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World War I Hero

U.S. Army Pigeon, President Wilson

The patriotically named "President Wilson" was one of the many pigeons serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I. Born in France, his initial assignment was to the U.S. Army's newly formed Tank Corps. He first saw action delivering messages for the 326th and 327th Tank Battalions commanded by Colonel George S. Patton in the Battle of Saint Mihiel. Assigned to the forward most squad in the advance, he was released from the turret of a tank to fly back with the locations of enemy machine gun nests. Artillery could then be brought to bear before the infantry advanced.

Following this action, he was in support of an infantry unit, most likely the 78th Division, who were conducting operations in the vicinity of Grandpré during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On the morning of 5 October, 1918, his unit came under attack and was heavily engaged in a firefight with the enemy. President Wilson was released to deliver a request for artillery support, flying back to his loft at Rampont some forty kilometers away; he drew the attention of the German soldiers who fired a nearly impenetrable wall of lead blocking his path. Despite this, President Wilson managed to deliver the lifesaving message within twenty-five minutes — a record for speed — unmatched in the American Expeditionary Forces. When he landed, his left leg had been shot away and he had a gaping wound in his breast.

Surviving his wounds, President Wilson retired to the U.S. Army Signal Corps Breeding and Training Center at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where he led a quiet life until his death on 8 June, 1929. Like many of his avian wartime companions, he was taxidermied and presented to the Smithsonian Institution. In 2008, he was returned to the U.S. Army and is now in an exhibit in the Pentagon, just outside the office of the Chief of Staff of the Army.

Army Signal Corps pigeon

World War I signal pigeon "President Wilson" served with the Tank Corps at St. Mihiel, France where it carried critical messages identifying the location of enemy machine-gun positions that were blocking the American advance. The pigeon is part of the "U.S. Army Pentagon Exhibit -- A Living History"
Photo Credit: J.D. Leipold

Army Signal Corps pigeon

Signal Corps soldier demonstrates the employment of pigeons at Camp Alfred Vail.

Army Signal Corps pigeon

The Pigeon Loft

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281st Signal Corps Pigeon Platoon:
PFC Walter Donald Lee, World War II

Walter "Lefty" Donald Lee was born March 2, 1925. He was raised in Cumberland, Maryland, playing basketball and baseball throughout his school years. He entered the military immediately following high school. He went to basic training at Camp Lee, Virginia, followed by artillery training at Camp Hahn, California. When it was discovered he had a background as competitive pigeon owner and racer, he was called off of a training range and told he was being transferred to the 281st Signal Pigeon Company, Fort Jackson, SC to prepare for his service working with pigeons. Lefty Lee served in the Signal Corps as a member several units during WWII, as a Pigeon trainer and handler. He served in Hawaii, New Guinea, Luzon and Leyte. He was honorably released from the Army at Ft. Meade, Maryland.

After the war, Mr. Lee went to college and graduate school on the G.I. bill, and became a lifelong teacher and athletic coach. Never again did he own pigeons, but he mentored his nephew in raising and racing pigeons. He currently lives in Frederick, Maryland. He has endless wonderful stories, many hilarious, about his time and life at Ft. Jackson and during his service in the Pacific and with the Signal Corps.

Click on either image for a detailed view.

Signal Corps 281st Pigeon Platoon: PFC Walter Donald Lee, World War II
Signal Corps 281st Pigeon Platoon: PFC Walter Donald Lee, World War II


U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History

AMEDD Corps History
CHAPTER XVIII: Army Signal Pigeons

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