By Ernie Pyle
Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
If there were only a little more modernism and sanitation in Sicily, I think a good many of us would sort of like the place.
Actually, most of us feel friendlier toward the Sicilians than we did to the French in North Africa. And, in comparison with the Arabs – well, there just isn’t any comparison.
Nobody can deny that North Sicily is beautiful. It is mountainous, and all but the highest mountains are covered with fields and orchards. Many of the hillsides are terraced to prevent erosion. Everything is very old and, if it were only clean as well, it would be old in a nice, gentle way.
The north coast is a strange contrast to the south. On the south coast, the towns are much filthier and the people seem to be of a lower class. Coming from the south to the north, there is a freshness about the country and the people. The macadam road that follows the sea all the way from Palermo to Messina is a scenic one. I’ve heard a dozen soldiers say:
If you could only travel this road in peacetime, it would be a nice vacation, wouldn’t it?
Army buys Sicilian mules
The interior roads through the mountains are very few, mostly gravel and quite rough. All through the campaign, our troops had to use mules to get supplies up to them in the mountains, and three times during the battle, men went without food and water for as long as 60 hours. How they kept going is beyond me, but I’ve reached the point where nothing the infantry does startles me anymore.
The 3rd Division had more than 500 mules at the end of the campaign. They brought 30 burros with them from Africa, but discovered the burros couldn’t keep up with the infantry, so they had to abandon them for the stronger Sicilian mules. Most of the mules were pretty poor and we lost lots of them both by artillery fire and by plain old exhaustion.
Toward the end of the campaign, the division got so it hauled mules in 2½-ton trucks, right up to the foot of the mountains, so they could start their pack journey all fresh.
The American doughboy’s fundamental honesty shows up sometimes in comical ways. All through the campaign, the various Army headquarters were flooded with Sicilians bearing penciled notes, written on everything from toilet paper to the backs of envelopes saying:
I owe you for one mule taken for the U.S. Army on Aug. 2.
Pvt. JOHN SMITH
Actually, the appropriating of captured enemy equipment (including mules) for military use is legitimate and no restitution needed to be made, but the doughboys, in their simplicity, never thought of that.
Yanks sport German doodads
Captured supply dumps are impounded by the Army for reissue later but our soldiers often get in to help themselves before the Army gets there officially. For example, at one time practically every soldier you saw was carrying a packet of German bread – thin, brittle stuff that resembles what we call Ry-Krisp at home.
The soldiers seemed to like it or maybe it was just the novelty of the thing. The Germans, as usual, were well-equipped and we are now sporting lots of their doodads. Many of the officers’ outdoor field messes are now served with brand-new German folding tables and the diners sit on individual, unpainted German stools.
You also see quite a few officers sleeping in German steel cots with German mosquito-net framework above them. Speaking of mosquitoes, the summer heat and the lack of sanitation have begun to take their toll. Diarrhea is common, there is a run of the same queer fever I had, and a good many are coming down with malaria. In fact, the correspondents themselves dropped off like flies with malaria in the last weeks of the campaign. Usually, they went to the Army hospital for a few days until the attack passed, and then returned to work.
Our soldiers are very careless about their eating and drinking but you can’t blame them. One of the most touching sights to me is to see a column of sweat-soaked soldiers, hot and tired, march into a village and stop for rest. In a moment, the natives are out by the hundreds carrying water in glass pitchers, in earthen jugs, in pans, in anything, filling the men’s empty canteens. It’s dangerous to drink this water, but when you’re really thirsty, you aren’t too particular.
Ernie recovers on native food
Most of the time over here, I’ve approached native food and drink pretty much like a persnickety peacetime tourist who avoids all fresh vegetables and is very cagey about drinking water, but despite that, I came down with the fever. A couple of days after getting back to normal, I was hit with the “G.I.s,” or Army diarrhea.
Half of our camp had it at the same time. We all took sulfaguanidine, but still mine hung on. Then I moved into the field again with the troops, feeling like death, and getting weaker by the moment. One day we drove into a mountain village where the Americans hadn’t been before and the natives showered us with grapes, figs, wine, hazelnuts and peaches, and I finally said, “Oh, the hell with it,” and started eating everything in sight. And within two days I felt fine again.
MORAL: It worked once, but it’s a bad habit and you better not try it.