May 31, 2010
Cher Ami after recovering from battle minus a leg by US Army

Cher Ami after recovering from battle minus a leg by US Army

Cher Ami was a homing pigeon that helped save nearly 200 American lives during World War I.

Cher Ami, which is French for “dear friend”, was a homing pigeon donated to the US Army Signal Corps by British pigeon fanciers to deliver messages during the war. These flying messengers were often called War Pigeons. Cher Ami delivered his most important message on October 4th, 1918.

From the US National Archives:

During World War I, the U.S. 77th Infantry Division attacked the Germans near Charlevaux, France. Only one unit penetrated enemy lines: Major Charles White Whittlesay’s First Battalion of the 308th Infantry Regiment. The battalion was quickly surrounded by Germans – and then came under friendly fire from its own artillery. Whittlesay used his last carrier pigeon to send this three-sentence plea: “We are along the road paralell 276.4. Our artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heavens sake stop it.

Before Cher Ami, Whittlesay sent two other pigeons that didn’t make it in this hostile environment. From Wikipedia:

The pigeon carrying the first message, “Many wounded. We cannot evacuate.” was shot down. A second bird was sent with the message, “Men are suffering. Can support be sent?” That pigeon also was shot down. Only one homing pigeon was left: Cher Ami.

Private Ralph E. John from Company A 308th remembers that day:

Soon we realized that it was our own artillery that was bombing us. I certainly would have hated to be a German and have to take barrages like this one very often. That artillery fire that afternoon was the worst attack of the whole siege. Major Whittlesey released the last carrier pigeon along about the middle of the afternoon and when that pigeon took off, it carried a prayer from every man there. It seemed the absolute last hope of any relief.

Here is the actual message delivered by Cher Ami that day. You can click the image for a larger version.

World War I Pigeon Message from US National Archives

World War I Pigeon Message from US National Archives

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

The men watched as Cher Ami was released. They saw him fly up and then saw him shot down. Miraculously, in a moment’s time this bird was airborne again. Hopes soared. But, as he flew over enemy fire, Cher Ami had a leg shot off. A bullet hit his breast. Still, this bird kept flying. Though severely injured, Cher Ami finally got through to US forces with the life-saving message.

According to reports, Cher Ami flew over 25 miles in just 25 minutes to deliver his message despite having been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, covered in blood, and with a leg hanging only by a tendon! The message was in a capsule on the damaged leg.

Shortly after the message arrived, the artillery stopped saving nearly 200 American lives!

Medics were able to save Cher Ami’s life but not his left leg. Cher Ami died the following year on June 13th, 1919 from the injuries he received in battle. He is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in the “Price of Freedom” exhibit.

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