Military Award Given To A Pigeon In WW1
A Medal From France For Heroism In Combat

In a dramatic happening in WW1, the 77th Division, known as “the lost battalion” of more than 500 men was trapped by the Germans. It was Oct. 3, 1918, and they were trapped in a small depression on the side of a hill behind enemy lines without food or ammunition. Besides fighting the Germans they were also receiving fire from allied troops who did not know their location. A large number were killed on the first day, and by the second day only 200 men of the original 500 were still alive.


Thousands of pigeons were used in WW1 to carry important messages. The 77th Division was fortunate to have a dependable pigeon named Cher Ami, which is French for “dear friend.” He was a homing pigeon donated by Britain for use by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France, and had been trained by Americans. The Lost Battalion, desperate after being bombarded by friendly troops, sent a message: “many wounded, we cannot evacuate.” He was shot down be the Germans. A second bird was sent with the message: “Men are suffering, can support be sent?” That pigeon was also shot down. There was only one Homing Pigeon left: Cher Ami. He was dispatched with a note in a canister on his left leg. The message he carried read: “we are along the road parallel to 276.1. 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. Bullets zipped all around him, and his comrades of the Lost Battalion saw Cher Ami tragically shot down. Miraculously he was airborne again. He managed to arrive back at his loft at Division Headquarters 25 miles to the rear. His message saved the lives of only 194 remaining survivors. This would be the last mission by Cher Ami, as he delivered the message despite being shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, covered with blood, and with one leg hanging by only a tendon.


Cher Ami had become the hero of the 77th division, so army medics worked long and hard to save his life. They could not save his leg, so they carved a small wooden one for him. When he recovered enough to travel, the little one –legged hero was put on a boat to the U.S. with General John J. Pershing personally seeing him off as he departed France. For his “heroism involving combat with enemy forces,” France awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Oak Leaf Cluster medal for his historic service in delivering 12 important military messages in Verdun.

Upon return to America, he became the mascot of the Department of Service. He died at Fort Monmouth, N.J. on June 13, 1919 from the wounds he received in battle and was later inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame in 1931. He also received a gold medal from the Organized Bodies of American Racing Pigeon Fanciers in recognition of his extraordinary service in WW1.


Cher Ami was as well known to American school children as any WW1 hero. He was later mounted by a taxidermist and donated to the Smithsonian Institution where he is enshrined there, and is proudly on display in the National Museum of American History’s "Price of Freedom" exhibit.

Research by website historian Wayland Mayo

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