How’s about this for the strange but true file…For those of you who might be animals rights activists, I just call ‘em as I see ‘em.

Cher Ami (French for Dear Friend) was the name given to a carrier pigeon in World War I. It seems that over 600 carrier pigeons were donated by British pigeon enthusiasts and used in France by Americans to shuttle messages back and forth between the front lines. What was so special ‘bout Cher Ami?

Well, all in all he “flew” twelve missions in and around Verdun. If that wasn’t incredible enough, on his last mission, he was credited with saving upwards of 200 lives. Huh?

It seems that a battalion of American Troops (the so- called “Lost Battalion”) got isolated behind German lines and was taking on friendly fire. According to legend, one of Cher Ami’s fellow pigeons was sent up with the message “Many wounded, we cannot evacuate.” It was subsequently shot down. A second pigeon was sent up bearing the message “Men a re suffering, can support be sent?”. Unfortunately for this pigeon/warrior, it too was shot down. The situation seemed desperate. There was only one carrier pigeon left. A message bearing the words "Our artillery is dropping a barrage on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it!"was attached to Cher Ami and off he soared.

Not for long. Troops witnessing the events saw him shot down. Apparently though, Cher Ami was no ordinary carrier pigeon. He managed to take off again and made his way back home with the message intact. The shooting was stopped and many lives were saved. Cher Ami though, was another story. Upon his arrival his injuries included one leg blown off, a missing eye and a bullet had pierced his breastbone.

For his heroics, Cher Ami was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Oak Leaf Clusters. He was shipped back to the States but died as a result of his injuries at Monmouth, New Jersey on June 13th , 1919.

Cher Ami’s legacy lives on though. His body was stuffed and displayed at the Smithsonian Institution. A plaque bearing these words adorns his final resting place:

CARRIER PIGEON "CHER AMI."

One of 600 birds donated by the pigeon fanciers of Great Britain for use in France during the World War. Trained by American pigeoneers and flown from American lofts, 1917-18. "Cher Ami" returned to his loft with a message dangling from the ligaments 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.

TRANSFERRED FROM THE UNITED STATES SIGNAL CORPS.

May I say, rest in peace my fine-feathered friend, I shall now look at pigeons through a new set of eyes.

I hate when poets put wounded birds in their poems. This is not a poem, but a short story about a brave bird. According to several sources, a pigeon won the Croix de Guerre and saved many lives of the 77th division during World War I. My book source claims that Cher Ami "wore the feathered uniform of Pigeon Company No. 1, a part of the American Expeditionary Force" and that "his little pigeon heart was full of Yankee pride when he was sent 'Over There' in the service of his country", which is where the confusion starts.

The British claim Cher Ami was a registered British homing pigeon, donated to the US Army Signal Corps, that had gone through pigeon basic training conducted by American pigeoneers.

All sources agree that at some point during the beginning of October, 1918, Cher Ami ended up in France, "right in the thick of fighting in those thrilling days of the Argonne struggle." There were soldiers trapped behind enemy lines, friendly fire from allied troops, plus an overwhelming number of German forces. The encyclopedia account mentions only one pigeon during the media-dubbed "Lost Battalion"'s predicament, but other sources record three, the first two pigeons shot down with their brief messages, by German snipers.

The first message was: "Many wounded. We cannot evacuate." The second message was: "Men are suffering. Can support be sent?"

Cher Ami's message was more to the point and rather annoyed: "We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heavens, sake, stop it."

In the encyclopedia account, the sergeant who sent him out was not named. Parts are written from the pigeon's perspective, who apparently knew of General Pershing, and longed for "a word of praise from him which meant more" to Cher Ami, "than even a 'D.S.C.'- referring to the Distinguished Service Cross."

The other sources mention Lt. Colonel Charles White Whittlesey, who wrote the messages that were placed in a metal tube on the doomed pigeons, as well as the one on Cher Ami's left leg.

According to both major accounts, Cher Ami delivered the message, thus saving many of the lives of his human comrades. However, how he was wounded in action by German snipers is where the details differ.

The encyclopedia: "A German bullet had grazed Cher Ami's breast, and, his left leg, with its precious tube, was broken and dangling by a mere shred of bleeding skin."

Wikipedia: "despite having been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, covered in blood and with a leg hanging only by a tendon..." This source goes on further to say Army medics tried to save his life, but weren't able to save his left leg "so they carved a small wooden one for him."

Cher Ami recovered and returned to the US, with General Pershing personally sending him off from France. Sadly, his battle wounds had weakened Cher Ami and he died on June 13, 1919 at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

Awards: Croix de Guerre with a palm Oak Leaf Cluster, for heroic service in Verdun
Department of Service Mascot
Posthumously inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame and The Organized Bodies of American Racing Pigeon fanciers, in recognition of extraordinary service WWI

Cher Ami's body was preserved by a taxidermist, "enshrined" at the Smithsonian Institution, which is currently on display with Sergeant Stubby in the National Museum of American History.

Source: Comptons Pictured Encyclopedia copyright 1922--1929, Imperial and International Copyright secured. All rights reserved for all countries. Translations into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian, specifically reserved. pages 2803--2806, under general heading Pigeons and Doves, The Bird of Peace and Its Relatives, Ancient History of the Pigeon Family--The Messengers of the Battlefield and The Dove of Noah's Ark And Its Little Descendants All Dressed in Gray

Source: Wikipedia, Cher Ami, Charles White Whittlesey, Croix de Guerre, Sergeant Stubby

Source: military.com. This website includes an excellent review of a movie depicting the events, written by a former Army Officer, Vietnam Veteran, and history professor (alas, no mention of Cher Ami in the review!)

Source: si.edu. A photograph of Cher Ami minus his little wooden leg.

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