Cher Ami: A Pigeon and a Poet
An article written by Frank Blazich and first printed on the National Museum of American History’s Blog and later reprinted in the Smithsonian Magazine prompted this post. The story was about using DNA to determine the gender of the famous Pigeon “Cher Ami” who resides at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. As noted Cher Ami is featured in two films both called the “Lost Battalion” but my connection to Cher Ami is through a long and beautiful ballad poem my grandfather wrote called simply “Cher Ami.” As my grandfather’s epilog to the poem states “the sequence in which they [Cher Ami’s wounds] were sustained, being unknown, falls rightly within the poet’s prerogative to dramatize—the truth that overlies the experiences of the dramatis personae is so poignant that augmentation for effect would be senseless.”
My grandfather, Milo Dean MOSIER in his words: “My job as a Medical Corpsman assigned to ride the forward ammo trains, took me back and forth–St.Mihiel, Verdun, Champaign,; and forward to Dun-Meurse, Stenay , and Buzancy.” While not a part of the “Lost Battalion” he was certainly familiar with the area and the casualties. Of the 40 some poems in his slim volume called “Artifacts” this was my childhood favorite. You see, I come from a long line of incurable romantics.
Huddled beneath the sunless day, dripping and drear the Forest lay:
The water of Autumn’s endless rain lay puddled on the soaked terrain,
And filled the brook whose muddy flow Poured down the Vale of Charlevaux
Below the road that verged the Vale, Dug in, pinned down by iron hail,
Cut off by German infantry, now lay the men of Whittlesey.
From the crest above, where tree and vine, hid the grim gunned Giselher Line,
The Boche crept down, whenever he could, to hurl grenades from the tanglewood:
And upward hurl derisive hoots, as our planes dropped mis-aimed parachutes
With food and medicines–all to go to the jeering Germans’ hands below.
Probing the woods, to south and west, patrols were out on a fruitless quest.
They found some foes who fired and ran; and Whittlesey’s runners, dead, to a man;
But never a live American; No friend in olive dressed.
Each day new runners, in vain assay, died where the earlier runners lay;
And the Enemy Chief, to give him due, messaged, “I don’t want to murder you!”
Give up, and you will be treated well!” Which Whittlesey answered , “Go to Hell!”
The only messenger—only chance, to get relief for the trapped advance.
The other pigeon man was dead, Tollefson with a shattered head;
And the other crate the pigeons fled, lay smashed on the face of France.
And thus forlorn, they tossed their plea into the air with Cher Ami.
He spiralled up—they held their breath—he circled over the scene of death—
Then out of the forest fire flew! The enemy saw him— well they knew
Of the reasons why he should be stayed, so they filled the air with a fusilade.
One of the bullets glancing low, hit his breast like a hammer blow,
Knocking him down to a limb, too weak—but to stroke his feathers with his beak.
And knowing not of his injured bone, they pelted his perch with stick and stone:
And shouted at him to make him fly from his place in the broken branches high—
Finally Richards climbed the tree, and reaching, shook off Cher Ami.
With tortured muscles flexed in pain the wounded bird took off again;
And towering now, from the beechen shade, he entered that awful enfilade.
Up, out of the loom of La Palette, the metal stream was fiercer yet;
But into that tearing torrent , still drove Cher Ami toward Binarville.
Buffeted, battered on either side; over under, the iron tide
Twisted the air he had to ride, across the Dead Man’s Hill.
Hunters who hunt the Bandtail dwell on the shot he carries, and carries well;
But none would choose a six inch shell as a load for a pigeon kill!
Whipped to the side and beaten back, he bounced, as a plane in a bracket flack;
And scarlet blood, whence a leg had been, streamed out like the jess of a Peregrine.
And of his eyes but one could see through its ruby ring of royalty;
The other from sightless socket, gone—but still the great wings drove him on;
With reach and drive, and never a rest, from the agony of his broken breast.
Below now lay the loud-mouthed guns; and in the West the setting sun’s
Last rays lighted the dirty sky, as he scanned the land with his only eye.
Far to the left lay Neuvilly; Its shattered spire he could see,
Mist-shrouded; and the lovely Aire flowing north in its valley fair.
And down the right the silver Aisne lay shining on the broad champaign:
Between the two the loft was plain and he was almost there.
But the will to fly was waning fast, when he broke the steady beat, at last;
And, pinions set, he hurtled down as the falcon stoops o’er Montfaucon;
But never a falcon, falling free, had need as great as Cher Ami,
When bathed in blood, his body soft fell on landing—of the loft.
The excited loftman found him there and got on the phone to Delaware;
And the shelling ceased—Coincident? For every command was innocent,
And none had fired the fatal shoot; had proof, and alibis to boot—
And Delaware One, at the Major’s trench, later laid it on the French.
And those who would cover eyed askance, the Major’s orders to advance,
On which his units moved, and took their famous stand along the Brook.
Charges were talked of, but too much the Press had told of the feat; and such
Was the glory in the States—In brief they gave the Major a Silver Leaf—
They hung a medal on Cher Ami, for sharing the common casualty,
Of which they both would surely die, but not in a common graveyard lie.
Cheri Ami recovered from his wounds, and lived another year, dying in 1919. Colonel Charles W. Whittlesey awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor returned to his law practice. After putting his affairs in order took passage on a Caribbean cruise ship. The first night out, after a casual conversation with a fellow passenger, went out on deck and quietly stepped over the rail.
NOTES: La Palette a hill near Charlevaux Mill. Delaware was code for Headquarters of the 77th Division and Delaware One was code name for General Alexander.
Copyright Kelly Wheaton 2021 All RIghts Reserved