Cher Ami - The Pigeon That Saved Two Hundred Soldiers
Probably the most famous of all the carrier pigeons was one named Cher Ami, two French words meaning "Dear Friend". Cher Ami several months on the front lines during the Fall of 1918. He flew 12 important missions to deliver messages. Perhaps the most important was the message he carried on October 4, 1918.
Mr. Charles Whittlesey was a lawyer in New York, but when the United States called for soldiers to help France regain its freedom, Whittlesey joined the Army and went to Europe to help. He was made the commander of a battalion of soldiers in the 77th Infantry Division, known as "The Liberty Division" because most of the men came from New York and wore a bright blue patch on their shoulders that had on it the STATUE OF LIBERTY.
On October 3, 1918 Major Whittlesey and more than 500 men were trapped in a small depression on the side of the hill. Surrounded by enemy soldiers, many were killed and wounded in the first day. By the second day only a little more than 200 men were still alive or unwounded.
Major Whittlesey sent out several pigeons to tell his commanders where he was, and how bad the trap was. The next afternoon he had only one pigeon left, Cher Ami.
During the afternoon the American Artillery tried to send some protection by firing hundreds of big artillery rounds into the ravine where the Germans surrounded Major Whittlesey and his men. Unfortunately, the American commanders didn't know exactly where the American soldiers were, and started dropping the big shells right on top of them. It was a horrible situation that might have resulted in Major Whittlesey and all his men getting killed--by their own army.
Major Whittlesey called for his last pigeon, Cher Ami. He wrote a quick and simple note, telling the men who directed the artillery guns where the Americans were located and asking them to stop. The note that was put in the canister on Cher Ami's left leg simply said:
"We are along the road parallel to 276.4.
As Cher Ami tried to fly back home, the Germans saw him rising out of the brush and opened fire. For several minutes, bullets zipped through the air all around him. For a minute it looked like the little pigeon was going to fall, that he wasn't going to make it. The doomed American infantrymen were crushed, their last home was plummeting to earth against a very heavy attack from German bullets.
Somehow Cher Ami managed to spread his wings and start climbing again, higher and higher beyond the range of the enemy guns. The little bird flew 25 miles in only 25 minutes to deliver his message. The shelling stopped, and more than 200 American lives were saved...all because the little bird would never quit trying.
On his last mission, Cher Ami was badly wounded. When he finally reached his coop, he could fly no longer, and the soldier that answered the sound of the bell found the little bird laying on his back, covered in blood. He had been blinded in one eye, and a bullet had hit his breastbone, making a hole the size of a quarter. From that awful hole, hanging by just a few tendons, was the almost severed leg of the brave little bird. Attached to that leg was a silver canister, with the all-important message. Once again, Cher Ami wouldn't quit until he had finished his job.
Cher Ami became the hero of the 77th Infantry Division, and the medics worked long and hard to patch him up. When the French soldiers that the Americans were fighting to help learned they story of Cher Ami's bravery and determination, they gave him one of their own country's great honors. Cher Ami, the brave carrier pigeon was presented a medal called the French Croix de guerre with a palm leaf.
Though the dedicated medics saved Cher Ami's life, they couldn't save his leg. The men of the Division were careful to take care of the little bird that had saved 200 of their friends, and even carved a small wooden leg for him. When Cher Ami was well enough to travel, the little one-legged hero was put on a boat to the United States. The commander of all of the United States Army, the great General John J. Pershing, personally saw Cher Ami off as he departed France.
Back in the United States the story of Cher Ami was told again and again. The little bird was in the newspapers, magazines, and it seemed that everyone knew his name. He became one of the most famous heroes of World War I. Years after the war a man named Harry Webb Farrington decided to put together a book of poems and short stories about the men and heroes of World War I. When his book was published, it contained a special poem dedicated to Cher Ami:
Cher Ami died of his multiple war wounds on June 13, 1919--less than a year after he had completed his service to the United States Army Signal Corps. Upon his death a taxidermist preserved the small pigeon for future generations, a bird with a story that became an inspiration to millions over the years.
Today, visitors to the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. can still see Cher Ami, preserved for history alongside the French Croix de Guerre with palm that was awarded to him by the French government. In the years following Cher Ami's death, there were rumors the bird had also been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Though there is ample documentation that General John J. Pershing did in fact, award a "silver medal" to the brave carrier pigeon, there is NO record of the DSC being awarded.