Of World War I
THE BRAVE LITTLE PIGEON THAT SAVED 200 LIVES! THE BRAVE LITTLE PIGEON THAT SAVED 200 LIVES!
BY DOUG & PAM STERNER BY DOUG & PAM STERNER
A Coloring Book for Kids * Based on a True Story
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The ability to communicate is essential to soldiers in the field. Without communications to their commanders or support units in the rear area, soldiers on the front line can't send messages about their progress, request needed supplies, or call for help when things reach their worst.
During World War I, messages were sometimes transmitted by wire (telegraph of field phone), but two-way radio communications had not yet become available. Sometimes a unit was ordered to attack over a broad and often difficult terrain, making it impossible to string the wire necessary for communications. In these situations, a field commander often carried with him several carrier pigeons.
Pigeons served many purposes during the war,
racing through the skies with airplanes, or even
being fitted with cameras to take pictures of enemy
positions. One of the most important roles they
served in was as messengers. An important message
could be written on a piece of paper, then that paper
neatly folded and secured in a small canister
attached to a pigeon's leg. Once the pigeon was
released, it would try to fly to its home back behind
the lines, where the message would be read and
transmitted to the proper military planners.
THE ARMY IS DIVIDED AMONG SEVERAL DIFFERENT SPECIALTIES AND THE MEN FROM EACH SPECIALTY ARE TRAINED FOR A PARTICULAR KIND OF WORK. INFANTRYMEN
ARE TRAINED TO FIGHT ON THE GROUND, ARTILLERYMEN ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE BIG GUNS, ARMOR REFERS TO THE MEN WHO FIGHT IN TANKS, AND THE AIR SERVICE WAS THE
NAME FOR THE GROUP OF SOLDIERS WHO FLEW AIRPLANES WORLD WAR I. ONE OF THE
OLDEST OF THESE GROUPS OF SOLDIERS IS THE U.S. ARMY SIGNAL CORPS. THESE
MEN ARE THE ONES RESPONSIBLE FOR INSURING THAT MESSAGES BETWEEN ALL UNITS GET THROUGH TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE. THE ARMY SIGNAL CORPS IDENTIFIES ITSELF BY A TORCH WITH TWO CROSSED FLAGS. THESE REPRESENT SIGNAL FLAGS, A COMMON WAY
THAT MESSAGES WERE PASSED USING CODE.
WHEN THE UNITED STATES ENTERED WORLD WAR I IN 1917, THE ARMY SIGNAL
CORPS WAS GIVEN 600 PIGEONS FOR THE PURPOSE OF PASSING MESSAGES WHEN SIGNAL FLAGS OR A FIELD PHONE COULDN'T DO IT. THE PIGEONS WERE DONATED BY BIRD BREEDERS IN GREAT BRITAIN, AND THEN WERE TRAINED BY AMERICAN SOLDIERS.
During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the 2-month battle that
finally ended World War I, 442 pigeons were used in the area of
Verdun in France to carry hundreds of messages. This is how the
When a commander in the field needed to send a message, he first wrote it out on paper, trying to be both brief and yet as detailed as possible. Then he called for one of his Signal Corps officers, who would bring one of the pigeons that went with the soldiers into battle. The message would be put in the capsule on the bird's leg, and then the bird would be tossed high in the air to fly home.
The carrier pigeon would fly back to his home coop behind the lines. When he landed, the wires in the coop would sound a bell or buzzer, and another soldier of the Signal Corps would know a message had arrived. He would go to the coop, remove the message from the canister, and then send it by telegraph, field phone or personal messenger, to the right persons.
Carrier pigeons did an important job. It was also very dangerous. If the enemy soldiers were nearby when a pigeon was released, they knew that the bird would be carrying important messages, and tried their best to shoot the pigeon down so the message couldn't be delivered.
Some of these pigeons became quite famous among the infantrymen they worked for. One pigeon named "The Mocker", flew 52 missions before he was
wounded. Another was named "President Wilson". He was injured in the last week of the war and it seemed impossible for him to reach his destination. Though he lost his foot, the message got through and saved a large group of surrounded American infantrymen.
CHARLES WHITTLESEY WAS A LAWYER IN NEW YORK,
BUT WHEN THE UNITED STATES SENT OUT A CALL FOR SOLDIERS TO HELP FRANCE
FIGHT FOR ITS FREEDOM, MR.
WHITTLESEY JOINED THE ARMY AND WENT TO EUROPE
HE WAS MADE THE
COMMANDER OF A BATTALION OF SOLDIERS IN THE 77TH
INFANTRY DIVISION, KNOWN
AS "THE LIBERTY DIVISION"
BECAUSE MOST OF THE MEN CAME FROM NEW YORK AND WORE A BRIGHT BLUE PATCH ON THEIR SHOULDERS THAT HAD ON IT THE
STATUE OF LIBERTY.
ON OCTOBER 2, 1918, MAJOR WHITTLESEY LED MORE THAN 500 MEN IN AN ATTACK THAT BROKE THROUGH THE ENEMY LINES. MAJOR WHITTLESEY HAD HIS MEN SET UP DEFENSIVE POSITIONS IN A POCKET IN THE DENSE ARGONNE FOREST, JUST ABOVE A SMALL CREEK THAT HAD BEEN THEIR OBJECTIVE. HE DIDN'T KNOW THAT HIS BATTALION WAS THE ONLY ONE THAT HAD BROKEN THROUGH THE LINES. THAT NIGHT ENEMY SOLDIERS CREPT IN AND SURROUNDED THE POCKET. ALL ALONE, AHEAD OF ALL THE OTHER FRIENDLY UNITS, MAJOR WHITTLESEY'S BATTALION WAS ALONE, SURROUNDED, AND ALREADY RUNNING LOW ON FOOD, AMMUNITION, AND EVEN SOLDIERS JUST FROM THE FIGHT TO GET INTO THE ARGONNE FOREST.
TWO DAYS LATER AMERICAN ARTILLERY MEN TRIED TO SEND SOME PROTECTION. THE BIG GUNS FIRED HUNDREDS SHELLS INTO THE RAVINE WHERE THE GERMANS HAD SURROUNDED MAJOR WHITTLESEY. THE GERMANS WERE NOW ATTACKING THE LOST BATTALION WITH MACHINEGUNS, RIFLES AND GRENADES. UNFORTUNATELY, THE AMERICAN COMMANDERS DIDN'T KNOW EXACTLY WHERE THE AMERICAN SOLDIERS WERE, AND STARTED DROPPING THE BIG SHELLS RIGHT ON TOP OF THEM. IT WAS A HORRIBLE SITUATION THAT MIGHT HAVE RESULTED IN MAJOR WHITTLESEY AND ALL HIS MEN GETTING KILLED—KILLED BY THEIR OWN ARMY, NO LESS.
The most famous of the World War I carrier pigeons was named Cher Ami, French words meaning "Dear Friend". Cher Ami spent
several months on the front lines. In the fall of 1918 he flew 12
important missions to deliver messages. Perhaps the most important was the message he carried on October 4, 1918.
When his men were being shelled on October 4th, Major Whittlesey called for his last pigeon, Cher Ami. He wrote a quick and
simple note, telling the men who directed the artillery guns where his battalion was located and asked them to stop. The note that was put in the canister on Cher Ami's left leg simply said:
"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."
As Cher Ami tried to fly back home, the Germans saw him rising out of the brush and opened fire. For several minutes, bullets zipped through the air all around him. It looked at first like the little pigeon was going to fall, that he wasn't going to make it. The doomed American infantrymen were crushed; their last hope was plummeting to earth against a very heavy attack from German bullets.
Somehow Cher Ami managed to spread his wings and start
climbing again, higher and higher, beyond the range of the enemy guns. He flew 25 miles in only 25 minutes to deliver his message. A short time later the shelling stopped. More than 200 American lives were saved...all because the little bird wouldn't quit trying.