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ISSUE 60 - April 2009
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Story Presented by David Rose

It was October, 1918. The war would soon be over; but that was no solace to the 500 men trapped in The Argonne Forest near Bois de Beuge. They had been pinned down, trapped by the surrounding enemy, shelled and machine gunned all day and night for six days. The men of the United States 77th Infantry Division, the "The Liberty Division" of NewYork State, had lost 300 killed and wounded.

Now American Artillery would attempt to help by firing artillery rounds into the ravine where the enemy were entrenched. But the rounds were falling on their own men. Word must be gotten to the rear with the exact position of the battalion or all would be lost within the hour. There were no radios with which to communicate their desperation. Major Charles Whittlesey, battalion commander, sent men to relay their exact position but they could not get through.

One final chance remained. Their fate would rest with the will, determination and spirit of one of their own. Major Whittlesly would commit his last brave carrier pigeon in a desperate attempt to get word back to their artillery. They had four birds but he had sent three others. The first message read, "Many wounded. We cannot evacuate." A barrage of bullets had brought the bird down. He sent a second pigeon "Men are suffering. Can support be sent?" That pigeon was shot down too; felled by the enemy at the first flap of his wings, as was the third. Only ‘Cher Ami’, ‘Dear Friend’ as he had been named, remained. The little canister would be attached to his leg and he would be sent off on this impossible flight.

And now he was on his way. At the first lifting of his wings, the enemy guns erupted in a cacophony of fire. He was hit almost immediately. Their hearts fell as they saw him falter, then fall under the barrage of bullets. Incredibly he rose again, now blinded in one eye and bleeding from the wound.

Then again he was seen plummeting, hit by a bullet which struck his breastbone, opening a wound the size of a quarter. The doomed American infantrymen were crushed; their last hope was plummeting to earth amid a heavy attack of enemy bullets. It seemed inevitable the little pigeon would fail. If he did, the 200 men who had so far survive the enemy shelling and machine gun fire would succumb to their own artillery.

But somehow Cher Ami flew on, carrying his message of hope in the little canister. “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage on us. For heavens sake, stop it.” Read its plea.

Grievously injured, it must only have been his spirit which enabled the little bird to somehow fly the 25 miles back to Headquarters. Reaching his coop, he fell in and lay on his side. The soldiers answering the sound of the bell found the little bird covered in blood. From the awful hole in his breast hung the few tendons securing his nearly severed leg. Attached to that leg was the silver canister with its all-important message. Word was rushed to the guns. The barrage was moved over to the enemy positions and the 77th was saved.

The medics worked to save Cher Ami. Though his leg had to be amputated, his life was saved. The men of New York’s 77th Division cared for him and even carved a small wooden leg for him. The story of his bravery spread through out the front. He was an inspiration to the thousands enduring the terrible war in the trenches of France. The French government awarded the little bird one of it’s highest honors, The ‘Croix de Guerre’

Cher Ami, the little one-legged hero, was put on a boat to the United States. As he departed France, General John J. Pershing, commander of the entire United States Army, personally saw Cher Ami off and awarded a "silver medal" to the brave carrier pigeon. Back in the states Cher Ami became famous as one of the heroes of the World War. Everyone knew of him as newspapers and magazines spread ever more glorious versions of his tale. Then on June 13, 1919, less than a year after his epic flight, Cher Ami succumbed to his multiple war wounds.

Taxidermists preserved the little pigeon, and 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.

His eulogy reads;

“One of six hundred birds donated by pigeon fanciers of Great Briton for use in France during the World War. Trained by American pigeoneers, and flown from American lofts, pigeon 1947-18 “Cher Ami” returned to his loft with a message dangling from the fragments of a leg cut off by rifle or shell shot. He was also shot through the breast and died from the effects of this wound June 13, 1919.”

“Fly, Cher Ami, Fly!: The Pigeon Who Saved the Lost Battalion” a book chronicling this story is available at “”

Also with thanks to:
and the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

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