By Melissa Locker
June 10, 2019
Feverpitched/Getty Images

A Purple Heart is one of the military’s most somber honor, given to members of the military wounded or killed in action. Occasionally, Purple Hearts are awarded to animals, including, according to the USO, Sergeant Stubby the dog, Sergeant Reckless the horse, and one ten-foot Burmese python named George.

While it’s well known that dogs and horses can be incredibly helpful to humans (Sgt. Stubby reportedly routed out a German spy in the Argonne and Sgt. Reckless delivered ammo on the frontlines of the Korean War), snakes aren’t known for much more than scaring the tuna salad out of Floridians who find them in their garage. George, though, was different.

She—yes, George was a she—was found by then-Master Sgt. Dewey Simpson in the jungles of South Vietnam where he and his Special Forces team had been deployed. According to North Carolina’s Our State, local guerilla fighters came across the snake during a patrol in the Mekong River Delta and thought the snake looked good enough to eat. Simpson and his men saved the snake from the soup pot and brought the then nine-foot python back to camp where it was named George and served as part mascot and part rat-catcher.

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The soldiers became fond of George, that when she was wounded by a piece of shrapnel during a Viet Cong attack, Special Forces medics patched her up. She bore a scar for the rest of her life, and became the only python to receive an honorary Purple Heart (so far, anyway).

When Simpson was headed home to North Carolina, he brought George with him to continue her service at Fort Bragg where the still-growing snake worked as a “training aid”, according to the Charlotte News Observer.

Eventually George retired from service and since the snake was too big to live with Simpson and his pet Chihuahua, George went to live at The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. There, George grew to a whopping 16-feet in length and became a star, regularly receiving fan mail and valentines from kids and was featured on clothing and postcards. George remained a fixture at the museum until 1989 when she passed away. (It was only after George passed away that veterinarians realized the snake was actually a female, so Simpson and others still refer to George as “him.”)

“I didn’t think much about it when I brought him over. I never thought that he would become a celebrity,” Simpson told the News Observer in 2017. “It’s an honor to him.”

George’s life and accomplishments became the subject of a graphic novel, An Unlikely Refugee: The Story of a Python Named George,” by a husband and wife team Morrow and Max Dowdle. Their work inspired a special exhibit that traveled through museums across the South sharing George’s story with the world.

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