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Cudmore: Serving with the pigeon corps

Cudmore: Serving with the pigeon corps

 

 At least one Amsterdam man served with the Pigeon Corps in World War II.

Racing pigeons, specially-bred birds sometimes called Racing Homers, can speedily fly home.  As a sport, the pigeons compete against each other in covering carefully measured distances.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the birds were also used to carry messages during wartime.  Electronic communication has largely supplanted use of racing pigeons in wartime today.  However, in 2016, a Jordanian official told reporters that Islamic State militants were using racing pigeons to deliver messages to operatives,

Pigeon fancier Thomas A. Czelusniak was born in Amsterdam in 1916, the son of Frank and Mary Kosinski Czelusniak.  He told Sam Zurlo of The Daily Gazette in 1989 that he “got the pigeon racing bug” when he was 11.  He was a charter member of the Amsterdam Racing Pigeon Club, formerly located on Lefferts Street in the East End.

Czelusniak was in the first group of draftees to leave Amsterdam in November 1940 for World War II.  He served three years at the U.S. Army Pigeon Breeding and Training Center as instructing officer in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and two years in Europe with the 285th Signal Pigeon Company and Counter Intelligence.

Czelusniak told Zurlo a bird named G.I. Joe was credited with saving a thousand humans.  The United States was ready to bomb the Italian village of Calvi Vecchia, which they believed was controlled by the Germans.  However, British forces had captured the city.  G.I. Joe flew that message across the English Channel and the bombing mission was canceled. 

 After the war Czelusniak continued to race pigeons.  His loft was on Grand Street where he housed 95 birds in 1989.  He said the more time you spend with pigeons, the better the result.  He once attended a racing Olympiad in Poland.   

He worked at Mohawk/Mohasco Carpet for 32 years in the order and sales department.  A member of the Amsterdam City Council for eight years, he was deputy mayor for two years.  He and his wife, Klara Wojnarowski Czelusniak, raised a family.

Also a singer, Czelusniak was an organizer of the Polish National Legion Glee Club and was Legion president for eight years.  He died in 2006.

One of the Americans who died in the Normandy invasion in 1944 was Pvt. Frank J. Sirchia. The late Amsterdam historian Robert Going said Sirchia was known for raising racing pigeons.

Vincent A. Condello got interested in pigeon racing as a young man growing up on Amsterdam’s James Street. Born in 1924, Condello served in World War II with the U.S. Marines in the Philippines.  He liked dancing and his nickname was Jitterbug.

After the war Condello worked for the A&P supermarket chain, married Christine Coluni, raised a family and became proficient with pigeons.  Some of his birds could finish a 600-mile race in less than a day and Condello won All-American honors twice.  He died in 2007.

Michael Cinquanti, who writes the Amsterdam Birthday Blog, said that Condello displayed a large number of trophies at his home: “Vince wasn’t in the sport because he loved trophies or awards. The betting pools for the events used to get quite sizable and rumor has it that [he] once won $12,000 from a single event. That’s a lot of pigeon feed folks!”

The Amsterdam Racing Pigeon Club closed several years ago, according to long time member Bernie Gutowski, who admitted younger people have not been flocking to the hobby. 

Gutowski, who operates Hardluck Loft, now belongs to the Schenectady Homing Pigeon Club, which maintains its clubhouse off Burdeck Street in Rotterdam.

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