July 1996 Issue By John O. Fertig
Lt. Robert Folsom wrote in his history of the 280th Signal Pigeon Company: "This company is the oldest and first to be formed within the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army. Forty-two officers and 597 enlisted men have passed through Its doors. What will become of the company, no one knows." "Down through the years will come glimmering the recollection of Indian nights in the Bihar province. The sky dusted with diamonds, the steep cones of Indian mountains bathed in bright moonlight, and especially the moonlight nights along the banks of the Ganges, and always the wail of the Jackals and the throaty bark of the slinking hyenas. The melancholy beauty of India; deep. dark, mysterious India that goes shimmering away with the bright sun rays." Before the men of the 280th entrained for Wilmington, California, they were given a lecture by Frank Buck, one of the foremost authorities on jungle country. Then we journeyed 12,000 miles by liberty boat, taking approximately 68 days on the broad Pacific and the Indian Ocean before arriving in Calcutta. The pigeon lofts were cable fastened to the deck of the ship. It was here that we spent a lot of our time, cleaning the lofts and feeding and watering the birds. From Calcutta, we loaded everything on our truck convoy and journeyed to Ramgarh in the province of Bihar. Many experiments were tried on problems in the field. In one instance we moved the portable lofts to many different locations - east, west, north and south - and sometimes the birds (homing pigeons) fouled up and dropped at their former locations. I'll never forget the time I drove about 30 miles with a large group of birds In very hot weather. After resting the birds in their crates. I decided to liberate. They took off in a wild circle, and after a few passes over the jeep, they headed Tor the lofts in the field. India is noted for its flash storms, and shortly after this liberation it began to rain and became quite cloudy - and brother, when it rains in India it pours! I took for granted the birds were well on their way and was very much surprised when I observed the large flock overhead, wheeling lower all the time. Finally, in a mango tree nearby, the water-soaked birds landed, seeking cover in the branches. Some were so water soaked they dropped to the ground below. After these flash storms, the sun comes out and as the rain subsided I leaped out of the jeep and began picking up birds that were too wet to take off and placed them in the crates. When the sun became brighter the birds began to dry out their flight feathers, and soon they were taking off In the direction of the lofts. When I arrived at the section I learned it hadn't rained there at all, and was quite surprised to see that only a few losses were incurred in this instance. On another occasion, the company conducted a 200-mile race from the famed holy city of Benares on the sacred Ganges River, A former truck driver. William Joy from Mlddleport, PA. was selected to convoy the birds and asked me to accompany him. Naturally, I jumped at this opportunity. As it turned out, we were the only two pigeoneers to see this city. Bill was an excellent driver and did most of the driving. We got lost a few times, but finally arrived at the banks of the Ganges and crossed it via an English ponton bridge. After resting ourselves and the birds, we jotted down the time and liberated the birds, about 200 in number. By the way, we had quite an audience, too. It was a long grind, about 40 miles round trip, but well worth it, for we traveled the Grand Trunk Road and saw the great Tata Steel Works. After the "brass" in Washington deactivated the "amazing unit." as it was called, we were split up. Some went to Calcutta, some wound up in China and yours truly went to the province of Assam and was assigned to a different unit. While in India, I met my brother, sister, an uncle and many buddies from the home town of Shamokin, PA.
An Amazing CBI Unit
Also see: "The Pigeoneers" website