Extraordinary Animals - ON
WINGS OF WAR
British ground troops, in World War II, rejoiced in their victory over an
Italian village, only to learn that Allied planes were scheduled to bomb that
same village within the hour. Fearing for their lives, they attempted to radio
a message to the rear to cancel the mission. The radio failed. Heroically, GI
Joe flew 20 miles in 20 minutes delivering the message just moments before
warplanes were to take off, thus saving a thousand lives. GI Joe was a pigeon.
Throughout history, pigeons
have been used as messengers. In the 12th century they delivered communication
between Iraq and Syria, and reported, to England, Napoleon's defeat in the
battle of Waterloo. In both world wars and the Korean war, military pigeons
were carried on airplanes and warships. They flew with cameras to take pictures
of the enemy, and delivered messages when damaged radios failed. They found
their way from different lofts, through darkness, bad weather and showers of
bullets, and 95% of them completed their missions even when badly wounded. Even
the dove that Noah sent forth from the ark to bring back the message of dry
land, is said to have been a European Rock Dove, which is the common pigeon we
see in parks today.
During times of peace and
prosperity, urban communities have complained of pigeons carrying diseases and
soiling cars and sidewalks. The truth is that, according to veterinarians, they
carry no more diseases than parakeets and canaries and it is doubtful that the
194 servicemen of Major Whittlesay's "Lost Battalion" complained when
Cheri Ami reached his loft. The registered black check cock arrived, shot
through the breast, with a message capsule dangling from his shattered leg. Due
to this loyal bird's courage and determination, these soldiers were rescued,
and safe behind American lines in a few short hours.
One stormy night during
World War II, the Catalina Flying Boat was stranded in choppy waters, due to
engine and radio failure. When the aircraft failed to reach its destination on
time, searches were conducted, but severe weather conditions hindered them. Yet
a beautiful bird named White Vision winged her way 60 miles into a 25 mph
headwind, braving darkness and rough weather to descend through the clouds
delivering information of their location. All 11 crew members were rescued.
Many more pigeons performed
heroic feats during war times. Spike flew 50 missions and was never injured.
Snow White successfully completed a mission in Berlin during heavy bombardment.
The Mocker, a beautiful speckled pigeon flew 52 missions, wounded on the last
one, losing his left eye and part of his cranium. A military pigeon named
President Wilson continued his mission, wounded, and saved many American
infantrymen. Scotch-Lass was dropped with a secret agent in the Netherlands in
1944. He accomplished his mission all the way to England, wounded, to deliver
important micro-photos. Another English pigeon, Mary, was wounded 22 times in
five years of flights and then was killed in action.
War memorials in Belgium
and France stand in remembrance of military pigeons and their fanciers who gave
their lives in war. Cher Ami was awarded the French "Croix de Guerre"
with Palm. He died in 1919 and was inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame
in 1931 and received a gold medal from the Organized Bodies of American Racing
Pigeon Fanciers. His body is to be displayed at the National Museum of American
History in the Armed Forces History Hall. The Dickin Medal for Valor, a
distinguished animal award, was bestowed upon 31 World War II pigeons,
including GI Joe and White Vision.
Today, in remote areas,
pigeons still make life-saving deliveries of medications. In cities they
contribute a touch of nature. Their antics and cooing have a calming effect on
spectators as they clean up waste and eat weed seeds. Mating for life, they are
very affectionate and attentive to their mate and share the care of their
young; quite a role model for society.
Throughout history, these
flying heroes have been used in mankind's wars, yet they remain a symbol of