We have heroes of all kinds within the consciousness of humanity. Heroes in sports, heroes in mentoring, heroes in moments of extreme danger and need, and heroes from the many wars fought. We celebrate heroes as well as we do any other person of extraordinary measure as they represent a love that goes beyond the borders of normality where self-preservation is of the utmost importance. But sometimes, a hero can be other than a human person. It can be a bird. In this case, the heroes are two species of bird – the Homing and Carrier Pigeons. For this article, there are several pigeons of note that risked their lives to help troops on the ground.
First is Cher Ami. He was a pigeon that was part of the military’s important arsenal of messaging during World War I. There were no modern-day conveniences of electronic communications; the pigeon was the essential messaging tool. In 1918, Cher Ami once flew to deliver a message of troops being grievously ambushed by German armies and taking active fire. They were in dire need of support. Cher Ami was released and upon taking flight, was spotted by the German army, and was shot in the leg soon right after take-off. The leg was completely severed by the shot but hung from a tendon. The tendon retained the canister that carried the life-saving message. The shot ripped through the leg, entered the breast, and blinded the bird in one eye. Cher Ami fell to the ground after the shot.
In great pain, the bird lifted again and continued his flight for 25 miles to deliver his message. That flight saved the lives of the remaining ambushed 194 soldiers known as “The Lost Battalion.” Army medics worked on Cher Ami to help save his life. He lost his leg but was fitted with a carved wooden leg. Cher Ami was awarded several medals posthumously for his service and died the following year due to the injuries sustained from the shot. To date, the French still train and employ homing pigeons due to the ongoing threat of grid attacks whereby electricity can become unavailable. Cher Ami was inducted into the Racing Pigeons Hall of Fame. He has been taxidermized and is on display at the Smithsonian Institute (since 1921).
President Wilson Pigeon & Others
A little over a hundred years ago, a carrier pigeon (there are differences between a homing pigeon and a carrier pigeon) saved troops under fire by Germans. The pigeon, named President Wilson, carried a message requesting artillery support to assist the infantry unit. As Wilson lifted, he was fired upon and sustained a chest wound and like Cher Ami, lost his leg. He flew the distance delivering the message that saved the infantry unit. Wilson would live another 11 years after his injuries. To date, the taxidermized body of President Wilson resides in the Pentagon where he is proudly displayed for his heroism.
Other notable pigeons include GI Joe (WWII), Mary of Exeter (WWII), Mocker (WWI), Paddy (WWII), Commando (WWII), Winkie (WWII), White Vision (WWII), and William of Orange (WWII, and whose flights saved over 2000 lives for the British Army).
One must wonder just how aware these amazing pigeons were in their time delivering messages.