Golovin, who then delivered it to Gunnar Kaasen at Bluff for the final leg of the journey. Fortunately, Kaasen had a certain beloved husky at the front of his pack.

Balto led Kaasen through -70-degree temperatures and blinding blizzard winds, plunging confidently ahead through the pitch-black darkness. Even after a large gust flipped Kaasen’s sled, Balto was able to rally the pack and continued onward to the next checkpoint.

When the team arrived at Point Safety to make the last handoff, they found musher Ed Rohn asleep, as he’d believed Kaasen had gotten held up. With little time to spare, Kaasen decided to sled the last 25 miles himself and arrived in Nome on February 2nd.

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With a fresh supply of antitoxin, Welch was able to cure all of his diphtheria sufferers, thereby preventing what threatened to be the worst epidemic in Alaskan history. In total, only seven people perished, though more are believed to have died in the surrounding Eskimo camps.

As for Kaasen and Balto, both were celebrated as the heroes of the “Great Race of Mercy.” They received numerous awards and accolades for their role in the run, and a statue of Balto still sits in New York City’s Central Park to this day.

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Yet not everyone held Kaasen and his dogs in such high regard. Upon his return to Alaska, fellow mushers deemed Kaasen a “glory hog,” and today, many believe that Seppala and his lead dog Togo were the true heroes of the relay.

This fact is hard to deny, as Seppala’s team covered 261 miles on their leg of the trip, more than double that of any other musher. Many also believe Ed Rohn hadn’t been asleep at Point Safety and that Kaasen sledded to Nome just for the praise.

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Fortunately, Seppala and Togo did get their recognition in the end. Togo was awarded a gold medal from Antarctic explorer Roald Amundsen, and the team toured the country extensively before Seppala sold them to a kennel in Poland Spring, Maine.

Believe it or not, most huskies in the U.S. today are actually descendants of Seppala’s legendary team. Yet these blue-eyed working dogs aren’t the only pups out there with a taste for adventure.

Before diving headfirst into World War I, the United States Army didn’t want to send its men out to battle unprepared. So officials held three-month-long basic training camps across the nation to prepare the youth for combat. It was there a certain pooch got involved.

Utilizing any space they could occupy, soldiers spent their days marching, exercising, filling their ranks, and learning warfare techniques. It was a grueling business.

It was when the new recruits of the 102nd Infantry began their basic training in the squares of Yale University that they gained an admirer. He observed their routine from the sidelines and desperately wanted to be a part of it all.

It was a stray mutt who wandered around campus, hungry and homeless. The pit bull mix, thought to be just under a year old, went unnoticed by the college students, but he did not go unnoticed by the 102nd Infantry.

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The men began to play with the stray as a distraction from their bleak future. Day in and day out, the short and stocky mutt came around, so they gave him a name: Stubby!

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One man, in particular, grew very fond of Stubby. Private John Robert Conroy, a 25-year-old orphan, found a friend in the abandoned pooch. There was just one problem, though: soldiers were forbidden from having pets.

The ranking officers saw how Stubby boosted morale, so they let him stick around as a mascot. Stubby was fed scraps by the soldiers and was even allowed to go inside and drink from the toilets when he was thirsty.

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Stubby wanted to be with them all the time. When the soldiers jogged and marched in formation, Stubby was right there beside them.

Even more impressive, Stubby learned how to respond to bugle calls and drills. Unfortunately, the time came when training was over. It was time to go to war.

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Conroy couldn’t bear the thought of abandoning Stubby. He couldn’t leave for war without his best friend. He planned to go against Army orders and smuggle Stubby onto the USS Minnesota and across the Atlantic.

All of the privates vowed to keep Stubby a secret from the officers. Stubby would hide in coal bins, under military blankets, or even in Conroy’s coat.

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The machinist on board even engraved dog tags for Stubby since he was “one of them.” Still, the reality was that Conroy couldn’t keep him a secret forever, and the vessel was nearing France.

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Stubby was secretly moved from the USS Minnesota to Conroy’s assigned base. He could conceal him for a little bit, but eventually, Conroy’s commanding officer discovered the little dog.

It was a serious risk, but he just couldn’t leave the pooch behind. He was in violation of army regulations, and Stubby was at risk of being let a stray.

Despite being in a lot of trouble, Conroy had an idea. As a last ditch effort, he showed his commanding officers just how special the dog was. Conroy said, “Present arms!” and Stubby threw up his paw as if to salute.

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The officers thought Stubby was a delight and agreed to let him stay, but Conroy had to keep Stubby with him at all times, and that meant putting him in the middle of the war.

For years, France had succumbed to terrible and dangerous trench warfare. Even seasoned soldiers were dropping like flies — how would the dog survive?

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For eight grueling months, the soldiers engaged in combat surrounded by the harsh trench environment. Lucky for them, Stubby didn’t mind. The pooch actually chased away the rats that ate the soldier’s rations and carried diseases!

The fighting was under control until one day in February, 1918. The Americans were under attack as the Germans bombarded them for a month straight. Stubby wasn’t afraid though. He jumped into action alongside his military friends.

Stubby learned to detect incoming artillery quicker than human ears could. He barked and warned the soldiers to take cover. When it was time to enter “No Man’s Land,” Stubby jumped the barrier to find injured soldiers, able to tell the difference between American and German voices.

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As the fighting continued, tactics of warfare became more gruesome. Deadly mustard gas began filling the trenches, and gas masks were in short supply. It was then that Stubby’s lungs became damaged by the harsh chemicals.

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Stubby was evacuated to a field hospital. He was badly injured, but the doctors made his health a top priority. Stubby was a fighter and determined to return to his troop. Thankfully he made a full recovery.

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Conroy wanted to make sure the little dog was protected, so he made him his own gas mask. In true Stubby fashion, it only took one time for him to learn his lesson. Now, when a gas attack loomed, Stubby detected the odor immediately.

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Time and time again, Stubby proved he was a loyal member of their unit. Soldiers made him medals for his bravery and women from a liberated French village made him a leather coat to keep him warm.

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Being truly fearless, Stubby did something that earned him the honor of being the first dog inducted into the military — and as a sergeant no less!

One day, an undetected German spy was stalking the troops. Without hesitation, Stubby attacked, sinking his teeth into the German’s uniform. He wouldn’t let go until the spy was captured!

By the war’s end, Sergeant Stubby had more medals than he could count and earned more respect than anyone in his unit. He had survived a total of 17 battles and received many honors, including a Purple Heart.

Sergeant Stubby became the U.S. Army Yankee Division’s mascot and “spokes-dog” for war bond sales. He was also honored and praised by three different U.S. presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Warren G. Harding.

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Eventually, Private Robert Conroy enrolled in law school at Georgetown University, where he and Sergeant Stubby lived a relaxed life.

When Conroy joined the football team, Sergeant Stubby was right there to rally the players and even took the field at half-time as the official football mascot.

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For many years, Stubby lived on as a symbol of freedom, hope, and patriotism. He was glorified by all who met him and thanked by those who were honored to fight alongside him. Sargent Stubby was the definition of a true American Hero.

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The bonds that military personnel forge during their services are unbreakable— anyone who worked with Stubby could tell you that. Yet, many of these close friends go their separate ways once they return home. A recent incident in Syria taught one British soldier this lesson the hard way.

After two tours in Afghanistan, Sean Laidlaw (left) figured he could handle anything Syria threw at him. But when the British Army deployed Sean and his comrades in the Royal Engineers in 2018, he leaped into a rescue attempt that he never saw coming.

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Sean was an expert at defusing and removing bombs. The Syrian Civil War had ravaged the country over the last several years, especially in the city of Raqqa. While many buildings crumbled around him, others still had undetonated explosives inside.

Reuters / Erik De Castro

Even when Sean wasn’t on patrol, the army life was a grind. Exciting moments in the camp were few and far between, and troop morale suffered greatly. When Sean got a call to investigate a bombed-out school in February, he was almost grateful.

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As Sean patrolled the area, he couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. When he really focused, however, he thought he could hear a faint whimpering somewhere under the rubble. Sean followed the noise and started digging.

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It was a puppy! The canine, which appeared to be some kind of Asian shepherd mix, backed away from Sean as he reached out. Sean knew he had to do something to help the poor thing, but then a horrific sight made him recoil.

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A few other puppies surrounded the one Sean just found. Tragically, none of them had survived the collapse of the building. Now that the dog lost her family, Sean realized he couldn’t just leave her in the wreckage alone.

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The pup still wouldn’t go near any strangers, so Sean did the sensible thing. He pulled out some water and a couple of bites of food, and that was enough to draw the reluctant animal out from her hiding place.

Soon after, the orphaned canine let its guard down and allowed Sean to pick her up. There was an immediate bond. Sean decided to bring her back to base and introduce his new friend to all his squadmates. First, of course, she would need a name.

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Sean called her Barrie, and she soon became a fixture in the Royal Engineers, barely ever leaving Sean’s side. Once she got settled in, Barrie accomplished quite a bit of good as well.

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The Army interacted with a number of Syrian children, many of whom lost their homes and family members. Amid the chaos and destruction, having a friendly dog roam around made a big difference in their lives.

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Sean also believes that having Barrie around gave him an escape from the stress and trauma of military life. Whereas some of his comrades developed mental illness or PTSD, Sean at least had an outlet and companion.

Incredibly grateful to have such a valuable friend, Sean said: “I feel like it may come across that I saved Barrie’s life, but I feel like she saved mine.” They got so close that Sean could no longer imagine being apart from Barrie.

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Barrie became such a big member of the team that Sean decided to make it official and sewed together a custom bomb squad vest for Barrie. Aside from being a big fashion statement, the vest kept her protected from danger. However, it turned out that her biggest threat was right around the corner.

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In autumn of 2018, Sean received word that his stint in Syria was almost over. He was going home — but only with one ticket. What would happen to Barrie once he left? He didn’t know if he would ever see his dog again, or even if she would still have a home at the Army base.

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Sean’s comrades celebrated the entire trip back to the United Kingdom, but Barrie weighed heavily on his mind. Then, an idea popped into his head. He remembered hearing about a charity called War Paws that helped reconnect veterans with their military dogs.

War Paws workers seemed confident they could help Sean, but there were no guarantees. They instructed him to go to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris to await the arrival of a military plane. He waited nervously, hoping Barrie would be one of the passengers getting off.

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As the airline staff rolled out a dog crate, Sean recognized a familiar face peering through the door. Barrie made it to Europe after all! Holding back tears of joy, Sean reached out to hand her a gift.

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He got Barrie a new and improved vest! She took a look in the airport mirror to size up her new duds — and her new surroundings. The streets of Raqqa, Syria, were all Barrie had ever known, so Sean hoped she would adjust to British life easily enough.

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With Barrie back in his arms, Sean returned home to Hornchurch, Essex. She settled in immediately — a far cry from the scared puppy that wouldn’t come out of the ruined school. Thanks to a stable home and steady diet, Barrie grew like a weed too!

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A full-grown dog, Barrie continued to live happily with Sean. After going through so much together, there’s no doubt that this pair would never let anything split them apart ever again.

ITV / Ken McKay

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