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Many of us have heard of the Lost Battalion, and know some of the story. What is not commonly known is the role of a remarkable pigeon, named Cher Ami. That little bird became one of the greatest heroes of World War I.
On October 4th, American heavy artillery started to bombard the Lost Battalion’s position on accident, killing thirty men as they held the line. Major Whittlesey and his men watched as bird after bird fell out of a sky torn apart by German fire. With supplies running out and casualties mounting rapidly, Major Whittlesey desperately sent out his last pigeon, Cher Ami, to the American lines with a note that simply 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.” With fire raining down on them from all sides, Cher Ami was now the last chance for the Lost Battalion to walk off that hill alive.
The brave bird flew straight into the German fire, dodging bullets as he went. However, his luck did not last for long. Cher Ami was hit in the chest soon after takeoff, as American soldiers watched in horror as their last hope hit the ground. Against all odds though, Cher Ami got up again! Wounded but still alive, the little bird took flight again, charging head-on into wave after wave of gunfire. By the end of the trip, he covered 25 miles in roughly half an hour. He arrived at base heavily wounded, but alive.
For his part in saving the 77th Division, Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre, one of France’s highest military honors for his gallantry in the field. General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, said "There isn't anything the United States can do too much for this bird."
Cher Ami made it back to the United States in the care of its trainer, Capt John Carney. On June 13th, 1919, Cher Ami died at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. However, Cher Ami’s body was preserved and presented to the American Government with honor. It is difficult to say how many families owe their existence to the sheer courage and self-sacrifice of one brave bird. Today, Cher Ami is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History to preserve his memory. Since then, his story has lived on in the hearts and minds of Americans across the decades, and his bravery will never be forgotten.
The defence of Fort Vaux was marked by the heroism and endurance of the garrison, including Major Sylvain-Eugene Raynal.
Under his command, the besieged French garrison repulsed German assaults, including fighting underground from barricades inside the corridors, during the first big engagement inside a fort during World War I.
The last men of the French garrison gave up after running out of water (some of which was poisoned), ammunition, medical supplies and food.
Raynal sent several messages via homing pigeons (including the famous Vaillant), requesting relief for his soldiers.
During his last communications, Major Raynal wrote "This is my last pigeon".