The Heroic Story of Cher Ami

The Heroic Story of Cher Ami

cher-ami-war-pigeonPrior to the age of electronic communication, pigeons were one of the most reliable forms of communication in existence. During World War I, pigeons carried thousands of messages that saved many hundreds of lives. In World War II pigeons continued to be used. Radios were frequently not working due to damage or unfavorable terrain rendered them almost useless. Pigeons continued to fly through enemy fire, and amazingly 95% of them completed their missions.

One such pigeon was Cher Ami. Cher Ami was a registered black check cock World War I Carrier Pigeon, one of 600 birds owned and flown by the U.S. Signal Corps. Cher Ami was originally bred by the British Signal Corps. He was transferred to the Americans after the war on Oct. 27, 1918.

Cher Ami delivered 12 important messages within the American sector at Verdun, France. On his last mission, Cher Ami, shot through the breast by enemy fire, managed to return to his loft. A message capsule was found dangling from the ligaments of one of his legs that had also been shattered by enemy fire. The message he carried was from Major Whittlesey’s “Lost Battalion” of the 77th Infantry Division that had been isolated from other American forces. Just a few hours after the message was received, 194 survivors out of the 550 men of the “Lost Battalion” were safe behind American lines because of Cher Ami’s heroism.

“The first two (pigeons) were shot down immediately, the last one, Cher Ami, was sent up and it was shot down by a barrage of gunfire, almost to the earth, but for whatever reason it plucked courage and was able to flap its wings again, gained enough altitude to get out of gunshot range and 20 minutes later was back at headquarters. When it landed it was missing an eye, its breastbone had been cracked and the message was dangling from all that was left of its leg which was tendon, and yet the message was there. The message said ‘please rescue us’ and it was sent immediately to the commander of the allied forces and the soldiers were rescued. Now, you’re looking at hundreds of men’s lives literally dependant on one pound of flesh and feathers.”

cher ami

Cher Ami at the Price of Freedom: Americans at War exhibit in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Cher Ami was awarded the French “Croix de Guerre” with Palm for his heroic service between the forts of Verdun. This is an award that was given to other notables such as Pa’s hero Alvin York and fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker!.Medics worked to save his life, but they could not save the leg. He was fitted with a wooden leg, but Cher Ami died from his wounds about nine months later. He died in 1919 as a result of his battle wounds. Cher Ami was later inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame in 1931 and received a gold medal from the Organized Bodies of American Racing Pigeon Fanciers in recognition of his extraordinary service during World War I. Cher Ami is now in the posession of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and will soon be on display at the National Museum of American History in the Armed Forces History Hall.

Pigeons performed other duties besides delivering important messages. Pigeons were even fitted with cameras that took pictures of enemy troops. This provided vital intelligence information.

Cher Ami was only one of many World War I carrier pigeons that were decorated for heroism in battle.

Pigeons continued their valiant service during World War II and the Korean War. The Dickin Medal for Valor, an award only for animals, was given to 31 pigeons in World War II, more than any other animal (the next closest animals were dogs, with 8 medals).

Cher Ami was later mounted and can now be seen in the Price of Freedom: Americans at War exhibit in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

You can learn more about other heroic war pigeons here: Famous Pigeons Part 1, Famous Pigeons Part 2

More articles you may enjoy: