Pigeons have been fighting alongside soldiers and in war scenarios for ages. Princess Olga of 10th-century Kiev used pigeons to set villages on fire. Julius Cesar sent messages via carrier pigeon in ancient Rome. Pigeon photography was developed in turn-of-the-century Germany by strapping small, timed cameras to the birds’ chests, hearkening some of the world’s first aerial photography.
During World Wars I and II, pigeons were given pet names and began to gain minor celebrity status. After carrying out over 90 missions, a pigeon named Commando was a given a British medal of honor. Another feathered soldier named Gustav was rewarded for delivering the first message from the beaches of Normandy in 1944.
But only one particular bird has gone down in history as a true lifesaver. Her name was Cher Ami, French for “Dear Friend,” and she’ll always be remembered for saving nearly 200 American soldiers in World War I, earning herself a memorial statue in France—and the love of Allied soldiers everywhere.
It’s October 3, 1918. The Battle of Argonne in France has 500 American soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. With no food or ammo, and surrounded by Germans, they were as good as helpless. Their fellow Allied forces were shooting at them, thinking they were Germans, and by the second day of the battle, 300 American soldiers had been killed. With hope waning fast, they had one last chance: a pigeon named Cher Ami. She was sent off with what could be their final note, which 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 valiantly took off toward the Allied camp. While in the air, the Germans shot her down, but somehow she managed to fly again. It took her just 25 minutes to travel 25 miles to the headquarters’ pigeon loft, covered in blood. Cher Ami lost an eye, a leg, and had been shot. She was barely alive—but she saved the remaining 194 soldiers in Argonne.
Medics managed to save Cher Ami’s life, even fitting her with a wooden leg. She became known as a true war hero in American newspapers. The French government awarded her the Cross of War Medal for her bravery. Unfortunately, Cher Ami died from complications related to her wounds less than a year later. She lives on through this French memorial sculpture.
Pigeons don’t get much more epic than Cher Ami. It is a miracle she was able to live through her horrific wounds long enough to save almost 200 Americans. Her daring feat is a timeless story of gallant heroism. What a gal!
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