Among Our WWI Heroes: A Pigeon named Cher Ami

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It’s one of the most incredible and enduring stories of World War One. A homing pigeon called Cher Ami saved an entire battalion of 194 men. As you’ll see, Cher Ami is a true hero.

It was during the battle of Argonne in France. On October 3, 1918, five hundred U. S. soldiers in the 77th Infantry Division became trapped behind enemy lines. They had no food and no ammunition. The  Germans were firing on them.  A hillside was their only protection. To make matters worse, the allied forces, not realizing the solider’s position, also began firing on them.

By the second day, more than half the men were dead. The remaining 194 had only one hope. They had three homing pigeons. Major Charles Whittlesey was in command. He made the decision to use the pigeons to try to get help. He attached a note to the first pigeon and sent him in to the air. The Germans knew about these homing pigeons and quickly shot him down. He sent yet a second pigeon on the dangerous mission, and he too met the same fate.

Now, the trapped soldiers were left with one pigeon. In desperation, Major Whittlesey wrote the final note. 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.

As Cher Ami took flight for home, the Germans saw her and opened fire. The soldiers watched as bullets zipped all around her. Cher Ami rose above the enemy fire. However, eventually, a bullet hit her, piercing her breast, blinding her in one eye, and nearly severing one leg. She fell to the ground.

Somehow, even though she was so badly wounded, she rose up and began flying again. Cher Ami made it to division headquarters 25 miles away in just over an hour. Army medics worked long and hard to save her. They even carved a small wooden leg for her.

The note saved the lives of all 194 men. Cher Ami became a war hero, just as any other brave warrior. She flew a total of twelve missions before the battle that made her famous. Sadly, Cher Ami, whose name means “dear friend”, died about six months later because of the wounds she suffered that day. But, she is remembered in many ways. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre Medal. She was inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame in 1931. She also received a gold medal from the Organized Bodies of American Racing Pigeon Fanciers. Her body is enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution. She is the subject of two books, a poem, and a film. Cher Ami’s story is one of strength, courage, and fortitude.

As a side note, Cher Ami was first thought to be a male or cock pigeon, and that’s why her name is in the masculine French form. Upon further examination during taxidermy, she was found to be a hen. Some accounts still refer to Cher Ami in the masculine. Who says females weren’t in combat in World War One?

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