T. Berokoff, AU Member
A member of the Chattanooga Racing Pigeon Club who is also a Marine Corp veteran, Don Snow, has a dream of reaching out to veterans and introducing them to the potential healing power of the pigeon. To start this process he wanted me to meet a veteran who has experienced this healing power, Mitch Gibson.
|New Flyer, Mitch Gibson|
Mitch is also a Chattanooga Racing Pigeon Club member and a Vietnam War veteran. Mitch believes that racing pigeons could serve the same function as therapy horses and dogs. He speaks from experience. At his request, the focus of this article is not on the man who served our country so valiantly, but rather on what the racing pigeons have done for him on his road to recovery. Through sharing the role pigeons have played in his life, his hope and dream is that other veterans will be able to receive the same comfort he has from this bird of peace. It is his belief that this could also a great way for returning veterans to reconnect with their families as they enjoy the sport of pigeon racing together.
GROWING UP WITH PIGEONS
It was an uncle who introduced Mitch to pigeons after his dad was killed in an automobile accident. His initial interest in those two blue bars stayed with Mitch through high school. He told me he would trade a pigeon with a friend from school sometimes for a chicken. He would ride to school with a pigeon in a bag and then hide the pigeon under the floor of the school house. After school his friend would produce a chicken he had brought and the trade would be made. He loved having those birds and it was only girls that made his interest wane a bit in his last years of school.
After graduating from high school, he and a friend went to a funeral home to view the older brother of a mutual friend. At the viewing they saw the deceased Marine in full dress uniform having been killed in the Vietnam War. This was Mitch’s first connection with the Vietnam War. The impression of that Marine so moved Mitch that he decided he wanted to serve his country and enlisted.
A SHORT BACKGROUND ON THE MILITARY
Mitch served with the Army during the height of the Vietnam War from 1968-1969. During his tenure in Vietnam, he was awarded 3 Purple Hearts, 2 Bronze Stars, one with Valor, and one Army Accommodation Medal. He was featured in the Stars and Stripes six times for his efforts. The war was not kind to Mitch’s health, having been exposed to Agent Orange. Agent Orange gave him cancer, and after years of treatment has been in remission for three years. The injuries he continues to deal with on a daily basis are of a mental nature. Nothing helps him with this injury as does the pigeon.
AFTER THE SERVICE
When Mitch returned from the service, he wanted to get back into pigeons. He found some pigeons for sale at a feed store and he was on his way. For years, he would buy pigeons and found nothing could calm him as effectively as the birds.
In the early 2000’s a friend of his, Mark Grisham, mentioned that a man he knew had some white pigeons. That man was Don Snow. When he talked to Don and asked if he could buy some pigeons, Don told him that “if a man likes pigeons, then he’ll take care of them” and gave, not sold, Mitch youngsters from his best breeders. Over the years Don has continued to give Mitch pigeons. Now Mitch has over 100 pigeons.
|Mitch Gibson (left) with AU Member & Mentor, Don Snow (right)|
WHAT PEACE THE PIGEON BRINGS
The best part of the day is the morning when Mitch sits on his back porch with a cup of coffee watching his pigeons fly. He allows them to have open loft if he’s going to be out watching out for hawks. Otherwise, he flags them in after two hours. Baby squabs with the soft yellow fuzz on their heads are Mitch’s best therapy. He loves the sweet smell of the babies. This is so effective for him that when he is having a stressful day that’s causing high blood pressure or his heart rate to increase, he visualizes the soft yellow fuzz and everything returns to normal. The cooing of the birds also works wonders in calming his nerves.
He says being in the service he became an adrenal machine, always on over-drive, always over-active, and coming back to civilian life was difficult at best. When watching the pigeons fly a wave of tranquility washes over him and calms him.
His dream is that others returning from the service who are dealing with the memories of what they’ve experienced will be able to use pigeons as a peace giving vehicle. It also is a means to bring veterans close to their families again. It could provide something to bond over as they breed the birds, get them ready for races, and watch them fly. Instead of thinking about the buddies who are still involved in war or those who were killed, the pigeons can give them another purpose.
As much as dogs or horses are not for everyone, Mitch is quick to add that pigeons may not be for everyone. But, through the jungles of medical and mental problems he has walked, without question, the pigeons work for him and he believes that there could be other veterans who could benefit from their peace as he has benefited.
Mitch has offered to help any interested veteran get started by giving them some of his own pigeons. In any capacity he can help get them going, Mitch is more than ready to do so.
It was an honor to meet Mitch Gibson and I can’t say thank you enough to him for his service to our country. There may be countless other veterans and their families who might benefit from becoming involved with pigeons. In our club alone there are five veterans from the Army, Navy, and the Marines. Veterans are also in the ranks of clubs across the United States. Reaching out to other veterans in the community is a first step in giving back to these men and women who have served us so selflessly. If any of you have experience in this type of outreach, or have experienced the healing power of the pigeon, please contact me and share your experiences. The homing pigeon has a history of helping the military from ancient times through WWI and WWII. Though the homing pigeon has been used in war, it is a bird of peace, now capable of helping the military on another front. Our goal is to offer a combination of the power of the pigeon with outreach so we can help make the dream of healing a reality. Our American Veterans have given so much for us; please join us and our pigeons in our efforts to give back to them.