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    Gunnery sergeant Christopher Willingham, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA, poses with US Marine dog Lucca, after receiving the PDSA Dickin Medal, awarded for animal bravery, equivalent of the Victoria Cross, at Wellington Barracks in London, Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

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    A retired US Marine Corps dog who protected the lives of allied troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has been honored with the PDSA Dickin Medal - the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the UK's highest award for gallantry.

    The 12-year-old German Shepherd called Lucca lost a leg while on duty. She successfully completed over 400 separate missions during six years of active service.

    Her heroic actions were recognized by UK veterinary charity, PDSA, at a ceremony in London on April 5, which was attended by her owner, Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Willingham.

    The famous medal was instituted by PDSA's founder, Maria Dickin in 1943. It is the highest award any animal in the world can achieve while serving in military conflict.

    Lucca's skills as a search and explosives dog protected the lives of thousands of allied troops, according to the US Marines.

    Her success was such that there were no human casualties during any of her patrols.

    On her final patrol, on 23 March 2012, Lucca discovered a 30lb improvised explosive device and as she searched for additional devices, a second one detonated. She instantly lost her front left leg and suffered severe burns to her chest.

    Corporal Juan Rodriguez, her handler on the mission, administered life-saving first aid to Lucca. Through all of her emergency treatment and recovery, Cpl Rodriguez never left Lucca's side.

    "Lucca's conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty makes her a hugely deserving recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal. Her ability and determination to seek out arms and explosives preserved human life amid some of the world's fiercest military conflicts," said the charity's Director General, Jan McLoughlin, who presented the award.

    "I am thrilled that both Lucca and Gunnery Sergeant Willingham have made the journey to London to receive this very special award."    


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