Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cher Ami

We're going to begin famous animals week with the extraordinary story of a remarkable bird that was responsible for saving the lives of nearly 200 men. Way back when, in a post about Rock Pigeons, I mentioned that these birds had long been used by the military for the delivery of messages. Cher Ami was one of these wartime Pigeons. His name meant "Dear Friend" and he flew 12 missions during World War I.

Cher Ami was active in the Verdun campaign, and his last mission, flown on October 18th, 1918 is one of the most remarkable animal stories I've ever heard. . The Lost Battalion of the 77th Infantry Division had become trapped and surrounded by enemy soldiers. The commander, Major Wittlesey, had sent out several pigeons with messages for assistance, but all had been shot down, and the group of 600 men had dwindled down to around 200. Cher Ami was their only pigeon left. The following note was attached to the bird's leg :
(Image Source)

"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."

Cher Ami took off, and was shot at by German soldiers. He received a wound through the breastbone, and was blinded in one eye, but Cher Ami just kept flying. He made the 25 mile flight in only 25 minutes. When he arrived as his destination his message leg was completely mangled, and the note was hanging on by a tendon. He saved 194 lives.

Doctors worked to save the heroic bird; they were unable to save his leg, but he did eventually recover enough to travel to the United States.
His boat was personally seen off by General Pershing.

Cher Ami received the French Croix de Guerre for his service, and was inducted to the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame. He eventually died from his war wounds, but almost a year after his famous flight, in June 1919.

Cher Ami was mounted by a taxidermist and is now viewable with his Croix de Guerre at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

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