On October 3 1918, Charles Whittlesey and more than 500 men were trapped in a small depression on the side of the hill behind enemy lines without food and ammunition. They were also beginning to receive friendly fire from allied troops who did not know their location. Surrounded by the Germans, many were killed and wounded in the first day and by the second day, only a little more than 200 men were still alive. Whittlesey dispatched messages by pigeon. The pigeon carrying the first message ("Many wounded. We cannot evacuate.") was shot down. A second bird was sent with the message, "Men are suffering. Can support be sent?" That pigeon also was shot down. Only one homing pigeon was left: 'Cher Ami'. He was dispatched with a note in a canister on his left leg,
As Cher Ami tried to fly back home, the Germans saw him rising out of the brush and opened fire and for several minutes, bullets zipped through the air all around him. The men of the Lost Battalion saw Cher Ami shot down, but he was soon airborne again. He managed to arrive back at his loft at division headquarters 25 miles to the rear in just 25 minutes, helping to save the lives of the 194 survivors. In this last mission, Cher Ami had delivered the message despite having been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, covered in blood, and with a leg hanging only by a tendon.
Cher Ami had become the hero of the 77th Infantry Division, so army medics worked long and hard to save his life. They were unable to save his leg, so they carved a small wooden one for him. When he recovered enough to travel, the little one-legged hero was put on a boat to the United States, with General John J. Pershing personally seeing Cher Ami off as he departed France.
Upon return to America, Cher Ami became the mascot of the Department of Service. The pigeon was awarded the Croix de Guerre Medal with a palm Oak Leaf Cluster for his heroic service in delivering 12 important messages in Verdun. He died at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, on June 13, 1919 from the wounds he received in battle and was later inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame in 1931. He also received a gold medal from the Organized Bodies of American Racing Pigeon Fanciers in recognition of his extraordinary service during World War I.
To American school children of the 1920s and '30s, Cher Ami was as well known as any human World War I heroes. Cher Ami was later mounted by a taxidermist and donated to the Smithsonian where he is enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution, and is currently on display with Sergeant Stubby in the National Museum of American History's "Price of Freedom" exhibit.