Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dear President Obama,

May 13, 2009

President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

There is a hero that deserves to be honored with a special holiday ~ this hero saved countless lives in World Wars I and II, and possesses a gentle nature and exemplary characteristics and traits, including loyalty and devotion to family. Yet, like many heroes, this particular one is often undervalued and disregarded and, worst of all, sometimes unfairly persecuted. It is time for the truth about this hero to be to be made known and celebrated. This hero is…..the Rock Dove, also known as the pigeon.

Try to imagine any large city without this ubiquitous bird. A city devoid of pigeons lacks character and animation. For city children, pigeons are often one of their first contacts with nature. For the elderly, feeding the pigeons in the park gives them both purpose and pleasure when they have little else left.

Pigeons are considered to be one of the most intelligent bird species, being capable of learning tasks previously thought to be understood only by the higher forms of humans and primates. They are one of 6 species – and the only non-mammal – that can recognize its reflection in a mirror, and scientific tests have determined that they can understand all 26 letters of the English language and differentiate between images in photographs. They can be trained to save lives at sea, by recognizing the color of life jackets of survivors floating in the water.

Of course, the pigeon’s ability to navigate and fly great distances and return home is its most unique skill. It was this skill that made pigeons war heroes, as flying messengers – carrier pigeons - a usage that goes back to ancient times. Many pigeons in World War I and II saved the lives of soldiers by getting messages or locations through when there was no other means of communications. Some of these birds were shot up so badly by enemy fire that it is incredible that they made it back to their home base. In 1946, a pigeon named G.I. Joe was the only American bird awarded the prestigious Dickin medal (a British medal that is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross) for service in World War II. The US Air Force was to bomb the city of Calvi Risorta in Italy at 11:00 a.m. on October 18, 1943; however, British troops captured the city at 10:00 a.m. and attempts to cancel the raid by radio failed. G.I. Joe had been borrowed from the American airfield earlier and was released with a message to stop the raid. He landed as the bombers were about to take off. An estimated 1,000 British troops would have died if the bombing had gone on as planned.

We propose the date of June 13th as National Pigeon Day. June 13th was the anniversary of the death of Cher Ami, the most famous and legendary of the carrier pigeons of wartime. Cher Ami was a pigeon in World War I who, on October 4, 1918, flew 25 miles in 25 minutes -despite being horribly wounded - to deliver a message that saved 200 American soldiers in Europe, who were fighting to help the French allies. The Americans were surrounded by the German enemy and the message gave the location of the American soldiers so they wouldn’t be killed by American bombs trying to destroy the surrounding Germans. The French government awarded Cher Ami their highest honor – the Croix de Guerre. The bird was patched up and tended by medics and General John J. Pershing himself saw the pigeon off when he departed Europe for home. At the time, Cher Ami’s story became one of the most famous wartime hero stories.

Cher Ami died of his multiple war wounds, including being blinded in one eye, shot through the breast and loss of a leg, on June 13, 1919, less than a year after he had completed his service to the United States Army Signal Corps.  When he died, a taxidermist preserved the pigeon for future generations, and today, if you visit the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History, you can see Cher Ami preserved for history alongside the French Croix de Guerre that was awarded to him by the French government.  It was rumored that Cher Ami had also been awarded the American Distinguished Service Cross, but although there is substantial documentation that General John J. Pershing did, in fact, award some sort of silver medal to the heroic carrier pigeon, there is no record of the Distinguished Service Cross specifically being awarded. Perhaps this is another oversight that you could investigate and correct.

In recent years, the pigeon’s talents, loyalty and friendship to humans has been sadly forgotten, and this remarkable bird is now often called a pest or described as a rat with wings (this last comment is thanks to an infamous line in a Woody Allen movie). Nothing could be further from the truth. The bird is not a carrier of disease (no more so than any wild bird, such as a cardinal or bluebird), and is relatively harmless. They tend to live near humans and in areas that are natural to them – in the wild they live on cliffs; in urban areas, they find buildings and bridges that mimic their natural homes. Pigeons are the first ones blamed when there is a bridge collapse (i.e., their droppings corroded the metal) yet, investigation has always found human error or design defect to be the true fault.

Worst of all, in some areas, pigeons are used as live targets in shooting clubs, most notoriously in Pennsylvania. Legislation is pending to outlaw this, but the erroneous perception of the pigeon as an undesirable – perpetrated to no small degree by pest control companies as a way to boost their business – continues to denigrate this species.

It is time for the pigeon to be respected for its remarkable traits and for how it has helped mankind. Many young Americans are alive today because a pigeon’s message saved his or her grandfather in World War I and II! The pigeon deserves a special day in recognition of its contributions. Please help make June 13, National Pigeon Day, a reality.

Respectfully yours,

Arlene B. Steinberg
Vice President
New York Bird Club

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All I can say to you is WELL SAID am im with you 100%