- The award is the highest honor animals can receive for military service
- Lucca is the first U.S. Marine Corps dog to be honored
Lucca, a 12-year-old German shepherd, served two tours with the U.S. Marine Corps. She successfully completed 400 missions and protected the lives of thousands of troops during her six years of service, according to a statement from The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals
, a British organization known as PDSA.
During her final mission on March 23, 2012, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, an IED blew up underneath
Lucca while she was on patrol. Her handler, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, recounted the explosion
in the PDSA press release.
"The explosion was huge and I immediately feared the worst for Lucca," Rodriguez said. "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.
"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 survived the bombing, but she lost her front leg. Now four years later, she has been given the PDSA Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the United Kingdom's Victoria Cross. This is the highest honor animals can receive for their military service, and Lucca is the first U.S. Marine Corps dog to receive the medal.
Lucca is retired and lives with Gunnery Sgt. Chris Willingham and his family in California.
"She is the only reason I made it home to my family and I am fortunate to have served with her," Willingham said. "Today, I do my best to keep her spoiled in her well-deserved retirement."