DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Signed by the Author > Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey

Faculty tells tale of hope, duty and endurance

Cher Ami cover
(DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)
Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey

By: Kathleen Rooney, Department of English

From the green countryside of England and the gray canyons of Wall Street come two unlikely heroes: one a pigeon and the other a soldier. Answering the call to serve in the war to end all wars, neither Cher Ami, the messenger bird, nor Charles Whittlesey, the army officer, can anticipate how their lives will briefly intersect in a chaotic battle in the forests of France, where their wills will be tested, their fates will be shaped, and their lives will emerge forever altered. 

Cher Ami
(Image courtesy of Penguin)

A saga of hope and duty, love and endurance, as well as the claustrophobia of fame, "Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey" is a tragic yet life-affirming war story the world has never heard. Inspired by true events of World War I, the author resurrects two long-forgotten yet unforgettable figures, recounting their tale in a pair of voices that will change the way readers look at animals, freedom, and even history itself.

What inspired you to write this book?

​​I teach a class at DePaul called “Drift and Dream: Writer as Urban Walker.” Back in 2013, one of the students in that workshop, Brian Micic, turned in a poem about an elderly man sitting on a city park bench that contained an almost throwaway line about pigeons: “This was no Cher Ami story. (Look it up!)” I appreciated the good-natured ribbing—I am forever reminding my students to look things up, because looking things up is one of the best ways to learn. So look it up I did. What I found astonished me—despite my years of reading books and watching films about the Great War, I had never heard of this bird, nor had I heard anything at all about the Lost Battalion, the nickname of the group of American soldiers she helped to save from a friendly fire incident in France’s Meuse-Argonne Forest in October of 1918. I also knew nothing whatsoever of that group of men’s commander, Charles Whittlesey, a person who gave his all not only in that ordeal but also in his civilian life upon returning to the States.

Persuade someone to read your book in less than 50 words​

The story of World War I has been told often, but never from the perspective of the heroic messenger pigeon who saved the Lost Battalion and helped to determine the entire war’s outcome. If you love pigeons, you’re in for a treat. If you don’t, you’re about to change your mind.

About the author:

Kathleen Rooney is a senior professional lecturer in the Department of English. She also is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and a founding member of Poems While You Wait. Her most recent books include the novel "Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk" and "The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte."

Publisher, release date, length:

Penguin, August 2020, ​336 pages.