Today in History: Famous Pigeon Saves 1,000 Lives

Today in History: Famous Pigeon Saves 1,000 Lives

M.C. Millman

Thanks to the famous military pigeon named G.I. Joe, at least 1,000 British troops were saved from almost certain death. 

During World War II, the U.S. military trained around 56,000 carrier pigeons for war missions. The pigeons were used to carry messages in tiny capsules attached to their legs. According to the National Museum of American History, these carrier pigeons were often the only communication form during World War II, as they were the least likely to be intercepted. They were also considered the most secure and reliable, successfully delivering over 95% of their messages. 

Major Otto Meyer, Director of the Army Pigeon Service, spoke about the famous G.I. Joe. At 10:00 a.m. on October 18, 1943, the British 56th Brigade was scheduled to attack the city of Colvi Vecchia in Italy. The plan was for the U.S. Air Support Command to bomb the city before the British entered, making it easier for the British to take it over. 

Unexpectedly, the Germans retreated, allowing the British troops to enter the city easily and occupy it ahead of schedule. 

There were attempts to alert the U.S. Air Support via radio and other communication to tell them to cancel the bombings. These communication methods failed, leaving the carrier pigeon named G.I. Joe as a last hope. G.I. Joe was released, along with the message to cancel the bombing. He flew 20 miles to the U.S. Air Support Command base in a record 20 minutes, just as the planes were warming up to take off. 

General Mark Clark, Commander of the U.S. 5th Army, estimated that the famous little pigeon saved the lives of at least 1,000 of our British allies. In recognition of this feat, G.I. Joe was shipped from Fort Monmouth, N.J., to London, England, in November 1946 to be awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry by the Lord Mayor of London. 

When the war ended, G.I. Joe joined 24 other pigeon heroes in the  U.S. Army's Churchill Loft at Ft. Monmouth, N.J. He was moved to the Detroit Zoological Gardens in March 1957, where he died at the age of 18 on June 3, 1961.

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