Sunday, January 29, 2012

Captain Hays Chevrolet Apache Project

A bittersweet story about an American soldier who was killed and provided "One Last Gift" for his family.

You can read  more and see other videos at

We truly should be grateful for our military who have made sacrifices to protect us and our way of life throughout our Nation's history.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Nobel Committee Bypassed Holocaust Savior for Al Gore

I am in a bit of a foul mood today after viewing the video that I posted on the preceding blog. I am sure you could tell by my philosophizing in that blog the true anguish I felt after watching the horrific scenes of the abuse of God's innocent creatures.

So as I am in this mood of despair, I am going to make you aware of a story most of you do not know.

In May of 2008, a Polish woman named Irena Sendler, who was 98 years old died in Warsaw, Poland. Now what is the big deal about that you ask? This lady was absolutely amazing and was a true hero. During World War II, the Catholic Sendler, risked her life to save Jewish infants and children during the Holocaust. How many did she save you ask? Try 2,500! She was captured by the Nazis for her efforts, tortured and sentenced to death by a firing squad. She managed to escape but she suffered with disabilities due to her experience at the hands of the Nazis for the rest of her life. I will not divulge the entire story, rather read the report from from the link below and then for verification and more information I have a link to Snopes about her. Yes she was real and her story is true.

The tragedy is she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. She lost. Who could have beat her? Whose story was more compelling than hers? Try Al Gore! Yep...sad but true. It doesn't matter how you feel about Global Warming...the spin machine was out in full force and there were media outlets boycotting her story (a list at the bottom of the Newsbusters article) to grease the skids for Gore.....that is why you never heard of it. Thank God for the power of the internet....because as well read as I am about history I never heard of her until someone sent me an email about her (which I verified on Snopes). This woman should have received accolades beyond measure for the selfless sacrifices she made for these poor unfortunate Jewish children, many of whom survived because of her efforts and made a difference with their lives.

It is so unfortunate that people like this are not recognized for their true heroism. Doing such amazing feats of courage for no personal gain, but doing so because they felt it was right. Risking their very lives in taking the chances they did. I read the stories about the politicians who inflate their "war records" claiming to take part in action or winning commendations which later turn out to be false. I know there was a judge in Illinois a few years back who made a career about touting his exploits serving in Viet Nam and taking part in a horrific battle. It turned out he was never there and resigned in disgrace. There are a number of such stories that do not need telling now.

So my goal in this posting is to let you read about a true hero. Someone who did not have the media hyping her credentials so she could win a prize. She exemplified what the Nobel Peace Prize really was supposed to stand for. When I was a kid I felt that this award was so prestigious....but as I look on the series of winners as of late, it is so diminished in my eyes and really does not have the significance I believed it had. So read the stories below and I believe you will be amazed by her story and flabbergasted that you never heard of her before. But in the great scheme of things she has a special place in Heaven and has my sincere admiration as well of those who know of what she had done, as you soon will.

Nobel Committee Bypassed Holocaust Savior for Al Gore | Irena Sendler

It's a Wonderful World - Two Perspectives

In Ancient Greece masks were used by the actors and led to the origination of the famed dual "Comedy and Tragedy Masks" that have been widely used throughout time. That is how I feel about this upcoming blog.

Someone sent me an absolutely lovely video from the BBC (on YouTube) about the planet Earth, showing all sorts of wonderful footage. Playing over the footage was the esteemed documentarian David Attenborough performing the song "It's a Wonderful World" in a speaking fashion. It was stunning and I really enjoyed it. (The smiling mask)

As luck (or bad luck) would have it the next video began to automatically was a response to the previous video. Yes, it was David Attenborough performing "It's a Wonderful World," however the footage changed. It did not show the loveliness of the world, rather the dark side. It specifically showed the disregard man has for this planet and the animals we co-exist with here. I am no tree hugger/activist but I am very sensitive to what is happening to our planet.....the rain forests, the rampant pollution and the absolute inhumanity to animals.

This video evoked a very visceral and emotional response from me. I am not ashamed to say that it made me weep. Watching what was done to the environment was ghastly enough, but I absolutely lost it as I witnessed the video proof of the cruelty to the animals.

It is very graphic, sickening and I warn you about it. But we must not turn a blind eye, rather realize that this sort of inhumanity does exist and there has to be a way to stop it. I tried to watch it a second time but could not. (The tragedy mask)

As happy as you will feel about the first video the second will bring you down. If you want to have the happy face, watch the first and ignore the second. But if you want some reality right between the eyes, watch the second. Sadly, there is so much evil in this world. This video only depicts it from the perspective of planet Earth and it's creatures. We all know of the genocides that have occurred in the past and are still occurring. There is so much cruelty all around us. We need to do the best we can in our own small way to try to make this world a better place. Even simple acts of kindness go a long way. I am a believer in Karma (you will be held accountable for your actions) so I can only hope these evil people will get their just rewards in the end. It is a shame these poor animals suffer....but I do my damndest everyday to help any animal I can. They are truly God's gift to mankind.

Now the videos......the first.....lovely one entitled "A Wonderful World"

The second, heartbreaking one entitled "A Not So Wonderful World" (watch at your own risk)
Damn, just posting this and seeing this picture even breaks my heart.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tweeting on Twitter

Well folks....I have dipped my toe into another form of social media.....Twitter. Yes, this old dog may be learning a few new tricks. I have been asked frequently if I was "tweeting" (which I thought was a bit of a personal question) until I understood what was meant. So I decided to try it out to see how it would work.

It is a work in progress. I do not really know what to "tweet" so I am making random tweets on a wide range of topics and observations. I am tweeting an "Animal Fun Fact" (AFF on the tweets to save space) every day and have also been tweeting some notable quotes about animals. I am sure my wise cracking nature will also come through. We will see where this goes.

If you want to follow the progress of a novice tweeter (who is trying hard to be interesting and clever) the twitter address is @nilesanimalhosp. Hope to see some of you as followers as the journey continues.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Political Parrot Story

Continuing about my wise-cracking nature...this anecdote was back in the days when I was a new graduate veterinarian fresh out of the University of Illinois. I had been an student intern at Niles already for three years, starting in May of 1980 and upon graduation became a staff veterinarian in May of 1983. Dr. TJ Lafeber, the noted avian veterinarian, was my mentor and I was his protege who he was grooming to eventually take over the practice. This story relates to a time I was seeing one of Dr. Lafeber's rechecks.

I was seeing appointments one afternoon at Niles Animal Hospital and my next case was a recheck of an Amazon parrot that had previously seen Dr. Lafeber. As I checked the record I saw that the bird had been diagnosed with an intestinal tract infection and was been treated with oral antibiotics at home.

I walked into the exam room and introduced myself to the owner. The bird was a big, strong yellow naped Amazon parrot who was giving me a malevolent stare. As I looked more closely at the owner I noticed he had multiple gashes on his fingers and forearms which looked relatively fresh. I asked the owner what happened to him where he got all those wounds. He mentioned they came from the bird as he was trying to medicate him.

Those of you who have worked with (or have) parrots know how aggressive some of them can be or difficult to treat, especially the strong-willed ones. Sadly, this client's parrot was one of those dominating Amazons which made catching and medicating the bird difficult.

He then continued to tell me that the biggest problem was trying to treat the bird in the fashion Dr. Lafeber recommended. I will digress to relate what Dr. Lafeber used to advocate. He was concerned that birds would become fearful when an owner tried to capture them and administer oral medications. So what he would tell people to do was to disguise themselves in some fashion so the bird would not be fearful of the owner, rather the medicator. He told people to wear a hat, glasses or something just to throw the bird's perception off enough so when the disguise was removed the bird would not recognize the owner as the one who had done the capture and treatment.

As I was speaking to this particular owner he said the treatment was difficult because the only disguise he could find was a rubber Jimmy Carter mask. He said when he put the mask on he had trouble seeing what he was doing so it was especially difficult to capture the bird and accomplish treatment. All the while as he was visually encumbered, the enraged Amazon was biting the Hell out of him.

Needless to say, I had a bemused smile as I visualized the poor parrot being tormented by a grinning Jimmy Carter approaching him with a towel.That was enough to traumatize man and beast.

I then came up with one of my notable wisecracks. After hearing his tale of woe I had an inspiration. I told the client that I knew what his problem was and how he could solve it. He expectantly looked at me waiting for pearls of wisdom to fall from my lips to aid him in his twice daily battles trying to medicate the bird. I then said that the problem is pretty obvious. I remarked that the bird freaks out when it sees the Jimmy Carter mask because the bird is a Republican and he needed to get a Ronald Reagan mask when he was medicating the bird. The owner shook his head and the technician who was helping me just groaned.

Fortunately, the bird's fecal recheck was normal and  no further medicating was needed so my theory was never put to the test.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Verification Code for Technorati


The Ancient Art of Urine Tasting Revisited

Continuing with another story of my veterinary related practical jokes, this one was pulled on a veterinary technician student who was interning at our hospital one summer.

Before I delve into the details of the "joke" I need to provide you with some medical background. In ancient times, diagnosis of disease problems could be accomplished through the art of "urine tasting." By actually tasting urine, one could get an idea of what condition a person was suffering from. That is also why in those days they probably did not have a whole lot of people applying to medical school to become doctors! This practice is represented in the names of  two forms of diabetes, diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus. The diabetes most people (and pets) suffer from is diabetes mellitus, characterized by increased sugar in the urine....hence the word mellitus referring to sweet, the sweet taste of the urine due to the sugar content. Diabetes insipidus is caused by a hormonal problem where the body cannot reabsorb the water filtered by the kidney. It is a problem with the anti-diuretic hormone which is what prevents excessive urination. In diabetes insipidus, there is a problem with this hormone so it is not functioning like it should, so you have diuresis or excessive urination with resultant excess drinking...called polyuria (excess urination) / polydipsia (excess thirst). For a another fun fact, when imbibing with alcohol, the antidiuretic hormone is suppressed so there is a resultant increased need to urinate....and then a need to restore the fluids. Nonetheless, as there is excessive urine production, the urine is very dilute or insipid (tasteless). Whew, now that we have the long physiological description out of the way we can now talk about the poor trick I pulled on this impressionable veterinary technician student.

The Urine Prank
We frequently have student interns/externs at the practice which may spend a few weeks/days or even most of the summer at our practice. One summer, several years back, we had a veterinary technician student from Parkland College in Champaign (which has an excellent two year program for veterinary technicians leading to certification....we have a link to the Parkland program as well as other excellent programs on our website, under links) and she was just finished up the final week of her externship. As the veterinary technicians learn to do laboratory work, she had spent a great deal of time working in our in house laboratory.

She enjoyed making diagnoses through the lab work. One thing she did quite often was performing urine analyses in order to detect certain disease conditions. Initially, the urine is placed into a centrifuge to settle out any cells or debris to the bottom of the test tube. There are several parts to a urinalysis, the separated liquid is examined for its appearance, concentration and a special "dipstick" is placed into the urine. On this dipstick are several different pads which change colors when certain elements are present in the urine including glucose, bile, blood, ketones and others. Then the sediment from the bottom of the test tube is placed on a slide, stained,  and checked for white blood cells, red blood cells, crystals, abnormal cells and other things.

She had been telling me the last few weeks of her externship that she had not diagnosed a case of diabetes with a urinalysis since she had been at the our hospital. She was hoping to make that diagnosis before she went back to school. Well.......not being one to disappoint a dedicated student I hatched a plan in my fertile mind.

I got some apple juice from the store one night and brought it in the following day. I created a phony record and poured the "urine" into one of our containers where we place urine samples. I brought the sample to her in the lab and told her we had a dog that was drinking and urinating excessively as well as losing weight, which were potential signs of diabetes mellitus. She eagerly took a portion of the sample, spun it down in the centrifuge, poured off the spun down urine and placed a dipstick in the urine. She suddenly became very animated and excited. She was saying she finally found a case of diabetes. I asked her why and she said that this urine sample is loaded with glucose, excitedly showing me the dipstick with the glucose pad very darkened, indicating a large amount of glucose present in the sample. I then told her that I was glad she had finally achieved her  goal......but then, my devious plan continued.

I picked up the container with the excess "urine" in it and "carefully" examined it. I then said very thoughtfully, "You know, in ancient Egypt there used to be urine tasters who could diagnose diseases by tasting urine. Because diabetes mellitus refers to sweet...I wonder...." I put the container to my lips and I drank the "urine" and I said " That is right, it is sweet." I looked over at the student whose mouth was agape and had a look of absolute horror on her face. I then said, "Tastes pretty good, too." Her eyes were bugging out by this time, but our staff members (who were in on this) could not hold it in any more and burst out laughing, telling her that I had tricked her with apple juice. She then placed  her hand over her chest and was taking some deep breaths as she said that she was so flabbergasted that it seemed like I had actually drank urine.

Fortunately, this experience did not scar this poor student who went on to become a certified veterinary technician who is still in the field. Whenever I see her she begins to smile and shake her head saying she will never forget that experience.

One other post script. When you are a wise guy / practical joker you always have to be sure that the tables are not turned on you. I NEVER let that "urine" container out of my sight....I remained in the lab as this joke was taking place. With our staff I knew if they had the chance they would have replaced the apple juice with the real thing if I was not careful.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Critically Ill "Guinea Pig"

For those of you who know me I am always one who is quick with a quip, pun or wisecrack and on occasion does engage in some practical jokes. This was one of my favorites, which I pulled on one of our technicians who is now a practicing veterinarian in Wisconsin.

Late one afternoon a black cat had come in that was in a state of neglect with huge mats of hair all over it's body. As we were clipping the mats off, there was a particularly large one on the back that I removed pretty much in totality. After I had removed the mat, I was holding it up, admiring my handiwork and I stated to the technicians helping me that it looked just like a guinea pig. Which it did....the size and shape made it a spitting image of a guinea pig. It was then that a mischievous thought came to mind.

We had one technician who was a very happy-go-lucky type and found humor in just about everything, but was a very diligent and dedicated worker. As it was her day off I decided to make her the "mark" of my practical joke. So the next day, before she arrived, I set up my little joke. I took the hair mat, put it in a hospital cage and set it up like a hospitalized animal. I placed food and water in the cage, placed a towel under the hair mat/guinea pig and placed a heat lamp on the cage.

When the technician arrived I said, "Thank Goodness you are here. I just took in a critically ill guinea pig who is emaciated, barely responsive and severely dehydrated." I told her that the guinea pig was all set up in the ward with a heat lamp and needed warmed subcutaneous fluids as soon as possible. She had a very concerned look on her face as she went to get the warmed fluids. As she entered the ward she looked in on the "guinea pig" and her concern intensified. (All this time the rest of the staff is muffling laughter and are just out of sight) She felt the "guinea pig" and looked horrified as she realized there was nothing to it. She then uncapped the needle and plunged it (what she thought was) subcutaneously to administer the fluids. After running the fluids for a few moments she appeared shocked as she noticed that the fluids were running through the "guinea pig" and starting to soak the towel. By this time the staff could not stifle themselves any longer and came out of hiding, laughing. She turned and realized she had been bamboozled and of course held me responsible, which was correct. She mentioned she couldn't believe how dehydrated the "guinea pig" was and could not understand why the fluids were coming out like they were. Realizing now it was a hair mat it all made sense.

We all had a good laugh and I told her she was probably the only veterinary technician in history who had ever administered subcutaneous fluids to a hair mat. However, she did get even with me.

Many years later I was giving a lecture to the Wisconsin State Veterinary Association. By this time she had gone to veterinary school, graduated and was practicing in Wisconsin. She had the honor of introducing me to the attendees before my lecture. Well she told the story of the hair mat/guinea pig and embellished it pretty well. She finished her introduction by stating that if I could do something like that to her she doesn't know if she could believe anything I was going to say in the lecture. The audience got a big kick out of her introduction and she sat down with a satisfied look on her face.

The practice of veterinary medicine can cause you to have some of your highest highs when you are able to help a sick animal recover but also have some of  your lowest lows when you have to euthanize a beloved pet that you have tried your best to save. I enjoy the interaction with both the pets and the owners (whom I feel are the finest people as they care enough to bring their pets in for veterinary care). After all these years at Niles Animal Hospital (thirty two years this May and counting) I still love what I do. I have had friends who are now retiring (I am not getting younger myself) and have stated that they are envious of me because they knew I had always wanted to be a veterinarian  and I am still living my dream. It helps to ease the pressure and keep things lighthearted when we are able to have some harmless fun such as occurred with the hair mat scenario.

Next blog I will tell you about another trick I pulled on a veterinary technician extern who was at our hospital.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Choosing the Right Pet Insurance

20 Questions to Help You Choose an Insurance Provider

Health costs are rising for people and pets alike. To help combat the increasing costs having a quality insurance policy is very important. Through the years pet insurance has improved and is quite an attractive option for pet owners nowadays. Many of the policies provide decent coverage for routine examinations, vaccinations and typical procedures. However, where it can be quite useful when your pet may suffer a catastrophic illness or injury. Some policies do offer reasonable reimbursements. However, if you do commit to pet health insurance I would recommend purchasing it when the pet is still young as it may be difficult or very costly to cover an older pet. In addition, there may be preexisting conditions in an older pet which may disqualify it for certain coverages.

Which insurance company should you select? There are many companies to choose from and what degree of coverage would you like? It can be quite difficult to sift through all the legal jargon included in many pet insurance informational packets. After you do some research online and find a few companies you might like to work with, it is then time to dig deeper. Use this list of questions to find the level of care that is just right for you and your pet.

  1. Is the company licensed in your state? Which of their policies is available in your state?
  2. Does the company have a good reputation?  What do the Better Business Bureau or other independent organizations say about it? How long has the company been around?
  3. Are the policies and information provided reasonably easy to understand? Are the people you talk to knowledgeable and helpful?
  4. Does the company offer customer service during reasonable hours?
  5. Can you see any veterinarian you want?
  6. Have premiums increased over the past few years? If so, by how much?
  7. What happens to coverage and premiums as your pet gets older?
  8. Are there any reasons you would not be able to renew your policy?
  9. What type of coverage and co-insurance does the policy require?
  10. Is there a "usual and customary charges" clause? How are those limits determined?
  11. What kinds of care are excluded or limited? Are congenital or hereditary diseases covered?What about cancer? Is dental care covered?
  12. Are conditions diagnosed within one year excluded as preexisting conditions the next?
  13. Are benefits available for wellness or preventative care for your pet?
  14. Can you choose a deductible? Can you change a deductible from year to year? Is the deductible annual or is it applied to each medical incident?
  15. Are the waiting periods before coverage begins reasonable?
  16. Is there a maximum age for enrollment?
  17. Are there limits per incident, per year, per lifetime, or per body system? What are those limits?
  18. Is a physical examination required for enrollment or renewal?
  19. How quickly are claims processed and paid?
  20. Are there any billing fees or discounts?
Do not be reluctant to ask these questions when you are deciding which company to go with for pet insurance. You need to make the best decision for you and your pet. Ask fellow pet owners who have or have had insurance and the experiences they had, as well as any recommendations. Also ask your veterinarian for their recommendations as well.

The list of 20 questions was provided in an article in a veterinary publication.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Nemo - Viet Nam War Hero Dog

nemo1.jpgAnother in our series of war hero animals. This is the story of "Nemo" a dog war hero from the Viet Nam War. This story is from the "War Dog Hero Site" and the War Dogs Remembered section, where stories are told about these amazing dogs and their sacrifices made in wartime situations.

" Nemo " Remembered
No. A534, 377th Security Police K-9
Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam. 1966

Airman 2nd.Class Bob Thorneburg and his K-9 Nemo were assigned duty near an old Vietnamese graveyard about a quarter mile from the air base's runways. No sooner had they started their patrol... Nemo alerted on something in the cemetery. But before Thorneburg could radio the CSC, that "something" opened fire.

Thorneburg released his dog and then charged firing into the enemy. Nemo was shot and wounded, the bullet entering under his right eye and exited through his mouth. Thorneburg killed one VC before he too was shot in the shoulder and knocked to the ground.

That might of been the sad end of the story. But Nemo refused to give in without a fight. Ignoring his serious head wound, the 85 pound dog threw himself at the Vietcong guerrillas who had opened fire. Nemo's ferocious attack brought Thorneburg the time he needed to call in backup forces.

A Quick Reaction Team arrived and swept the area but found no other Viet Cong. However, security forces, using additional sentry dog teams, located and killed four more Viet Cong. A second sweep with the dog teams resulted in discovery of four more Viet Cong who were hiding underground. They, too, were killed.

Although severely wounded, Nemo crawled to his master and covered him with his body. Even after help arrived Nemo would not allow anyone to touch Thorneburg. Finally separated, both were taken back to the base for medical attention. Thorneburg was wounded a second time on the return to the base.

Lt. Raymond T. Hutson, the base vet, worked diligently to save Nemo's life. It required many skin grafts to restore the animal's appearance. Nemo was blinded in one eye, After the veterinarian felt Nemo was well enough, the dog was put back on perimeter duty. But it turned out his wounds needed further treatment.

On June 23, 1967, Air Force Headquarters directed that Nemo be returned to the United States with honors, as the first sentry dog to be officially retired from active service.

Thorneburg had to be evacuated to the hospital at Tachikawa Air Base in Japan to recuperate. The handler and the dog who saved his life said their final goodbyes. Airman Thorneburg fully recovered from his wounds and also returned home with honors.

Nemo flew halfway around the world accompanied by returning airman Melvin W. Bryant. The plane touched down in Japan, Hawaii and California. At each stop, Air Force vets would examined the brave dog for signs of discomfort, stress and fatigue...after all he was a War Hero!

Finally, the C-124 Globemaster touched down at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, on July 22, 1967. Captain Robert M. Sullivan, was the officer in charge of the sentry dog training program at Lackland, and was the head of Nemo's welcome home committee.

"I have to keep from getting involved with individual dogs in this program," Sullivan said, "but I can't help feeling a little emotional about this dog. He shows how valuable a dog is to his handler in staying alive."

After settling in Nemo and Captain Sullivan made a number of cross country tours and television appearances, as part of the Air Force's recruitment drive for more war dog candidates, until the US involvement in Vietnam started to wind down.

Nemo spent his retirement at the Department of Defense Dog Center, Lackland AFB, Texas. He was given a permanent kennel near the veterinary facility. A sign with his name, serial number, and details of his heroic exploit designated his freshly painted home.

Nemo died December 1972 at Lackland AFB, shortly before the Christmas holiday: after a failed attempt to preserve his remains, the Vietnam War hero was laid to rest on March 15, 1973, at the DoD Dog Center, at the age of 11. Until then, his presence at Lackland reminded students just how important a dog is to his handler - and to the entire unit.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cher Ami - An Amazing Story of a War Hero Pigeon

In our continued series about animal war heroes, here is the truly amazing story of a brave pigeon who was responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of United States soldiers during World War One. This bird was a celebrated hero in his time and now, as is so unfortunate nowadays, sadly forgotten. That is why I would like to share the story of brave little Cher Ami, a true and unlikely hero. I hope after reading this you will look upon the humble pigeons you see with some new found respect. (The discussion below was copied from a Wings of Valor posting)
Cher Ami (Dear Friend) A Pigeon War Hero
The ability to communicate is essential to soldiers in the field. Without communications to their commanders or support units in the rear area, soldiers on the front line can't send messages about their progress, request needed supplies, or call for help when things reach their worst.

During World War I, messages were sometimes transmitted by wire (telegraph of field phone), but two-way radio communications had not yet become available. Sometimes a unit was ordered to attack over a broad and often difficult terrain, making it impossible to string the wire necessary for communications. In these situations, a field commander often carried with him several carrier pigeons.

Pigeons served many purposes during the war, racing through the skies with airplanes, or even being fitted with cameras to take pictures of enemy positions. But one of the most important roles they served it was as messengers. An important message could be written on a piece of paper, then that paper neatly folded and secured in a small canister attached to a pigeon's leg. Once the pigeon was released, it would try to fly to its home back behind the lines, where the message would be read and transmitted to the proper military planners.

The United States Army is divided among several different specialties, the men from each specialty trained for a particular kind of work. Infantrymen are trained to fight on the ground, artillerymen are responsible for the big guns, armor refers to the men who fight in tanks, and the Air Service was the name for the group of soldiers who fought in the air during World War I. One of the oldest of these groups of soldiers was the members of the U.S. ARMY SIGNAL CORPS. Since the birth of our Nation, it was these men that were responsible for insuring that messages between all units, (including messages to other branches of service like the Navy and Marines), got through. The Army Signal Corps identifies itself by a torch with two crossed flags. These represent SIGNAL FLAGS, a common way that messages were passed using code.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the Army Signal Corps was given 600 pigeons for the purpose of passing messages when it couldn't be done by signal flag or field phone. The pigeons were donated by bird breeders in Great Britain, then trained for their jobs by American soldiers.

During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the 2-month battle that finally ended World War I, 442 pigeons were used in the area of Verdun to carry hundreds of messages. This is how the system worked:

When a commander in the field needed to send a message, he first wrote it out on paper, trying to be both brief and yet as detailed as possible. Then he called for one of his Signal Corps officers, who would bring one of the pigeons that went with the soldiers into battle. The message would be put in the capsule on the bird’s leg, and then the bird would be tossed high in the air to fly home.

The carrier pigeon would fly back to his home coop behind the lines. When he landed, the wires in the coop would sound a bell or buzzer, and another soldier of the Signal Corps would know a message had arrived. He would go to the coop, remove the message from the canister, and then send it by telegraph, field phone or personal messenger, to the right persons.

Carrier pigeons did an important job. It was also very dangerous. If the enemy soldiers were nearby when a pigeon was released, they knew that the bird would be carrying important messages, and tried their best to shoot the pigeon down so the message couldn't be delivered.

Some of these pigeons became quite famous among the infantrymen they worked for. One pigeon named "The Mocker," flew 52 missions before he was wounded. Another was named "President Wilson." He was injured in the last week of the war and it seemed impossible for him to reach his destination.  Though he lost his foot, the message got through to save a large group of surrounded American infantrymen.

Cher Ami
Probably the most famous of all the carrier pigeons was one named Cher Ami, two French words meaning "Dear Friend." Cher Ami served several months on the front lines during the Fall of 1918. He flew 12 important missions to deliver messages. Perhaps the most important was the message he carried on October 4, 1918.

Mr. Charles Whittlesey was a lawyer in New York, but when the United States called for soldiers to help France regain its freedom, Whittlesey joined the Army and went to Europe to help. He was made the commander of a battalion of soldiers in the 77th Infantry Division, known as "The Liberty Division" because most of the men came from New York and wore a bright blue patch on their shoulders that had on it the STATUE OF LIBERTY.

On October 3, 1918 Major Whittlesey and more than 500 men were trapped in a small depression on the side of the hill. Surrounded by enemy soldiers, many were killed and wounded in the first day. By the second day only a little more than 200 men were still alive or unwounded. Major Whittlesey sent out several pigeons to tell his commanders where he was, and how bad the trap was. The next afternoon he had only one pigeon left, Cher Ami.

During the afternoon the American Artillery tried to send some protection by firing hundreds of big artillery rounds into the ravine where the Germans surrounded Major Whittlesey and his men. Unfortunately, the American commanders didn't know exactly where the American soldiers were, and started dropping the big shells right on top of them. It was a horrible situation that might have resulted in Major Whittlesey and all his men getting killed - by their own army.

Major Whittlesey called for his last pigeon, Cher Ami. He wrote a quick and simple note, telling the men who directed the artillery guns where the Americans were located and asking them to stop. The note that was put in the canister on Cher Ami's left leg simply said:
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.

As Cher Ami tried to fly back home, the Germans saw him rising out of the brush and opened fire. For several minutes, bullets zipped through the air all around him. For a minute it looked like the little pigeon was going to fall, that he wasn't going to make it. The doomed American infantrymen were crushed, their last hope was plummeting to earth against a very heavy attack from German bullets. 

Somehow Cher Ami managed to spread his wings and start climbing again, higher and higher beyond the range of the enemy guns. The little bird flew 25 miles in only 25 minutes to deliver his message. The shelling stopped, and more than 200 American lives were saved...all because the little bird would never quit trying.

On his last mission, Cher Ami was badly wounded.  When he finally reached his coop, he could fly no longer, and the soldier that answered the sound of the bell found the little bird lying on his back, covered in blood. He had been blinded in one eye, and a bullet had hit his breastbone, making a hole the size of a quarter. From that awful hole, hanging by just a few tendons, was the almost severed leg of the brave little bird. Attached to that leg was a silver canister, with the all-important message. Once again, Cher Ami wouldn't quit until he had finished his job.

Cher Ami became the hero of the 77th Infantry Division and the medics worked long and hard to patch him up. When the French soldiers that the Americans were fighting to help learned the story of Cher Ami's bravery and determination, they gave him one of their own country's great honors. Cher Ami, the brave carrier pigeon was presented a medal called the French Croix de guerre with a palm leaf.

Though the dedicated medics saved Cher Ami's life, they couldn't save his leg. The men of the Division were careful to take care of the little bird that had saved 200 of their friends, and even carved a small wooden leg for him. When Cher Ami was well enough to travel, the little one-legged hero was put on a boat to the United States. The commander of all of the United States Army, the great General John J. Pershing, personally saw Cher Ami off as he departed France.

Back in the United States the story of Cher Ami was told again and again. The little bird was in the newspapers, magazines, and it seemed that everyone knew his name. He became one of the most famous heroes of World War I. Years after the war a man named Harry Webb Farrington decided to put together a book of poems and short stories about the men and heroes of World War I. 

When his book was published, it contained a special poem dedicated to Cher Ami:
Cher Ami
by Harry Webb Farrington
Cher Ami, how do you do!
Listen, let me talk to you;
I'll not hurt you, don't you see?
Come a little close to me.

Little scrawny blue and white
Messenger for men who fight,
Tell me of the deep, red scar,
There, just where no feathers are.

What about your poor left leg?
Tell me, Cher Ami, I beg.
Boys and girls are at a loss,
How you won that Silver Cross.

"The finest fun that came to me
Was when I went with Whittlesey;
We marched so fast, so far ahead!
'We all are lost,' the keeper said;

'Mon Cher Ami--that's my dear friend--
You are the one we'll have to send;
The whole battalion now is lost,
And you must win at any cost.'

So with the message tied on tight;
I flew up straight with all my might,
Before I got up high enough,
Those watchfull guns began to puff.

Machine-gun bullets came like rain,
You'd think I was an aeroplane;
And when I started to the rear,
My! the shot was coming near!

But on I flew, straight as a bee;
The wind could not catch up with me,
Until I dropped out of the air,
Into our own men's camp, so there!"

But, Cher Ami, upon my word,
You modest, modest little bird;
Now don't you know that you forgot?
Tell how your breast and leg were shot.

"Oh, yes, the day we crossed the Meuse,
I flew to Rampont with the news;
Again the bullets came like hail,
I thought for sure that I should fail.

The bullets buzzed by like a bee,
So close, it almost frightened me;
One struck the feathers of this sail,
Another went right through my tail.

But when I got back to the rear,
I found they hit me, here and here;
But that is nothing, never mind;
Old Poilu, there is nearly blind.

I only care for what they said,
For when they saw the way I bled,
And found in front a swollen lump,
The message hanging from this stump;

The French and Mine said, 'Tres bien,'
Or 'Very good'--American.
'Mon Cher Ami, you brought good news;
Our Army's gone across the Meuse!

You surely had a lucky call!
And so I'm glad.  I guess that's all.
I'll sit, so pardon me, I beg;
It's hard a-standing on one leg!"

 "Cher Ami" and Poems From France
Rough & Brown Press, 1920

Cher Ami died of his multiple war wounds on June 13, 1919--less than a year after he had completed his service to the United States Army Signal Corps. Upon his death a taxidermist preserved the small pigeon for future generations, a bird with a story that became an inspiration to millions over the years.

Today, visitors to the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. can still see Cher Ami, preserved for history alongside the French Croix de Guerre with palm that was awarded to him by the French government. In the years following Cher Ami's death, there were rumors the bird had also been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Though there is ample documentation that General John J. Pershing did in fact, award a "silver medal" to the brave carrier pigeon, there is NO record of the DSC being awarded.

Cher Ami on display at the Smithsonian Institution