There are plenty of military relics in the Smithsonian's collection, but few also highlight the institution's penchant for preserving the more memorable furry and feathered companions that made a mark on American history.
One such example is Cher Ami, a carrier pigeon who flew 12 missions during World War I. (Pigeon units played an essential role in wartime communication because they could deliver messages quickly through dangerous territory.) Cher Ami's unwavering bravery and resolute determination during his 12th and final mission earned him medals, accolades and a posthumous spot in the Smithsonian.
On Oct. 4, 1918, the U.S. Army's 77th Infantry Division was trapped behind German lines. In an effort to assist the division, U.S. troops started firing artillery rounds, only the shells were inadvertently bombarding the very soldiers they were supposed to protect. His first pigeons shot down, the besieged division's field commander, Maj. Charles Whittlesey, had just one pigeon remaining to try to get a message through: Cher Ami.
The Germans rained bullets on Cher Ami when he broke cover, but the tenacious little bird would not be deterred from delivering his message. He managed the heroic and perilous 25-mile (40-kilometer) flight in just 25 minutes, suffering grave injuries along the way. Upon his arrival with the crucial note, Cher Ami collapsed; he'd lost an eye, and a quarter-sized bullet hole in his breastbone had almost completely severed one leg.
But his bravery was also directly responsible for saving the lives of the 194 surviving soldiers of the "Lost Battalion." For that, he won the hearts of millions and, after his eventual death, a place among the Smithsonian's treasures.