Friday, September 21, 2012

The Pigeon Who Became A War Hero - Flash Nonfiction

 “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”

Photo: US Gov't. Public Domain

During World War 1, homing pigeons were frequently used to carry communications between front line troops and commanders/support personnel in the rear.  Troops carried pigeons with them in crates; when a message needed to be sent, it was written on paper, rolled up, inserted into a canister strapped to the pigeon's leg, and the pigeon was then released to fly to its coop in the rear. When it arrived at the coop, a bell would sound alerting someone that a message had arrived.

The US Army Signal Corps had been given 600 pigeons by the British;  many flew multiple successful missions, while others were shot down by enemy fire.  One, by the name of Cher Ami (Dear Friend) is credited with saving close to 200 men who became known as the Lost Battalion.

On October 3, 1918, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, more than 500 men of New York's 77th Infantry Division (the Liberty Division) were trapped in a  depression on the side of a hill, cut off and nearly surrounded by enemy troops, without food or ammunition. Allied troops were unaware of their location and American artillery units began to shell them. Quite a few were killed or wounded; by the second day, barely 200 men were still alive. With no other means of communication available, Major Whittlesey dispatched messages by pigeon. The bird carrying the first message "Many wounded. We cannot evacuate." was shot down. A second was sent with the message, "Men are suffering. Can support be sent?" As the soldiers watched, that pigeon also was shot down. Only one was left: 'Cher Ami'. He was dispatched with a note in a canister on his left leg. “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.” 

He too was shot down.

And then, miraculously, Cher Ami struggled into the air again. Though badly injured, he flew the 25 miles to the rear, delivering the message and stopping the "friendly fire" barrage. (He arrived with one eye shot out and the leg holding the all-important message canister dangling by little more than a tendon.)

Army medics fought to save the bird's life;  he survived, but lost his leg and was given a wooden peg leg. Eventually he was sent to the US by ship, seen off by no less a personage than General Pershing, where he took up residence at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, but eventually died from his injuries.  Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre Medal with an Oak Leaf Cluster by France for his wartime service and heroic flight. He was also inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame in 1931 and was awarded a gold medal from the Organized Bodies of American Racing Pigeon Fanciers for extraordinary service during World War I.

Further reading: Cher Ami by Marion Cothren
                            Cher Ami: a poem by Harry Webb Farrington 
                            The Lost Battalion by John W Nell
                            Fly, Cher Ami, Fly! The Pigeon Who Saved the Lost Battalion by Robert Burleigh 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Vuvuzela - Flash Fiction - Re-Post

Photo Credit: Caldwella via Wikimedia Commons

     “That player's apologetic grin,” said the guy next to him, “reminds me of the look on my hound's face when he's been caught crapping on the rug.”

     James (not Jim, why shorten an already one syllable name) barely caught the words above the noise in the stadium. A most distracting noise, like a swarm of angry bees or a kazoo band gone mad underwater. It spoiled the game; and the World Cup was the one thing which he'd scrimped for, longed for, and fought for with his wife April for months. Her frugality, her pale anxious face, her soft voice, placating, pleading, had driven him wild. True, she was faithful and kind, and she always relented on things eventually. He was convinced that she lived to please him, and that sort of mild yet constant attention had become cloying.
     So when the woman in front of him turned around (he flinched guiltily; he'd been admiring the fine curve of her neck), it was only natural that he would be struck by her exotic beauty.
     “You're from America,” she said, as though it were some magical land and he, a mysterious stranger.
     James smiled agreeably. “That's right,” he said.
     She turned around and resumed watching the game. The vuvuzelas hooted in rising and falling waves like migratory birds. They were no longer a nuisance, but rather the backdrop to a grand drama; James fancied that he'd fallen in love.

     Later, he followed her through the crowd, keeping close, taking every opportunity to unobtrusively breathe her in and make his presence known. A fine sheen of sweat broke out on his forehead. She was so obviously out of his league that he had to have her. He wondered if the white shadow on his ring finger was obvious.
     When she stopped to adjust her shoe strap, James bumped into her, apologized, and then asked her out. She said yes.
     Thus began a whirlwind of dinners, club dates, walks through the streets in a soft rain, days spent under the glaring sun. They clung, they fought, they made it up tenderly; she refused to spend the night, holding him off with an enchanting smile and fire in her eyes. He had begun to dream, vividly, of living here in this strange country with the heat in his blood and and the scent of her on his clothes. His home fell further and further behind, April paling into absolute insignificance.
     James asked if she could ever envision their living together. She said yes.

     Only a week, and yet he was perusing the daily papers for jobs and apartments, neatly checking off his List Of Things To Do. Which included April, of course, there at the bottom and just after “buy a used car”.

     He told his new love that he was “involved with someone” back home, that he would need to tidy things up a bit, but that he would return in a few months. He asked if she would wait for him, and she said yes.

     At the train station, James waited impatiently for her to show up. He resented her being late, stealing what precious time remained to them. Eventually she appeared, carrying a leather overnight case.
     “You forgot some things,” she said, dropping it at his feet.
     James was taken aback, and a cold knot slowly began to form in his depths. He watched her lips shape the words even though it took some time for them to register in his mind.
     “I'm sorry, but you needn't come back. It was lovely while it lasted though. I'll never forget you.”
     Her face belied the sentiment.
     James managed a choked whisper.
     “But why?”
     Her fierce eyes were now those of a tiger; gleaming, watchful and wild.
     “I just wanted to see if I could have you. How far you would go. I'm really quite content to live on my own.” And with that, she turned and walked away.
     So he stood at the edge of the platform, unable to move forward, unwilling to go back, and watching with impassive eyes the light of the oncoming train, as a lone vuvuzela sounded mournfully in the distance.

This was originally posted back in 2010 for the A to Z challenge.