Thursday, August 18, 2016

DMC: "Cher Ami" by Michelle H. Barnes


Homing Pigeons (public domain)

Diana Murray's challenge this month, to write a poem about an unlikely hero, has been more of a struggle than I thought it would be. Eventually I narrowed in on the story of Cher Ami, a carrier pigeon employed by the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War 1, but couldn't figure out how to tell Cher Ami's heroic story. Nothing felt right. After several attempts, I finally just sat down with Cher Ami and said what was on my mind.




Cher Ami, on display at the Smithsonian
 
                                                   CHER AMI

                                                 If you were exchanged
                                                 for an ordinary pigeon
                                                 who fattens on white bread
                                                 and small bits of French fry,
                                                 if your iridescence was hidden
                                                 in the shade of an easy life,
                                                 then no one would know
                                                 your name, Cher Ami.

                                                 And somewhere in the world,
                                                 soldiers’ lives would be lost
                                                 because you were not there
                                                 to carry their hopes—
                                                 the weight dangling
                                                 on a bullet-shattered leg.

                                                 No one would know
                                                 your name, Cher Ami,
                                                 the burden you carried,
                                                 the pain that you bore,
                                                 as you rose like a Phoenix
                                                 though this wasn’t your war,
                                                 because you, like them,
                                                 just wanted to go home.


                                                 © 2016 Michelle Heidenrich Barnes. 
                                       All rights reserved.



The story of Cher Ami and the Lost Battalion

Of the more than 100,000 carrier pigeons used during World War I, Cher Ami (which means "Dear Friend" in French) is probably the most well known. Delivering twelve important messages for the Americans stationed at Verdun, France, it was Cher Ami's final mission that secured a place in the history books.

The message was from Major Whittlesey, who led the "Lost Battalion" of the 77th Infantry Division. In early October 1918, more than 500 American soldiers became trapped in the Argonne Forest on the side of a hill behind enemy lines. Surrounded by Germans and cut off from reinforcements and supplies, things went from bad to worse. They were bombarded by heavy friendly fire overhead since American forces didn't know their location. Major Whittlesey made attempts to inform the American forces of their whereabouts, but carrier pigeon after carrier pigeon was shot to the ground. Cher Ami was their last pigeon and their last hope.

National Archives Catalog 

"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."

Croix de Guerre
Cher Ami was hit in the chest soon after taking off, but miraculously, the brave and determined pigeon rose again. After a 25 mile flight that took roughly 25 minutes, Cher Ami arrived bloody and exhausted, blinded in one eye, a message capsule dangling from a leg that was scarcely attached.

One hundred ninety-four lives were saved thanks to this bird's noble efforts; and thanks to dedicated Army medics, Cher Ami survived, as well. Cher Ami was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Palm for heroic service.  

An interesting postscript to this story is that when Cher Ami died on June 13, 1919 and was preserved by a taxidermist, it was discovered that this pigeon was not a Black Check cock as registered, but a Blue Check hen. Yes, according to the Army Defense Department's publication: A History of Army Communications and Electronics at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, 1917-2007, Cher Ami would have been more appropriately named Chère Amie. Why am I not surprised? But apparently the National Museum of American History and many other educational and military history information sources have not yet received that memo. Perhaps if it was sent by carrier pigeon, they would have.


Monument to the Lost Battalion in the Argonne Forest, France (public domain)


I am loving the unlikely hero poems we've received so far! You can read them (and post yours) HERE. This week's featured poems were by Gayle C. Krause and George Heidenrich. Stay tuned for more daily ditties next week and our end-of-month wrap-up on Friday!





Doraine Bennett is our Poetry Friday hero today! Join her for the roundup at Dori Reads.




54 comments:

  1. Damn, you made me cry! Truth is more fantastic than fiction. Thanks for sharing this story and your poem. Well done.

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    1. Thanks, Diane. The story is a bit of a tearjerker, isn't it? It certainly makes me think of pigeons in a different way!

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  2. Wow! I can see how it was hard to write about this little-known (and sad/awe-inspiring) bit of history. You did well, my friend. Poor, dear wee bird.

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    1. Thanks, Keri. It's so easy to get overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of subject biographical and historical poems!

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  3. Great story, Michelle! A tear-jerker.

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  4. I guess I'd better get writing for some heroine/hero! I know about Cher Ami. My step-father told us that story in the few times he spoke of the war. He was in the Army Corps of Engineers, & all over the world, including France. I love that you wrote to "her", Michelle. I've often thought about soldiers stationed so far from home, just wanting to be there. Lovely poem & bit of our history.

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    1. Yes, I guess you better. ;) Seriously though, if I felt I could legitimately skip a challenge, it might have been this one. In retrospect, I'm glad I pushed through. So interesting to hear about your step-father, Linda! Thank you for sharing that.

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  5. What a story! What a poem. I did not know this story. It is something I am sure to share with my students. A bit of history, a bit of poetry. A great lesson all around. So very lovely. And, so sweet about her gender.

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    1. Thanks, Julieanne, for your comment, and for sharing with your students. It's amazing what you can learn— and learn differently, often on a deeper level, with a poem!

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  6. Wow! Cher Ami is a poem and a bit of history I will love sharing with my students. Amazing how fascinating history is. Great job on this! The best line, is the last....just wanted to go home. Like all of us.













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    1. Thanks so much, Linda. Funny about that last line. I struggled with the poem in many different drafts, but when I finally found an approach that worked... pop! That last line was right there... like it was waiting for me all along.

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  7. You picked a great hero, Michelle! Nicely done. I read about carrier pigeons recently at the Spy Museum in D.C. -- it amazes me every time.

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    1. Thanks, Tabatha! I was tempted to include a photo of a pigeon outfitted with a camera just for the coolness factor, but it wasn't really appropriate in this case. I'll let you write the spy pigeon poem. ;)

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  8. This is such a gorgeous tribute, Michelle! I have a particular interest in all things WWI, but did not know about carrier pigeons or Chère Amie (let's call her by her rightful name!). What an amazing story.

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    1. Thanks, Renée! I thought the WWI context might appeal to you. :)

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  9. Wonderful subject for a poem, Michelle! That ending is poweful - thank you! xo

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    1. Thanks, Irene. The ending came to me like a gift. xo

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  10. What a fabulous poem and awesome story! I knew of carrier pigeons' role in the war, but don't think I've read about this one. :)

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    1. Thanks, Teresa. Glad I could tuck Cher Ami into your trivia bank!

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  11. That was really sweet. You really captured her spirit. Well done my friend.

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    1. Thanks, Judi. I think maybe you put your finger on why the poem was so difficult for me to write– I wanted to honor her spirit. Glad I was able to get there. :)

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  12. Wow!! What a fascinating topic! And gorgeous poem! Well done. Glad I gave you a tough one. :)

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    1. Thanks, Diana. I'm glad you did too! Though if you'd have asked me a week ago, I might have said something different. ;)

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  13. Michelle--those last lines--so poignant. I am touched, and crying. Love this!

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    1. Thanks, Maria. It's a pretty incredible story, isn't it?

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  14. Lovely, Michelle. You captured the spirit of the struggle, the determination to press through, and the hearts of all who just wanted to go home.

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  15. You capture the incredible strength of the homing instinct in this poem - and pigeon - right to its satisfying arrival at the last word. Very moving.

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  16. I will never again say "That's for the birds!". Now it is "Thanks for the birds!". Lovely. Thanks for telling us.

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    1. Exactly! It is a bit of a shift to think of pigeons as noble creatures.

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  17. What a touching story and beautifully-rendered poetic tribute, Michelle...well done!

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  18. Wonderful story, Michelle, and you've told it beautifully. Thanks for sharing Cher Ami/Chere Amie.

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  19. What a story. I enjoyed your poetic retelling, Michelle. How wonderful is it that the pigeon's name was Cher Ami?

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    1. Thanks, Laura. A beautiful name for a beautiful soul!

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  20. Wonderful story and poem. Thanks for sharing. It's fascinating and like others, I want to share with my students.

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    1. Thanks, Margaret. With or without the poem, it's a story that should be shared!

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  21. What a wonderful subject and what a wonderful poem. I was familiar with her story. You really captured it. I've been traveling and not able to keep up with my email. I will try to look back at all the poems this month once I settle down.

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    1. Thanks, Rosi. No worries about catching up, you can see them all in one place next week. :)

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  22. This is a new story to me, Michelle. Interesting and well told. She, with her pluck, turned out to be a likely hero!

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    1. Thanks, Violet. Cher Ami's pretty unforgettable, that's for sure!

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  23. I wasn't familiar with this story but love how you spoke to Chere Amie and then provided some background. What a wonderfully crafted poem and post from start to finish. Fascinating and deeply moving.

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  24. Well done. Like Diane, I have tears in my eyes...for a pigeon. Good Girl.

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    1. Thanks, Mary Lee. I wish I was able to include the picture of Cher Ami in her trainer's hands, when she was heading back to the US after this all happened. The love in his eyes is unmistakable.

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  25. wonderful, Michelle! Poignant. It gives "homing pigeon" new meaning.

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  26. So amazing about Cher Ami - I had no idea! I love the line in your poem, "though this wasn’t your war". How many can say this of every war?
    *End of the month wrap-up coming up already??? =)

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    1. Thanks, Bridget. It's funny how the best lines are often the ones that pop into your head without any hesitation or struggle. That was the case with this line and the last one too. Muse at work, I suppose.

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