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 

19 comments:

  1. What a lovely story! I didn't know it and it was great to read about it. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. You're welcome! Thanks for dropping by!

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  2. Viva la pigeon! Thanks for the new knowledge, Li. Eventually, think about a story from Cher Ami's POV. Would be interesting. you can do it...you're that good.

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    1. Hi Stu - I thought about turning this into fiction, but the facts themselves seemed so vivid and unusual, I decided to relate it as is. (And thank you for the compliment.)

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  3. I've heard of this pigeon before, but I hadn't known the details of why he was awarded.

    Great story! :)

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    1. I just remembered it vaguely from school days :-) I thought it would make interesting reading. Thank you!

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  4. An amazing story. Animals are amazing.

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    1. Hi Richard! I did some research years ago on the Royal Veterinary Corps and the animals they cared for during WW2 which was interesting as well.

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  5. It's very true to say we Brits are a nation of pigeon fanciers - particularly up north. Always fun to check out your blog.

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    1. Hi David - I thought it was great that the British pigeon fanciers donated all of those birds for use, knowing that most of them would probably never return.

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  6. Just wonderful, thank you for this post!
    Best,
    Anne

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    1. Thank you, Anne, and nice to see you!

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  7. Very informative and such a nice story... Thanks!..

    JJRod'z

    Btw, thanks for giving me a name for my painting. Love it!..

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    1. Thanks JJ! A great honor that my comment gave you a name for your painting! It's beautiful.

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  8. Oh my word! I heard of Cher Ami, but never knew what he'd done. Imagine how those soldiers must have felt to see their last hope shot, only for it to keep fighting to get the message through.

    Inspiring stuff.

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    1. There are some really wonderful stories about animals who served during war time - I might even do a few more!

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  9. What an amazing story. Made me all teary.

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    1. Me too, when I first heard about it. Especially about the soldiers watching as each messenger of hope was shot down. :-(

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  10. This could be a novel. Or a movie. Thanks for sharing, Li :)

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