After serving more than six years alongside her brothers in arms, a US Marine Corp. dog lost her leg to an IED explosion. In honor of her valor, Lucca was awarded the PDSA Dickin medal. It’s described as the highest decoration any animal can receive for military service.
Lucca was a bomb-sniffing dog who patrolled some of the most volatile combat zones throughout Afghanistan and Iraq. Before retiring, she completed more than 400 missions. Not one soldier was killed during her patrols.
“She is the only reason I made it home to my family and I am fortunate to have served with her,” Gunnery Sgt. Chris Willingham told the Huffington Post. “In addition to her incredible detection capabilities, Lucca was instrumental in increasing morale for the troops we supported.”
The Dickin medal is described as the animal equivalent to the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration awarded for valor in the UK. The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a British charity, has been awarding the Dickin medal to brave animals since 1943.
“Lucca’s conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty makes her a hugely deserving recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal,” said PDSA director Jan McLoughlin in a statement. “Her ability and determination to seek out arms and explosives preserved human life amid some of the world’s fiercest military conflicts.”
Lucca’s decorated military career ended on March 23, 2012. The 12-year-old German Sheppard sniffed out a weapons cache along with an IED in a poppy field. That IED was cleared before a second one detonated and claimed Lucca’s leg. She also suffered severe burns to her chest. No soldiers were harmed in the explosion.
“The explosion was huge and I immediately feared the worst for Lucca,” said one of her handlers, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez. “I ran to her and saw her struggling to get up. I picked her up and ran to the shelter of a nearby tree line, applied a tourniquet to her injured leg and called the medics to collect us. I stayed with her constantly throughout her operation and her recovery. She had saved my life on so many occasions — I had to make sure that I was there for her when she needed me.”
Lucca was transported from Afghanistan to Germany for treatment. She later recovered at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California. Today, she’s retired in California and looked after by Gunnery Sgt. Chris Willingham. She spends many of her days visiting schools and attending community events.
“She had her surgery and amazingly within 10 days she was walking around again,” Willingham told ABC News. The best part is that she has the same personality as she had before the blast.”
Former commanding generals of the U.S. Army Public Health Command praised Lucca during the ceremony where she received her medal.
“I know you don’t understand the words but I hope you sense the human warmth, gratitude and pride that we all feel for your heroism and for a job extremely well done,” said Retired Maj. Gen. Dean G. Sienko.