If we were asked who were the victorious heroes in World War I, we could mention Thomas W. Wilson, the president of the United States back then, David Lloyd George, Britain‘s Prime Minister in those times, or Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France at that time, among others. However, not all the heroes in that war were humans. There was at least one member of the animal kingdom, which did not sign the Versailles Treaty, but did receive Decorations of Honor. That was Cher Ami, the heroic pigeon that saved one hundred and ninety-four lives by delivering a message right on time.
Cher Ami, which means “dear friend” in French, was a US Army carrier pigeon that helped to rescue a good number of soldiers from the 77th division‘s battalion during the Argonne Battle in France in World War I, back in 1918. There were three hundred and sixty casualties in such group during the confrontations in the forests of Argonne, so only one hundred and ninety-four soldiers remained and, to cap it all, they were surrounded by the Germans.
Major Whittlesey, who was the head of such battalion, had started to send carrier pigeons with messages to their fellow American soldiers to brief them on their difficult situation. Cher Ami was the only one left. The other pigeons had been killed by the Germans. The American backup finally reached the area where the “Lost Battalion” was, but as they did not know where they were located, they shot against them. So, Whittlessey decided to send off the last pigeon with the last message containing these words: “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.“
That was the message that Cher Ami had to carry. At great speed, she flew over a hail of bullets shot by the Germans, and even though the enemies wounded her severely, she managed to take off again and travel forty kilometers, or 25 miles, to reach her destination and achieve her goal. She paid very high a price for that, as she lost one eye, was severely wounded in the breast and practically lost one leg, which the medical staff replaced with a wooden carved leg. However, she saved the lives of almost two hundred soldiers and became one of the war time heroes.
She appeared in the front pages of the most important American newspapers at the time and the French government decorated her with the Croix de guerre (Cross of War) medal, together with the Oak Leaf Cluster from the US Government for her courage and bravery. Once Cher Ami recovered, she was sent back to the USA, where she died on June 13th 1919 in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey due to the already mentioned wounds. In 1931, she became part of the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame. At present, she is exhibited in the National Museum of American History for those who want to meet her.
Different literature sources mention that Cher Ami was a cock pigeon, but it was recently proved that she was a hen pigeon. That is why we refer to her as a female. But that was not important after all. What is remarkable about Cher Ami was her grandeur and bravery. Carrier pigeons are a subspecies of rock pigeons trained to get back to their home from very long distances, carrying messages inside a tube attached to one of their legs: such message is called pigeongram. High speed, shrewdness, abundant and bright plumage, erect neck, folded tail and resilience are some of the features that differentiate them from domestic pigeons. Carrier pigeons were used, especially in wars, as a means of long distance communication before the creation of communication technologies.
And maybe what we need to learn from this “dear friend” is that we must never surrender and we must always keep on going. If we stumble, we get back on our feet, we “expand our wings and take off one more time”.