Sunday, December 14, 2008

Delightful details

This is a picture from the Friendship Dairies webpage. I remember buying Friendship Dairies stuff from Wegmans when I lived in upstate New York. Turns out that bird? It's a pigeon. How do I know that? Because of the delicious obituary today for Richard Topus, a WWII pigeoneer.

Here's a tidbit of history:
In all, more than 50,000 pigeons served the United States in the war. Many were shot down. Others were set upon by falcons released by the Nazis to intercept them. (The British countered by releasing their own falcons to pursue German messenger pigeons. But since falcons found Allied and Axis birds equally delicious, their deployment as defensive weapons was soon abandoned by both sides.)

Pigeoneer is a real term, by the way.
Camp Ritchie specialized in intelligence training, and Mr. Topus and his colleagues schooled men and birds in the art of war. They taught the men to feed and care for the birds; to fasten on the tiny capsules containing messages written on lightweight paper; to drop pigeons from airplanes; and to jump out of airplanes themselves, with pigeons tucked against their chests. The Army had the Maidenform Brassiere Company make paratroopers’ vests with special pigeon pockets.

And the lovely link provided by the Times takes you to the American History Archives Center at the Smithsonian "Maidenform Collection" which notes that "Documentation for the development and manufacture of a "pigeon vest" is also included in the collection. The pigeon vest allowed troopers to carry homing pigeons with them as they parachuted behind enemy lines. During World War II, Maidenform manufactured these pigeon vests and silk parachutes for the war effort."

After the war, Mr. Topus eventually became executive vice president for sales and marketing for the Friendship Dairies.

Though the Army phased out pigeons in the late 1950s, Mr. Topus raced them avidly till nearly the end of his life. He left a covert, enduring legacy of his hobby at Friendship, for which he oversaw the design of the highly recognizable company logo, a graceful bird in flight, in the early 1960s.

From that day to this, the bird has adorned cartons of the company’s cottage cheese, sour cream, buttermilk and other products. To legions of unsuspecting consumers, Andrew Topus said last week, the bird looks like a dove. But to anyone who really knew his father, it is a pigeon, plain as day.

Fabulous. I had to share.

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