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Bill Wynne (1922–2021), photojournalist who trained WWII hero dog Smoky

by Linnea Crowther

Bill Wynne was a photojournalist and U.S. Army Air Forces veteran of World War II, who trained the war hero dog Smoky.

Training Smoky

Wynne was serving as an aerial photographer in the Pacific Theater, searching for planes that had gone down and taking photos to help determine if rescue was feasible. It was while he was serving in New Guinea that he met a fellow soldier who had found a Yorkshire terrier abandoned in the jungle. Wynne bought the dog, named her Smoky, and began taking her everywhere he went, including on combat missions. He trained her to sing along when he played harmonica.

Smoky became a war hero when Wynne was serving in Luzon and U.S. troops needed to dig a trench to lay communications wire. They found a covered culvert that could serve as the trench, but it was narrow and buried, and a human couldn’t get through it. They attached the wire to Smoky’s collar and sent her into the 70-foot culvert, with Wynne calling her from the other side. Even though she couldn’t see him at first, she successfully brought the wire through, eliminating the need for a three-day job with dozens of soldiers exposed to enemy fire and bombs. Smoky was named Champion Mascot in the Southwest Pacific Area by Yank Down Under magazine.

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First therapy dog

Smoky also became a therapy dog when Wynne was hospitalized during the war with Dengue fever. He let a nurse Bring Smoky to visit the other patients, and the dog lifted their spirits as they recovered. She’s considered to be the first known therapy dog, and Wynne continued to bring her to hospitals to visit patients after they returned home from the war.

Wynne’s later years

Wynne and Smoky were stars when they came home, and they were featured on local TV programs in Cleveland as well as touring widely to demonstrate the many tricks he had taught her. Smoky died in 1957 and is honored with 11 memorials on three continents. Wynne later worked as a photographer for NASA before becoming a longtime photojournalist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He wrote the 1996 memoir, “Yorkie Doodle Dandy,” about his time with Smoky. Wynne was inducted into the Ohio Press and Journalism Hall of Fame in 2009.

Wynne on training Smoky

“I started playing my harmonica and she would howl; I’d stop and prompt her to sing and she’d keep howling. She was a big morale-booster and smart as a whip.” —from a 2018 interview for Mansfield News Journal

Full obituary: McGorray-Hanna Funeral Home

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