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Kuwaiti pigeon who served as chemical detector to be taken home

BAGHDAD, Iraq—When the annals of the Iraq war are written, Petey may be only a footnote, if that. But let it be known that Petey would have died for his Marines, if it had come to that. Fortunately, it didn't.

And soon Petey will be headed home.

Petey, a pigeon, is perhaps the last of the low-tech chemical weapons detectors that U.S. troops carried with them into Iraq from Kuwait. Had American forces encountered chemical weapons, the theory went, birds such as Petey would have succumbed first, giving U.S. forces enough warning to get their gas masks on.

When no such weapons were used, however, and the Marines were told they no longer needed to wear anti-chemical suits, they released most of the birds.

But Petey's caretakers decided they wanted to take him back to Kuwait, his homeland, for release—maybe, they hope, in a week or two.

"All the other companies let theirs go," said Lance Cpl. John Doyle, 25, of St. Petersburg, Fla., who drives the Humvee in which the pigeon rides. "But we're going to keep ours till we get back."

"It's easy to maintain," said Gunnery Sgt. Erik O. Cruz of Oakland, Calif. "It doesn't eat much."

Petey and his pigeon colleagues were the second call-up of birds for chemical-warnings duty. The first group had been chickens, which were deployed at Camp Matilda in Kuwait back in February.

Unfortunately, the chickens died before war began, apparently too weak for the cold nights and sandstorms in the desert. So next came pigeons: light, easy to keep alive and easy to transport.

"It just sits there," Doyle said. "We keep an eye on it."

The Marines of K Company grew fond of the bird. They named it and cooed to it when times were easy. Crackers from meals-ready-to-eat supplemented its bird-seed diet.

And when they set up camp in Baghdad, near a building where Iraqi pigeons seemed to be taunting it, they placed a "girlie" photo in its cage, for "motivation."

The option of roasting the bird was never seriously considered, even by Marines who have lived on prepackaged, processed and uniform-tasting MREs for a month. After all, the bird might have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect them.

Said Cruz, "That would have been mean."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-WARBIRD