US Marine Corps dog honored for military career - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

US Marine Corps dog honored for military career

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Gunnery sergeant Christopher Willingham, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama poses with retired US Marine dog Lucca, after receiving the PDSA Dickin Medal, awarded for animal bravery at Wellington Barracks in London April 5, 2016.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein) Gunnery sergeant Christopher Willingham, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama poses with retired US Marine dog Lucca, after receiving the PDSA Dickin Medal, awarded for animal bravery at Wellington Barracks in London April 5, 2016.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Heroic US Marine dog Lucca rests for photographers after receiving the PDSA Dickin Medal, awarded for animal bravery, equivalent of the Victoria Cross, at Wellington Barracks in London April 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) Heroic US Marine dog Lucca rests for photographers after receiving the PDSA Dickin Medal, awarded for animal bravery, equivalent of the Victoria Cross, at Wellington Barracks in London April 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Lucca completed over 400 separate missions in Iraq and Afghanistan during six years of active service protected the lives of thousands of troops, with her heroic actions recognised by the UK's leading veterinary charity, PDSA. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) Lucca completed over 400 separate missions in Iraq and Afghanistan during six years of active service protected the lives of thousands of troops, with her heroic actions recognised by the UK's leading veterinary charity, PDSA. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

LONDON (CBS/AP) - A U.S. Marine Corps dog that sniffed out explosives and protected thousands of U.S. and British troops has been honored with a prize for animals serving bravely in military conflict.

Lucca, a 12-year-old German Shepherd, won the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, a decoration for bravery. She is the first U.S. Marine Corps dog to receive the honor, which is the highest military honor for valor in the UK.

Trained to sniff out enemy weapons and explosives, Lucca served on 400 separate missions with the Marines over six years and during her watch not a single allied soldier died.
 
“We treat these dogs just like a fellow Marine, so it really is a team effort when you out there,” said Lucca's owner Gunnery Sergeant Chris Willingham of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

But in 2012, her illustrious career came to an abrupt end when she lost her leg to a hidden bomb. She had already sniffed out 30 pounds of explosives and was looking for more when a second device detonated resulting in her severe injuries. 

Corporal Juan Rodriguez said she had saved his life so many times before that it was now his turn to stand by Lucca. And he did - he was there during the emergency surgery and slept by her side during her recovery at a U.S. Base in Khandahar. 

Lucca joins a proud history of 66 other recipients of the prestigious medal.

Since leaving active service, Lucca was adopted by Willingham and is now living out a happy retirement as one of the family. Willingham was by her side Tuesday in London as she received the medal.

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