Picture this: It’s cold gray October 1918 in France, in the Argonne Forest. World War I has been going on for four hideous, deadly years. You and about 500 of your fellow Americans are smack in the middle of a MASSIVE battle. You’re running out of food and ammo. Shells are EXPLODING all around you and some of them are American! Those guys don’t know where you and your buddies are, trapped in a hillside valley, surrounded by enemy Germans!
How can Major Charles Whittlesey, the commander of this lost battalion, let those other Americans know where his unit is? They’re cut off from the telegraph wires; so what, wave a flag? That’ll just draw more enemy fire! The messengers he’d sent had been shot or captured. How about homing pigeons? In this awful war, more than a 100,000 of them were used to carry battlefield messages. The major had sent all but one of his pigeons only to see them shot out of the sky. Finally, the desperate officer calls for his last one, named Cher Ami, the French words for Dear Friend.
Major Whittlesey scribbles out a message: “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.” He rolls the scrap of paper, stuffs it into the tiny silver canister attached to Cher Ami’s leg, and sends him up and away. This pigeon has flown 11 successful missions— will he make it now? He must!
The Germans fire.
Cher Ami falls! He’s hit!
But he beats and flaps his wings, gains altitude, and flies 25 miles. Despite being blinded in one eye and shot in his bloodied breast, Cher Ami delivers the critical message, still attached to his leg, dangling by a bloody tendon. And 194 American soldiers are saved by their brave dear, feathered friend. For his heroic service, Cher Ami was awarded France’s highest medal, le Croix de Guerre (the Cross of War).
In the months after the war ended, on November 11, 1918, ocean liners carried Cher Ami and many thousands of other veterans to America. He continued to be treated, but in the end, his injuries were too serious. Cher Ami died on June 13, 1919.
Back in the USA, Major Charles Whittlesey gave speeches about the war. He said nothing about any sorrow or awful memories, so no one knows just why he jumped off a ship to his death in the sea, late one night in November 1921. But the memory of soldiers’ heroism and of one bird’s stubborn courage will never die.
Cheryl's Latest book is Flags Over America. Click here to find out more about the book or click here to find out more about the author.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Dear Friend." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8 01 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/dear-friend.
If you go to the nation’s official World War I Museum, in Kansas City, Missouri, you might see a paving stone that reads:
And you might say, “Huh?” So here’s his story, just for you to know:
In 1917 Connecticut, a terrier puppy strayed onto a Yale University field, where soldiers were training to fight in World War I. There is MUCH to say about WORLD-CHANGING WWI. For instance, it began late summer, 1914 Europe. On April 6, 1917, the US joined 23 other Allies, such as Great Britain, in their fight against the Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire.
The puppy quickly learned army life and lots of tricks. Private John R. Conroy adopted the pup he named “Stubby” and tried to sneak him overseas. When Stubby was discovered, he charmed the angry officer by raising his right paw and saluting him!
Stubby and Conroy served in France, by Germany’s border, where millions of soldiers fought one another along a 450-mile battle line. This was WWI’s deadly Western Front. Soon, Stubby was nearly killed by poison gas. Because the attack sensitized his nose, he became a barking, life-saving, put-your-mask-on early warning device! With his sensitive ears, Stubby could hear a lost or injured man then go help him. Once, he heard a suspicious-sounding man. Stubby chased and caught a German SPY by the seat of his pants! For this, SERGEANT STUBBY, the official mascot of the 26th Division of the American Expeditionary Forces, became the first dog ever promoted by the US Armed Forces.
WWI ended when the victorious Allies made their enemies agree to an ARMISTICE: As of 11 A.M. November 11, 1918, the fighting would STOP.
For his brave actions, battle-scarred Sgt. Stubby was WWI’s most decorated dog. Even the top US officer, General John J. Pershing himself, gave him a medal! How did Stubby wear his awards? They were attached to his soft leather blanket, made by grateful Frenchwomen. Stubby met three Presidents (Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge). In America, Stubby was in LOTS of victory parades and he appeared at Georgetown University football games, too, as their team mascot. (Conroy studied law there.)
Faithful Sgt. Stubby was about ten when he passed away in Conroy’s arms on March 16, 1926. His obituary was printed in the New York Times. Still, you can visit Stubby (his preserved remains anyway), in Washington, DC, at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
Ghosts of the Civil War is author/illustrator Cheryl Harness's popular sequel to her Ghosts of the White House. Here she takes readers on a fantastical, factual time travel journey through the Americans' tragic war between themselves.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Sergeant Stubby." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 5 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/sergeant-stubby.
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