On October 4th, 1918, the story of an unlikely hero came to be. A small male homing pigeon became a champion of the first World War when American soldiers sent it on a dangerous mission to relay a rescue message. The pigeon’s name was Cher Ami, and his story is one of courage, heroism, and bravery.
The story of Cher Ami is one of the most remarkable stories of World War I. It has been retold numerous times over the decades and will continue to be passed on to the coming generations. However, to truly grasp the extent of Cher Ami’s heroics, you’ll need some backstory. Let’s take a look!
The Battle of the Argonne Forest
The story of Cher Ami begins in 1918 during the Battle of the Argonne Forest in France. This battle was part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, one of the final Allied offensives of World War I. The goal of the offensive was to push the German forces back and break their lines.
Soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division were heavily outnumbered. They were without radio communication and the terrain of the Argonne Forest was extremely challenging to navigate. Nevertheless, the American forces managed to break through the German lines. However, afterwards they found themselves trapped and isolated in the Argonne Forest.
To make matters worse, friendly fire targeted the position of the American troops with airstrikes, mistaking them for German troops. The American forces desperately needed help and the only way to get it was by sending a pigeon with a message.
The Rescue Mission of Cher Ami
The American forces had several pigeons at their disposal, and they sent them to the Allied base with messages calling for help. But each bird sent was repeatedly shot down by German fire, leaving only one small bird, Cher Ami.
The battalion commander fitted him with a small capsule containing a message he would deliver to the Allied Headquarters. The message read, “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.”
Cher Ami was released and began his heroic journey. Despite being shot at multiple times by the German forces, he managed to dodge the bullets and made it out of the Argonne Forest. The pigeon then flew more than 25 miles in just under two hours, delivering the message to the Allied forces base.
Cher Ami’s heroic journey was not without danger. He was shot multiple times and suffered a number of injuries. He was shot in the breast and lost an eye, and his left leg was severely damaged. Despite these injuries, Cher Ami remained determined to deliver the message. Thankfully, he delivered the message in time to the Allied forces before the base ordered further airstrikes.
How Cher Ami Saved the American Soldiers
Cher Ami’s message to the Allied forces saved the American soldiers in the Argonne Forest. As a result, the Allied forces were able to send reinforcements to the soldiers, and three days later, help came to rescue the battalion survivors.
Cher Ami’s message was crucial to the Allied forces’ victory. Without the message, German soldiers would have isolated soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division in the Argonne Forest with no hope of rescue. Cher Ami’s heroic actions saved 194 American soldiers in total.
The Aftermath of the Mission and Cher Ami’s Legacy
After the mission, the Allied Army awarded Cher Ami the French Croix de Guerre, one of the highest honors given to animals during World War I. The pigeon also received the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, the highest honor given to animals in France.
American soldiers also gave Cher Ami a special medal. The medal had an inscription with the words “For Gallantry in Action,” which was a fitting tribute to the heroic pigeon.
In the aftermath of the war, medics carved a wooden leg to replace Cher Ami’s blown-off leg, and he lived another seven months before passing on. He died at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, on June 13th, 1919. After his death, the United States Army preserved his body by taxidermy, and he has been on display at the National Museum of American History since 1921. Here, he is on display alongside another notable animal war hero, Sergeant Stubby.
Cher Ami’s story has become integral to World War I history. In the early years after the war, soldiers echoed his story, and he became an iconic symbol of bravery and courage even among young school children.
Cher Ami’s story is an example of the power of animals. The pigeon’s heroic actions are a testament to what animals can accomplish, and his story is an inspiring reminder that animals can be heroes too. His heroic actions will always be remembered, and his legacy will live on for generations to come.
Thank you for reading this article! To find out more about members of the bird species take a look at our piece about the Emperor Penguin.
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