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Pigeons in the Navy

As a matter of history, the U.S. Navy, late in the 19th Century, sent Professor Francis Marion, U.S. Naval Academy, to Belgium to obtain information on the care and training of homing pigeons and as a result in 1899 the U.S. Navy's Manual for the Care and Training of Homing Pigeons was published. This manual required that a flying book be kept on each pigeon and recorded such information as number of flights, length, and rate of miles per hour. According to a Bureau of Navigation (now BUPERS) enlisted code book of 1919, pigeon trainers (or Pigeoneers as they were known) were a part of the Quartermaster rating and were identified as Quartermaster (Pigeon), Q.M.(P).

The advent of radio tended to dampen interest in pigeons. However, as late as 1926 the pigeon service in the Navy consisted of 12 lofts and approximately 800 birds. Pigeons at that time were used only in the aviation branch of the Navy inasmuch as they were dependent upon a fixed base or house. As late as 1942, orders were issued to expand the flock for use between dirigibles and their naval air stations.

During World War II, the Pigeoneers were identified as Specialist X and had the abbreviation SPX(PI). On 1 January 1948, when the Navy converted to a peacetime rating structure, the SPX(PI) was changed to the Exclusive Emergency Service rating of ESX and identified by Navy Job Classification Code 87200 and later ESX-9792. When the new peacetime rating structure was promulgated, the separate identity of the Pigeoneers was lost as far as full time active duty was concerned and personnel were transferred to one of the peacetime general service ratings (now called general ratings). Because of this, the last date possible for a person in this specialty to be identified, employed as a Pigeoneer, and on active duty would have been 1 January 1948.

All exclusive emergency service ratings (except one) were disestablished by the Secretary of the Navy on 10 January 1961. That is the official date for the deletion of the ESX-9792 (pigeon trainer). The reason the Rating Review Board gave for recommending disestablishment was the lack of written requirements for anyone with that skill.

As a matter of interest, the following is quoted from the Director, Naval Communications, to the Bureau of Navigation in 1921: "It has been brought to the attention of this office that occasionally men who have been made expert pigeon trainers have been transferred by commanding officers to other duties, and the work and care of training the birds is left to inexperienced hands." The Bureau of Navigation in Circular Letter #88 of 10 March 1921 to all commanding officers responded: "All men who have qualified as expert pigeon trainers will be immediately assigned to such duty and will not be transferred to other details without reference to the Bureau of Navigation. In case expert pigeon trainers are now attached to air stations on which there are no pigeon lofts, please report to the Bureau."

Finally, duties of the Pigeoneers were to feed, train, and otherwise care for the various strains of pigeons for use in communications, night flying and homing.

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