12/27/09

"For heaven's sake, stop it."

“You are our last hope, Dear Friend,” whispered Major Whittlesey, “else all’s lost.”

The flyer that the battalion commander was addressing sat quietly on a perch of broken timbers, nodding his head. He was a Brit by birth but had been attached to the communications group of the American 77th Infantry Division out of necessity. A shell exploded a dozen meters from the pair and showered them with rock and mud.

The 77th was trapped by a German division at the base of woody precipice and already had suffered the loss of 300 men. When the command learned of their predicament, they fired shells randomly towards the Argonne, hoping to somehow clear a route for their escape. But the shells instead became a deadly barrage, whistling atop the beleaguered soldiers. Word had to be sent to redirect the fire.

The messenger took off through smoke and screams.

As he gained altitude and flew slowly over the enemy combatants, several sharpshooters took aim at him. He was hit in the eye. And then in the breast. And then a bullet ripped through his leg and left it dangling.

He faltered and began to dip, nearly going into a tailspin. But miraculously, he regained control and steered clear of the battlefield. He made it to his destination and fell unconscious onto his back, the important dispatch wrapped tightly around his separated leg. The note 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."

The remaining 200 men of the division were thus saved.

When he eventually died of his wounds the next year on June 13, 1919, Cher Ami, with his handmade wooden leg, became one of the most distinguished heroes of WWI – as a carrier pigeon.

3 comments:

Jean-François de Buren said...

You transported me there. Great post.

Karinann said...

Now this is one you definitely don't read about in the history books. Thanks for the link; I enjoyed reading more of the story behind this feathered hero.

cyurkanin said...

I remember seeing the Smithsonian display when I was a kid. I thought it was pretty weird back then and kind of still do, but in a good way. Supposedly General Pershing himself escorted the bird to the airplane when it was finally sent back from the front.