Sunday, May 25, 2008

Animals In War - Pigeons

Did you know that many soldiers were sent on the D-Day invasion with pigeons in their coats? It's true. Radio silence was paramount and so pigeons became the necessary means of communication. Pigeons have been used as messenger carriers since the Middle Ages. Their natural homing instincts have made them invaluable in conveying vital information to humans locked in the struggle of war.  

Pigeons can fly quite fast, and will fly hundreds of miles in a day. One American pigeon, named G.I. Joe, managed a twenty mile flight in twenty minutes. The message he carried kept an American bomber group from decimating an Italian town that was currently occupied with allied British Forces. Joe was credited with saving over 1,000 lives that day. G.I. Joe is one of 32 pigeon recipients of the Dickin Medal, a British military honor awarded to animals who have dedicated themselves to saving human life. Of all the animal servants of war, pigeons have received the most Dickin's Medals.

Another famous pigeon was Cher Ami. In October of 1918, the "Lost Battalion" (also known as the 77th Infantry Division) was trapped behind German lines with no food or ammunition. Trying desperately to reach headquarters to tell of their plight, the 77th sent pigeon after pigeon only to watch them be shot from the sky. Cher Ami was the last pigeon left. When released, Cher Ami was also hit, but he kept flying. When he reached his home base, some 25 miles away, it was found that Cher Ami had flown with wounds to his chest and leg. The message he carried saved the battalion from capture and death. Cher Ami, who was indeed a "Dear Friend," as his name implies, was awarded the French Palm for valor.

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