MARCH 15: Trainer of tiny heroes

14topus_190ON THIS DATE in 1924, Richard Topus (left) was born. At eighteen in 1942 he joined the Army Signal Corps and began training pigeons and pigeon-handlers for service in World War II.

Topus and others taught soldiers how to care for the birds, how to place messages on the birds’ legs, how to drop pigeons from airplanes, and how to parachute from planes while holding on to the birds.

At its peak, the Army Pigeon Service totaled 150 officers, 3,000 enlisted men, and 54,000 pigeons. The winged messengers are credited with saving thousands of U.S. lives during the war.

One of the pigeons, GI Joe (right), received a medal of honor for carrying a message that arrived just sarge-lucas-and-gi-joein time to prevent a planned bombing that would have resulted in hundreds of Allied casualties.

Another, Blackie, delivered a message in the South Pacific revealing the position of 300 Japanese troops. Blackie completed his mission despite being hit by Japanese shrapnel, which blew away part of his neck and chest.

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