As the story goes, a German racing pigeon was to fly from Munich in a race back to her home base of Klautzenbach, near Nuremberg. She got lost and landed in Pilzen Czechoslovakia. Someone, apparently a pigeon fancier, found her, attached a message for Radio Free Europe to her leg and let her go. She flew back to Klautzenbach. Her owner found the message and notified RFE; the pigeon and message were given to RFE. "Leaping Lena" became her nickname. The message she carried was
We plead with you not to slow down in the fight against communism because communism must be destroyed. We beg for a speedy liberation from the power of the Kremlin and the establishment of a United States of Europe. We listen to your broadcasts. They present a completely true picture of life behind the Iron Curtain. We would like you to tell us how we can combat “bolshevism” and the tyrannical dictatorship existing here. We are taking every opportunity to work against the regime and do everything in our power to sabotage it.
"Leaping Lena" was brought to the United States in August 1954, where four World War II hero pigeons from Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and 15 news
photographers greeted her as a V.I.P. (Very Important Pigeon). Fort Monmouth was the site of the U.S. Army Signal Corps Pigeon Breeding and Training Center. Her arrival was sponsored by the American Racing Pigeon Union and the International Federation of American Homing Pigeon Fanciers.
One thousand American carrier pigeons were released in her honor and flew off in all directions as they headed home. But one carried a copy of the "Unbowed Pilsen" message to President Dwight Eisenhower in Washington, D.C., and one flew with a copy of the same message to Henry Ford II, president of the Crusade for Freedom, who was in Detroit, Michigan.
Newspaper headlines included, "Star Crusader for Radio Arrives in Nation," and "Lena, Pigeon Who Crashed Curtain, Gets Big Ovation." One photograph carried the caption: "The bird won honorary pigeonship in the United Slates after flying an anti-Communist message over the iron curtain." Another read "Pigeon of Pilsen on Mission in US." One New York Times headline was "Coos and Kudos to Greet 'Anti-Red" Pigeon Who Flew Message Through Iron Curtain."
One newspaper reporter not so kindly described her as "a rather drab looking expanse of feathers resembling any plump pigeon in any park."
After three weeks of quarantine at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Clifton, New Jersey, "Leaping Lena" reportedly then went on a press tour, helping to raise funds for Radio Free Europe in the 1954-1955 Crusade campaign. She was the "model for an insignia to be used in the fund drive to support Radio Free Europe broadcasts behind the Iron Curtain" and presumably retired in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.
One of the four World War II hero pigeons was to be her mate, but, unfortunately, "Leaping Lena's" fate in the United States is not known. It is possible she was given to a zoo. According to a history of the U.S. Army Signal Corps.
The advent of the electronics age brought about the demise of one of the Signal Corps' oldest forms of communications, pigeons. The Army's birds, like horses and mules before them, had fallen victim to progress. Consequently, the Signal Corps closed the Pigeon Breeding and Training Branch (formerly Center) at Fort Monmouth on 1 May 1957. The Corps sold its birds to the public except for the remaining war heroes, such as G.I. Joe, which it presented to zoos around the country.
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