Military honors for the funeral of a dog are rare, but that’s what happened in 1948, when Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s most famous sled dog was buried at Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery.
Rickey, a Labrador husky, was born in 1934 at Little America, an exploration base on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. He left the frigid continent, at the age of nine months, in the company of his owner, Lt. Comdr. Frederick Dustin (USNR). The pair made two return trips to Antarctica in 1939 and 1947.
In addition to being a sled dog, Rickey herded penguins for noted ornithologist Malcolm Davis. It was said that he never bit a penguin, as other dogs on the expedition had done.
During World War II, Rickey achieved his greatest fame, not for service in combat, but for selling war bonds. He flew all over the country, appearing in movies, television, on stage, and on the radio.
After Rickey’s last trip to Antarctica, he came to Washington, D. C. to live with Cmdr. Dustin and his family. On May 13, 1948, while his master was away for a conference in Paris, Rickey died unexpectedly of kidney failure. His body was taken immediately to Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery for burial.
A funeral was held in Rickey’s honor on June 5, 1948. It was attended not only by his family, but by representatives of the U. S. Navy and members of Admiral Byrd’s expeditions. It was presided over by a Navy chaplain, with an 11-person honor guard. A Navy plane flew over the cemetery and dipped its wing in tribute to Rickey and his service to his country.
Rickey was buried in an unnumbered lot somewhere around the grave of World War I veteran dog, Rags. No monument was erected on his grave, making it impossible to pinpoint where he is buried. Without a grave marker, Rickey’s story is in danger of being forgotten. For this reason, I submit this report on Rickey, as well as on many of the remarkable pets and their people connected with Aspin Hill Memorial Park. It is truly a cultural resource worth preserving.
“Rickey, Byrds Mascot On Polar Trips, Dies at 14,” Evening Star, May 14, 1948, pg. B-11
“Rickey, Byrd’s Antarctic Dog, Is Buried With Military Honors,” Evening Star, June 6, 1948, pg. A-19.
“Friend of ‘Rickey’s’ Pays Her Respects,” Washington Post, June 6, 1948, pg. M13.