Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

The Pittsburgh Press (December 2, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle has arrived in North Africa to write a new series about U.S. troops abroad. This, the first, tells how the soldiers lived when they arrived in the new battle zone.

With U.S. forces in Algiers, Algeria – (Dec. 1, by wireless)
From now onward, stretching for months and months into the future, life is completely changed for thousands of American boys on this side of the earth. For at last they are in there fighting.

The jump from camp life into frontline living is just as great as the original jump from civilian life into the Army. Only those who served in the last war can conceive of the makeshift, deadly urgent, always-moving-onward complexion of frontline existence. And existence is exactly the word: it is nothing more.

The last of the comforts are gone. From now on, you sleep in bedrolls under little tents. You wash whenever and wherever you can. You carry your food on your back when you are fighting.

You dig ditches for protection from bullets and from the chill north wind off the Mediterranean. There are no more hot-water taps. There are no post exchanges where you can buy cigarettes. There are no movies.

When you speak to a civilian, you have to wrestle with a foreign language. You carry enough clothing to cover you, and no more. You don’t lug any knickknacks at all.

When our troops made their first landings in North Africa, they went four days without even blankets, just catching a few hours’ sleep on the ground.

Clothes for generations to come

Everybody either lost or chucked aside some of his equipment. Like most troops going into battle for the first time, they all carried too much at first. Gradually they shed it. The boys tossed out personal gear from their musette bags and filled them with ammunition. The countryside for 20 miles around Oran was strewn with overcoats, field jackets and mess kits as the soldiers moved on the city.

Arabs will be going around for a whole generation clad in odd pieces of American Army uniforms.

At the moment, our troops are bivouacked for miles around each of three large centers of occupation – Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. They are consolidating, fitting in replacements, making repairs – spending a few days taking a deep breath before moving on to other theaters of action.

They are camped in every conceivable way. In the city of Oran, some are billeted in office buildings, hotels and garages. Some are camping in parks and big vacant lots on the edge of town. Some are miles away, out in the country, living on treeless stretches of prairie. They are in tiny groups and in huge batches.

Some of the officers live in tents and sleep on the ground. Others have been lucky enough to commandeer a farmhouse or a barn, sometimes even a modern villa.

The tent camps look odd. The little low tents hold two men apiece and stretch as far as you can see.

There are Negro camps as well as white.

You see men washing mess kits and clothing in five-gallon gasoline cans, heated over an open fire made from sticks and pieces of packing cases. They strip naked and take sponge baths in the heat of the day. In the quick cold of night, they cuddle up in their bedrolls.

The American soldier is quick in adapting himself to a new mode of living. Outfits which have been here only three days have dug vast networks of ditches three feet deep in the bare brown earth. They have rigged up a light here and there with a storage battery. They have gathered boards and made floors and sideboards for their tents to keep out the wind and sand.

In the evening by the moonlight

They have hung out their washing, and painted their names over the tent flaps. You even see a soldier sitting on his “front step” of an evening playing a violin.

Even in this short waiting period, life is far from static. Motor convoys roar along the highways. Everything is on a basis of “not a minute to spare.” There is a new spirit among the troops – a spirit of haste.

Planes pass constantly, eastbound. New detachments of troops wait for orders to move on. Old detachments tell you the stories of their first battle, and conjecture about the next one. People you’ve only recently met hand you slips of paper with their home addresses and say:

You know, in case something happens, would you mind writing…

At last, we are in it up to our necks, and everything is changed, even your outlook on life.

Swinging first and swinging to kill is all that matters now.

The town as a whole has been turned back to the French, but the Army keeps a hand raised and there will be no miscues.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 3, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

This is the second in a series about U.S. troops in North Africa, in which battle zone Mr. Pyle has recently arrived. Today, he shows how red tape vanishes as battle nears.

With U.S. forces in Algiers, Algeria – (Dec. 2, by wireless)
Many of the red-tapish formalities that are common to the military are cast aside when the Army is in the field, moving relentlessly forward.

At an American airdrome where two of us correspondents went to arrange transportation farther east, a major said:

Aw, to hell with your permits. I haven’t got time to look at them. Just camp here in your bedrolls and I’ll put you on the first plane going your way.

Many a good clerk in Washington would turn gray at such clerical simplicity.

I wish you could see this airdrome. It is far behind the fighting lines now, but still within reach of enemy bombers. Here you sense the pace of modern war.

It is an airdrome we captured from the French after hard fighting. It is in flat desert country, with bare hills in the distance. Clouds of dust hang over it constantly raised by the propellers of planes taking off and landing.

Down again, up again, off again

Fighters circle continuously overhead like protecting hawks. The sky is alive with work planes, rushing stuff to the front. They come singly and in vast formations. They land, load up, and take right off again.

Luxury liners that once carried you from coast to coast, now stripped down inside and painted olive drab, waddle off the ground with unbelievably big loads of soldiers, ammunition, supplies of all kinds.

The major said:

They’re getting off the ground thanks to those kid pilots and a slight surface wind. They’re terribly overloaded, but it’s necessary.

The airdrome itself is a Hollywoodish scurry of activity. Jeeps dash around by the score. Great trucks haul their loads to the doors of planes. Ground crews live in ditches right alongside the runways. Officers throw their bedrolls onto the floor of a barracks building and just step across the road into the darkness for toilet purposes.

The officers are dirty, unshaven and tieless. You can hardly tell them from the privates.

Flat tires are patched right on the field. Great mounds of gasoline cans are stacked about the field. Protective revetments for fighter planes, made of adobe bricks, were built by the French before we came.

In town, life is not quite so urgent. The necessary office work of the Army seems about the same wherever it is done, and the Army is adept at setting up new headquarters in strange places.

Today, Oran is just as smoothly running an Army headquarters as any town in England or Ireland before the trek to Africa began. Hundreds of officers have already settled into a daily routine of working 12 hours or more at the office and going home to bed.

Breakfast in bed

The Army has taken over several large hotels and office buildings. Officers are billeted in the hotels. Many of the troops are billeted in a big modern garage. Two officers’ messes have been set up, one at a hotel and one at a restaurant. They serve American food, brought in by convoy. For there is little food in this country. Our meals have been excellent, far better than civilians in England are used to.

Life here in town is on a rather ridiculous, half-normal-half-battle basis. I sleep in my bedroll on a hard stone floor, but I can have breakfast served grandly there in bed by a French waiter in a white coat!

I can have a luxurious hot bath, but I have to wash my own clothes. There is no soap except what we carry with us. Yet champagne is abundant and cheap.

There is little traffic in Oran except for hundreds of jeeps and Army trucks. Soldiers on short leaves sit at sidewalk cafés sipping wine, while a few blocks away others lie wounded in hospitals.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 4, 1942)

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 5, 1942)

ernie

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 7, 1942)

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 8, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria – (Dec. 7)
The American forces are welcome in North Africa. Oran gave a terrific demonstration for them.

The first thing into the city after the original few days of fighting was a tank. It pulled up and stopped in the city square. A vast throng gathered around, and the people didn’t know whether the tank was French, British, American, or what. They were bewildered by the suddenness of it all.

Finally, an officer stuck his head out of the turret and somebody yelled and asked his nationality. The officer couldn’t understand French, and said something in English. The crowd recognized his American accent, and then the cheering started. Women kissed him, and the crowd almost carried him away. He went around for hours with lipstick all over his face.

Soldiers who came in the first party say the town was almost deliriously happy over the Americans’ arrival. They analyze the feeling about as follows: 40% of the demonstration was based on the Frenchman’s love for show, for cheering anything that passes; 20% was due to the farseeing knowledge that this eventually meant the liberation of France; and another 40% was based on personal and bodily gratitude at the prospect of getting something to eat again.

Germans carry off food

The Germans had stripped North Africa of everything. Foodstuffs went across the Mediterranean to France and on to Germany. The people here actually were in a pitiful condition. They were starving.

Our soldiers say that within a week they could see the effects. Food produced here in this fertile country now stays here. Further, our Army is donating huge food stocks to the city. The people are gradually starting to eat once more.

Americans, notoriously, are often foolishly generous. The troops in the first waves came ashore with only canned field rations carried on their backs, yet our soldiers gave much of this to the pitiful-looking Arab children. The result was that pretty soon the soldiers themselves hadn’t much left to eat, so they lived for days on oranges.

In England, oranges are practically unknown, so here we’ve gorged ourselves on oranges. Some troops have eaten so many they got diarrhea and broke out in a rash.

We have all been equipped with foreign-issue American money. The smallest denomination, a dollar bill, looks just like our regular money except for a yellow stamp. The money is accepted everywhere. But you get your change in francs. The exchange is 75 francs to a dollar.

Prices already have started up, but still are cheap according to our standards. Good wine costs only 44 francs a bottle. However, wine is about the only thing left to buy.

Oran is a big city. It reminds me very much of Lisbon. There are modern official buildings and beautiful apartment buildings of six and eight stories. The Renault auto showrooms downtown were full of brand-new cars when the Army arrived.

Oran is not blacked out

In a few days, the Army had bought every car, and in the few more days the Red Cross has taken over and turned the showroom into a club for troops.

Some of our soldiers speak French, but not many. Every French dictionary in Oran has been sold, but the Americans have no inhibitions, and get along on pidgin French and loud shouting.

As soon as the Americans came, the stores began pasting shatter-tape on the windows, for they knew that German bombing probably would follow. It is interesting to see the difference between French and British temperament displayed in the way windows are taped. In England, the taping is in very conventional patterns. But here, it is a work of art.

Designs often are so intricate that they resemble the fantasies of a snowflake under a microscope. One store worked its name into a design; another made the tape into a framework for a dozen pictures hanging in the window.

There have been German planes over since we came. There was much shooting from the ground, but no damage has been done yet.

Oran is not blacked out. It is dimmed out, but really not very dim. When planes come over, all the lights are turned out. Also, the Army has ringed the city with smoke pots. When these are set off, they create what seems to be a heavy fog, which is very effective for hiding the city.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 9, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria – (Dec. 8)
The hardest fighting in the whole original North African occupations seems to have been here in Oran. Many of my friends whom I knew in England went through it, and they have told me all about it. Without exception, they admit they were scared stiff.

Don’t get the wrong idea from that. They kept going forward. But it was their first time under fire and, being human, they were frightened.

I asked an officer how the men manifested fright. He said, largely by just looking pitifully at each other and edging close together to have company in misery.

Now that the first phase is over, a new jubilance has come over the troops. There is a confidence and enthusiasm among them that didn’t exist in England, even though morale was high there. They were impatient to get started and get it over, and now that they’ve started and feel sort of like veterans, they are eager to sweep on through.

That first night of landing, when they came ashore in big steel motorized invasion barges, many funny things happened. One famous officer intended to drive right ashore in a jeep, but they let the folding end of the barge down too soon and the jeep drove off into eight feet of water. Other barges rammed ashore so hard the men jumped off without even getting their feet wet.

Ernie talks to Pittsburgher

It was moonlight, and the beach was deathly quiet. One small outfit I know didn’t hear a shot till long after daylight the next morning, but the moonlight and shadows and surprising peacefulness gave them the creeps, and all night, as they worked their way inland over the hills, nobody spoke above a whisper.

A friend of mine, Lt. Col. Ken Campbell, captured eight French soldiers with a pack of cigarettes. It was all accidental. He stumbled onto an Arab sleeping on the beach who told him there were soldiers in the building up the hill. Col. Campbell sneaked up, revolver in hand, and opened the door.

The soldiers were all asleep. With quick decision, he stuck the gun back in its holster, then woke the soldiers. They were very startled and confused. Col. Campbell speaks perfect French, so he passed around the cigarettes, chatted with the soldiers, told them they were captured, and after a bit marched them away.

Staff Sgt. Chuck Conick from Pittsburgh, telling me how the soldiers felt during that first advance, says everybody was scared but didn’t talk about that in the rest periods between advances. He says they mainly wondered what the papers at home were saying about the battle. Time after time, he heard the boys say:

If my folks could see me now!

Staff Sgt. Conick, 25, is the son of Mr. and Mrs. M. C. Conick, of 1011 Portland St., East End. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh Law School and was admitted to the bar shortly before he enlisted in the Army on Jan. 15, 1942. As an undergraduate, he was a member of the Pitt hockey team and a skiing enthusiast.

French 75s uncannily accurate

All through the advance, the troops were followed in almost comic-opera fashion by hordes of Arab children, who would crowd around the guns until they were actually in the way. Soldiers tell me the Arabs were very calm and quiet and there was a fine dignity about even the most ragged.

Our men couldn’t resist the sad and emaciated little faces of the children, and that was when they started giving their rations away.

It got hot in the daytime, so hot that the advancing soldiers kept stripping and abandoning their clothes until some were down to undershirts, but at night it turned sharply chilly and they wished they hadn’t.

French resistance seems to have run the scale all the way from eager cooperation clear up to bitter fighting to the death. In most sectors, the French seemed to fire only when fired on. It has been established now that many French troops had only three bullets for their rifles, but in other places, 75mm guns did devastating work.

Our oldsters say they didn’t mind machine-gun and rifle fire so much, but it was the awful noise and uncanny accuracy of the 75s that made their hearts stand still.

The men who went through it have memories forever. Many say that, most of all, they remember little things of beauty like the hills shadowed in moonlight and the eerie peacefulness of the beach when they landed.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 11, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria – (Dec. 10, by wireless)
At the end of the first day of the Battle of Oran, Sgt. Norman Harrington and Pvt. Ned Modica, Army photographers, sprawled on the floor of a country schoolhouse near the little Algerian town of Arzew. Other soldiers lay all around them.

Both were dead tired. Their clothes were still wet, and they were cold. They had come ashore without blankets or overcoats. Instead of one musette bag, they carried three over their shoulders. These weren’t filled with food or ammunition. They were filled with extra film for their cameras.

And of cameras they had aplenty. Of personal things they carried only toothbrushes.

Norman Harrington’s father is a preacher. He was gassed in the last war. Today he is living in retirement in Florida, a sick man from the holocaust of 25 years ago.

The other war was an old thing by the time Norman grew to adult consciousness.

Norman wasn’t much interested in wars anyway. He was a civic leader back home in Easton, Maryland – an odd thing for a boy of 16 just out of high school. He was chairman of the March of Dimes for the President’s birthday. He belonged to clubs. He had an uncanny head for business, and he was wedded to photography.

Filmed landing action

Norman and Ned, in their first 12 hectic hours on African soil, had filmed wounded Americans and wounded Frenchmen, filmed the actual capture of a seaplane base, and had a weird experience filming their first wartime corpse, the body of a sniper who had shot at them and missed.

The soldiers in the schoolroom were nervous all night. In the darkness, they could hear the click of cartridge clips in revolvers. Just before dawn, one touchy doughboy heaved a hand grenade out the window at an imagined shadow.

Ned Modica was used to nicer things in life. As a youth, he went to the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts. Then he had two years of study in Paris. His Long Island home is white brick, and his studio was in fashionable Madison Ave.

At dawn, the two photographers luckily found a jeep, and they drove forward to where the fighting for Saint-Cloud was going on. Eventually they left the jeep and worked their way up to the frontline. In the infantry, you learn to walk a little, then to lie down and wait for a mortar shell to burst. Your head jerks down involuntarily when you hear the zing of a passing bullet. These two boys learned all that.

Ned Modica found an American machine-gun crew, and ground away at them with his camera. It was good action stuff.

Yanks get dramatic welcome

Then they went on into Oran and filmed the dramatic welcome given the American troops by the French and Arab people. Finally, they boxed up their film, scouted around till they found an accommodating RAF pilot to fly it to London, and called it a day on their first venture into war.

Today, they are bivouacked a score of miles out in the country living in tiny shelter tents in an olive grove, waiting for the next campaign. That’s where I found them.

Modica says:

Here in Africa is the first place I ever picked an orange off a tree.

Harrington says:

After our film is edited and censored, it should still be enough for a 30-minute newsreel, most of it in Technicolor. It should be beautiful.

Modica says:

When we get to Italy, we can get us some wonderful things to eat. At least we can ask for them, for I can speak Italian.

Harrington says:

If we live that long.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 12, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria – (Dec. 11)
Norman Harrington is a sergeant, but he doesn’t even bother to wear his stripes. His only interest is in doing for the Army what he was doing as a civilian – superb photography.

Last spring, he spent $200 traveling between Maryland and Washington to pave his way into the right branch of the Army. He had a dozen people write letters of recommendation. He had no ambition to join the Army and become a truck driver.

His traveling money was well spent. The Army finally enlisted him in the Signal Corps photographic section – a round peg in a round hole. He even was excused from the redundancy of attending the Army’s photographic school and being taught stuff he already knew.

Today his teammate, Pvt. Ned Modica, says he is the best newsreel man in the Army.

Drive into uncaptured town

During their second night on African soil, the two photographers slept in another country schoolhouse – this time on desks. They actually only slept about three hours out of the first 60.

At dawn, a colonel rushed up and asked Harrington if he wanted to ride along on a reconnoitering trip Capt. Paul Gale was making in a jeep. Sgt. Harrington grabbed his cameras and jumped in.

Pvt. Harold LeBaron was driving. They drove several miles, passing troops on the way, and finally came to a small town. Sgt. Harrington took pictures of the local people and the shell-marked walls.

They were about ready to leave when some American troops came marching in. Only then did they realize they had unwittingly spent a nice hour in a town that hadn’t yet been captured!

Sniper’s bullet gets driver

They started back in their jeep to a command post several miles to the rear. Capt. Gale was sitting beside the driver, Sgt. Harrington was in the backseat. The top was down, and the windshield folded flat and covered – for a windshield can create a glare that makes a perfect target for snipers.

Everything was quiet. The Algerian phase of the war seemed about over.

Suddenly, Pvt. LeBaron fell over his steering wheel, and the jeep swerved. Blood splashed down over his uniform. He never uttered a sound.

A sniper’s bullet had killed him.

Sgt. Harrington reached over the body and grabbed the wheel. Capt. Gale got his foot around the dead driver’s leg and shoved the throttle to the floor. Two more shots zipped past but missed. The jeep roared on down the road and out of danger, with one man steering and another man at the throttle.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 14, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria – (Dec. 13, by wireless)
When Ralph Gower was a little fellow in Arkansas, a deaf man lived across the street.

The man could read lips, and Ralph learned the trick from him. He did it mainly to show off before the other kids.

A quarter of a century has passed, and today Sgt. Ralph Gower sits on the edge of a folding cot in a tent way out in the field in Africa.

It is a hospital tent, and wounded soldiers in red bathrobes loll around in it. Ralph Gower can talk to them, and he can understand what they say, solely because he learned lip-reading as a prank when he was a child. For he is newly deaf, from the explosion of an enemy shell.

When I went to see him, he had been deaf only a few days, but lip-reading was already perfect. It had all come back to him across those 25 years. We talked for half an hour and he never made a single mistake.

Sgt. Gower escaped without serious wounds other than the loss of his hearing. They say there is a 50–50 chance of recovering, but even if he doesn’t, he’s got two strikes on deafness to begin with.

Into hell and back out again

Ralph Gower is 37. He was born in Truman, Arkansas, but his home address is now Route 3, Box 832, Sacramento, California. He used to be a draftsman and a machine-screw operator. He served a hitch in the Army in his early 20s, and joined up again as soon as England and Germany started fighting. He is a machine-gun sergeant.

Gower came to Africa aboard one of a group of combat boats that got into trouble trying to take an Algerian harbor. Those who lived to tell the tale were miraculously lucky.

Ralph asked:

Do you want to hear what it felt like?

I sat down on the edge of the next cot.

Sure, I do. What did it feel like?

He said:

It felt just like going into hell and back out again.

The boys around the tent all laughed loudly. That startled me, for I couldn’t see anything to laugh at. But gradually I caught it.

It seems that Sgt. Gower’s deadpan Arkansas wit keeps the whole tentful howling day and night. He never says anything obviously clever. He just says things with an odd twist. He never cracks a smile. His expression never changes.

Six dozen wounded boys gathered on nearby cots to listen as Ralph told me the whole story.

He said:

We were all down in one of the compartments of the boat. That French ship came right up against us, and one of their shells came through the side. The thing exploded right in my face.

Some of the wounded soldiers in the tent had been through the same lethal nightmare he was describing, but they laughed at that crack just as though Bob Hope had said it.

Ralph went on:

I never heard a sound. It just went “shisht-ppfftt.” That’s all I ever heard. Then I passed out.

When I came to everything was quiet. I thought the battle was over. The ship was full of ammonia and smoke. You couldn’t hardly breathe. I liked to choked to death. My heart was shooting pains out in all directions. [laughter] I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs. I couldn’t even get enough smoke, for that was all I was getting anyhow. [more laughter]

They can still laugh

I finally started climbing a ladder. When I stuck my head out on deck, I couldn’t hear anything, but the air was full of tracer bullets. Then I realized there were dead men lying on the deck. I passed out. That fresh air was too much for me. [laughter]

Thus, the story went. Censorship doesn’t permit repeating the full details. It was getting late, and we shook hands.

I asked:

Are you married?

He said:

Am I married? No, I’m single. I mean to say I’m sensible.

The wounded boys all roared.

Sometimes you leave a battle hospital feeling horrible inside, but I stepped out of that tent, under millions of African stars, feeling good about Americans who can go “into hell and back out again” and still laugh about it.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 15, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria – (Dec. 14)
Our troops are finding the African climate a welcome change, most of the time, from the wet bitterness of England.

The North African winter at this time of year is rather spotty. It has been nice most of the time since we came, but when it isn’t nice, it sure is terrible.

We are now in the first month of their winter season. From now till late March, there are few mosquitoes, and there isn’t much danger of malaria. The hospitals report only an occasional case.

On the average, the nights are quite chilly. It starts getting cold as soon as the sun gets low, around 4 o’clock. By dark, it is usually cold enough for an overcoat. You sleep under all the blankets you can get.

In the morning, the sun isn’t up well until after 8. Usually, the sky is a clear blue before noon. It seems to be a larger sky than ours back home. Maybe that’s because we are out where we can see more sky than ordinarily. Some days, high white clouds cover the sky. Some days go by entirely cloudless, and then the sun is quite warm and it is really like a day in late June at home.

The troops go around most days stripped to the waist, and practically everybody is getting a sun tan. But nobody wears a sun helmet now.

Troops living mostly in fields

Once a week or so comes a bad spell. The last one was thoroughly miserable. For two days, it poured rain, and there was a cold and bitter wind. It was exactly like a bad winter day in England.

Our troops are living mostly in fields. Many company commanders march their men up and down just to keep them warm. I felt sure that half of them would be sick, but there was no such reaction at all. Doctors say the constant living outdoors, even in bad weather, is healthier than living inside. Also, our troops are getting pretty tough now.

Most of the men have abandoned their heavy underwear, but they’re not wearing summer uniforms and won’t till next spring.

They live pretty primitively in their scattered camps. They’re on American rations now and the food is really wonderful. But there is very little water. At some camps, a man ordinarily gets a gallon a day for drinking, shaving and washing his clothes. But at many camps, it’s as little as a quart.

During a cold spell, the men fill their mattress covers with straw, put down one blanket to lie on, and have five spread over them. There is just room in each tent for two men, and the two usually sleep together so they can pile both men’s blankets across them.

Two men rig up Eskimo lamp

There is no room for little niceties and homey touches as in the bigger tents in England. And there are no lights. But two men did rig up an Eskimo lamp. They bought some liquid paraffin in a nearby town, poured it into an empty can, then cut a few inches off one man’s waist belt (which was too big for him) and shoved this through the top of the can for a wick. It really made a serviceable light.

Military police patrol the streets in the cities. Usually, it is quiet as the grave by 10:30. The local people are terrified of air raids and won’t venture out at night. Their fear is so intense I think Germany must have done an extra propaganda job of scaring them before we came.

We Americans actually know less about what is happening throughout North Africa than you do at home. We get the communiqués here daily in the French papers, but there aren’t many details, and anyway most of us can’t read French well enough to get the fine points.

Some listen to the 9 o’clock news from BBC in London, and a few camps have shortwave radios and get hourly news from America. It seems ironic that what happens 200 miles from us must be flashed to America and then back here again before we can hear it. But that’s the way things are in this crazy world.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 16, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria – (Dec. 15)
A trip by troop transport in convoy is a remarkable experience. I came to Africa that way. We weren’t permitted to tell about it at the time, for security reasons. But enough time has passed now that it can be written without danger.

So, this will be a series on our convoy trip from England to Africa. As you read it, you can apply it any other convoy, for they are essentially the same, and they are sailing all the oceans this very minute.

Convoys are of three types, you might say – the very slow ones of freighters carrying only supplies; the medium-fast troop convoys which run with extremely heavy naval escort; and the small convoys of swift ocean liners which carry vast numbers of troops and depend for safety mainly on their great speed.

Ours was the second type. We were fairly fast; we carried an enormous number of troops; and we had a heavy escort, although no matter how much escort you have, it never seems enough to please you. We had both American and British ships, but our escort was all British.

I still can’t tell you what route we took, or how long we were at sea, but I can say that if we had sailed the same distance due west, we could have been in New York instead of North Africa.

I got the word at noon one day that we were to leave London that night. There were scores of last-minute things to do.

The Army picked up my bedroll at 2 p.m. to take it somewhere for its mystic convoy labelings. I packed everything else in a canvas bag and my Army musette bag. At leaving hour, I put on my Army uniform for the first time, and said goodbye to civilian clothes for goodness knows how long.

My old brown suit, my dirty hat, all my letters – every little personal thing went into a truck which remained in London, and I’ll probably never see it again.

Up all night on train

It was night. I took a taxi to a meeting place designated by the Army. Other correspondents were there. Our British papers were taken away for safekeeping by the Army. We were told to take off our correspondents’ armbands, for they might identify us as a convoy party to lurking spies, if any.

An Army car picked us up, and drove clear across London through the blackout. I lost all track of where we were. Finally, we stopped at a little-used suburban station and were told we’d have two hours to wait before the troop train came.

We paced the station platform, trying to keep warm. It seemed the train would never come. When it did, we piled into two compartments.

We sat up all night on the train, sleeping a little but not much, because it was too cold. We didn’t know what port we were going to, but somebody told us on the way. We were surprised. Some of the boys had never heard of it.

Just after daylight, our train pulled alongside a huge ship. We checked in at an Army desk in the pier-shed, gathered our baggage, and climbed aboard, feeling very grubby and cold but awfully curious.

Train and train of troops

Our party was assigned to two cabins, four men in each. Our staterooms were nice, much better than any of us expected. They were the same as in peacetime, except that an extra bunk had been carpentered over each bed. Many officers were in cabins much more crowded than ours.

We all thought we would sail shortly after getting aboard. But we had forgotten that the ship had to be loaded first. Actually, we didn’t sail for 48 hours.

During that time, one long troop train after another, day and night, pulled alongside and unloaded its human cargo. Time dragged on. Impatience was useless.

We would stand at the rails and watch the troops marching aboard. They came through the rain, heavily laden. In steel helmets, in overcoats, carrying rifles and with huge packs on their backs. It was a thrilling sight, and said, in a way, to see them marching in endless numbers up the steep gangway to be swallowed into the great ship.

One soldier led a big black dog. And one, I found later, carried two little puppies aboard beneath his shirt. Like the Spartan boy in the story, he was almost scratched to death. He had paid $32 for the pups, and he treasured them.

The British (it was a British ship) are finicky about allowing dogs on troop transports. The officers ordered all dogs turned in. They said they’d be sent ashore, and promised that good homes would be found for them.

But somehow the dogs disappeared. They were never found by the officers. And the morning we filed off the boat in North Africa, a black dog and two little puppies from England marched with us up the strange African road.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 17, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria –
After two days of loading American soldiers aboard our troopship, and of hosting aboard thousands of bedrolls and barracks bags, at last we sailed.

It was a miserable English day, cold with a driving rain. Too miserable to be out on deck to watch the pier slide away. Most of us just lay in our bunks, indifferent even to the traditional last glance at land. Now it was all up to God – and the British Navy.

Our ships carried thousands of officers and men and a number of Army nurses. I felt a little kinship with our vessel, for I’d seen it tied up under peculiar circumstances in Panama two years ago. I never dreamed that someday I’d be sailing to Africa on it.

The officers and nurses were assigned to the regular cabins used by passengers in peacetime. But all the soldiers were quarters below decks, in the holds. The ship had once been a refrigerator ship, and now all the large produce-carrying compartments were cleared out, and packed with men.

Each compartment was filled with long wooden tables, with benches at each side. The men ate at these tables, and at night slept in white canvas hammocks slung from hooks just above the tables.

Water from 7 to 9, and later

It seems terribly crowded and some complained bitterly of the food, and didn’t eat for days. Yet many of the boys said it was swell compared to the way they came over from home to Britain.

Sometimes I ate below with the troops, and I’ll have to say that their food was as good as ours in the officers’ mess, and that was excellent. Some crowding is unavoidable. It’s bad, but I don’t know how else you’d get enough men anywhere fast enough.

The worst trouble was a lack of hot water. The water for washing dishes was only tepid, and there was no soap. As a result, the dishes got greasy, and some troops got a mild dysentery from it. The American Army officers, much to their credit, continued to raise so much hell about the ship that by the time we left it, things were in much better shape.

In our cabins, we had water only twice a day – 7 to 9 in the morning, and 5:30 to 6:30 in the evening. It was unheated, so we shaved in cold water. The troops took lukewarm saltwater showers, by Army order, every three days.

The enlisted men were allowed to go anywhere on deck they wished, except for a small portion of one deck set aside for officers. Theoretically, the officers weren’t permitted on the enlisted men’s deck, but that soon broke down. We correspondents could go anywhere we please, being gifted and chosen characters.

Instructions for “battle stations” in case of attack were issued. All officers had to stay in their cabins, all soldiers had to remain below. Troops in the two bottom decks, down by the waterline, were to move up to the next two decks above them.

Only we correspondents were to be allowed on deck during an attack. Being useless as well as gifted, we were honored with the divine right of getting ourselves shot if that’s what we wanted.

To Murmansk or America?

We correspondents knew where we were going. Some of the officers knew too, and the rest could guess. But an amazing number of soldiers had no idea where they were bound.

Some thought we were going to Russia over the Murmansk route. Some thought it was Norway. Some thought it was Iceland. A few sincerely believed we were returning to America. It wasn’t until the fifth day out, when the Army distributed advice booklets on how to conduct ourselves in North Africa, that everybody knew where we were going.

The first couple of days at sea, we seemed to mill around without purpose. Eventually we stopped completely, and lay at anchor for a day.

Finally, we made rendezvous with other ships and then at dusk – five days after leaving London – we steamed slowly into a prearranged formation, like floating pieces of a puzzle drifting together to form a picture. By dark, we were rolling, and the first weak ones were getting sick at their tummies.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 18, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria – (Dec. 17)
It’s a terrific task to organize a shipful of troops. It was not until our England-Africa convoy had been at sea nearly a week that everything got settled down to running completely smoothly.

An Air Forces colonel was appointed Commanding Officer of troops on board. An orderly-room was set up, aides were picked, deck officers appointed, and ship’s regulations mimeographed and distributed.

The troops were warned about smoking or using flashlights on deck at night, and against throwing cigarettes or orange peels overboard. It seems a sub commander can spot a convoy, hours after it has passed, by such floating debris.

The warning didn’t seem to make much impression at first. Soldiers threw stuff overboard, and one night a nurse came on deck with a brilliant flashlight guiding her. An officer near me screamed at her. He yelled so loudly and so viciously that I thought at first he was doing it in fun. He bellowed:

Put out that light, you blankety blank-blank! Haven’t you got any sense at all?

Then suddenly I realized he meant every word of it, and I realized that one little light might have killed us all.

The ship of course was entirely blacked out. All entrances to the deck were shielded with two sets of heavy black curtains. All ports were painted black and were ordered kept closed, but some people did open them in the daytime.

Sandbags worn at mess

In the holds below, the ports were opened for short periods each day, to air the ship out. The theory of keeping most of them closed in daytime is that if a torpedo hits with the ports open, enough water could rush in to sink her immediately if she listed.

Everybody had a life preserver, and had to carry it constantly. They were of a new type, rather like two small pillows tied together. You put your head between them, pulled them down over your shoulders and chest and tied them there. We merely slung them over our shoulders for carrying. They were immediately nicknamed “sandbags.”

After the second day, we were ordered to wear our web pistol belts, with water canteen attached. Even going to the dining room, you had to take your life preserver and your water canteen.

There were nine in our special little group. We were officially assigned together, and we stuck together throughout the trip. We were:

Bill Lang of TIME and LIFE, Red Mueller of Newsweek, Joe Liebling of The New Yorker, Gault MacGowan of The New York Sun, Ollie Stewart of The Baltimore Afro-American, Sgt. Bob Neville (correspondent for the Army papers Yank and Stars and Stripes), two Army censors (Lts. Henry Mayer and Cortland Gillett) and myself.

Sgt. Neville was probably the most experienced and traveled of all of us – he speaks three languages, was foreign news editor of TIME for three years, has worked for The Herald Tribune and PM, was in Spain for that war, in Poland for that one, in Cairo for the first Wavell push, and in India and China and Australia.

But he turned down a commission and went into the ranks, and consequently he has to sleep on floors, stand for hours in mess lines, and stay off certain decks.

Ollie Stewart is a Negro, the only American Negro correspondent accredited to the European Theater. He is well-educated, conducts himself well, and has traveled quite a bit in foreign countries before.

When humor runs thin

We all grew to like him very much on the trip. He lived in one of the two cabins with us, ate with us, played handball on deck with the officers, everybody was friendly to him, and there was no “problem.”

We correspondents already knew a lot of the officers and men aboard, so we roamed the ship continuously and had many friends. Bill Lang and I shared a cabin with the two lieutenants. We enjoyed ourselves on the trip.

We’d get out the regulations about correspondents, which say that we must be treated with “courtesy and consideration” by the Army. We’d read these rules aloud of Lts. Meyer and Gillett, and then order them to light our cigarettes and shine our shoes. Humor runs pretty thin on a long convoy trip.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 19, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria –
Our troopship in convoy from England to Africa had a large hospital, and it was filled.

The long train rides in unheated cars across England seemed to give everybody a cold, and it was a poor man, indeed, who couldn’t sport a deathlike cough aboard ship.

We had two pneumonia cases, both of whom pulled through. I myself came down with one of the Ten Best Colds of 1942 the day after we got aboard, and spent the next five days in bed, feigning sickness.

But the ship was filled with Army doctors, so I had lozenges, injections and consultations, all without charge.

Our ship had never carried American troops before, and the British waiters were somewhat shocked by the appetites and the dining-room manners of the younger officers.

Second lieutenants, muscular and till growing, would order a complete second dinner after finishing the first. And in between times, they’d get up and serve themselves with bread, carry off their own plates, play loud tunes on their glasses with their forks, make rude jokes about the food, and generally conduct themselves in a manner unbecoming the dignity of a British cruise-ship waiter.

But I must say, on behalf of the British, that they finally broke down and entered into the spirit of the thing, and I think eventually enjoyed the Wild West camaraderie as much as the Americans did.

Meals are served in two sittings

Those of us in the cabins were awakened at 7 each morning by the cabin steward, bearing cups of hot tea. Meals were in two sittings, an hour apart. The headwaiter wore a tuxedo at dinnertime, and the food was excellent.

We had fried eggs and real bacon for breakfast every morning – the first real egg I’d tasted in four months. There was also tea in the afternoon, and sandwiches at night.

Smoking was prohibited in the dining room. The British waiters had a terrible time enforcing it, but finally succeeded. Apparently, it was just an old British custom.

There was a bar in the evening for soft drinks, but no liquor was sold. Some officers brought whisky aboard, but it was all gone after a day or two, and from then on, it was probably the driest ocean voyage ever made.

As someone wisecracked:

We catch it both ways. We can’t smoke in the dining room because it’s a British ship, and we can’t buy liquor because it’s an American trooper.

Of all the spots on earth where rumors run wild, I think a convoy trooper must lead, hands down. Scores of rumors a day floated about the ship. You got so you believed them all, or didn’t believe any.

Rumor started to end all rumors

It was rumored we would rendezvous with a big convoy from America; that an aircraft carrier had joined us; that we’d hit Gibraltar in six hours, 24 hours, two days; that the ship behind us was the West Point, the Mt. Vernon, the Monterey; that we were 80 miles off Portugal, and 200 miles off Bermuda. None of these turned out to be true.

The rumor-mongering got so rife that one officer made up a rumor to the effect that we were going to Casablanca, and timed it to see just how long it would take to encircle the ship. It came back to him, as cold fact right from the bridge, in just half an hour.

The third day out, we correspondents decided to start a daily paper. The colonel was all for it, and helped us round up paper and stencils. We published for four days and then ran out of stencils and had to suspend.

Sgt. Bob Neville, of Stars and Stripes, did most of the work. We carried the radio news each day, a little shipboard gossip column, a daily “exploded rumor” department, and some silly pieces by the correspondents.

Since we were not allowed to use the ship’s real name, the paper was called The P-58 Post, as that was our designated number in the convoy. Beneath the masthead was carried a motto:

All the Rumors Fit to Print.

There was an unconfirmed rumor about the ship that it was a fairly rotten paper.

The Pittsburgh Press (December 21, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria –
During the first part of our England-Africa convoy trip, with the weather still cold, most people stuck to their cabins, with only a short curiosity foray on deck every couple of hours to see if they were missing anything.

Personally, I stayed in bed with my cold most of the first five days, and caught up a little on my reading. I read Delilah by Marcus Goodrich – the story of a destroyer, A Passage to India by E. M. Forster, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and an Oxford University booklet on North Africa, which I’d bought in London (I’m one of those guys who always knows where they’re going).

A couple in our party had bought French instruction books. Three of the boys already spoke good French. So far, the first few days, we’d have communal French lessons. But the ones who could speak French were bored with it, and the ones who couldn’t soon got discouraged, so our French classes petered out.

Then we took to card playing. Since gin rummy is the only game I know how to play outside of solitaire, that’s what we played mostly. We played for a tenth of a cent a game, so about the most you could ever lose was 30¢.

The sea was fairly rough the first couple of days, and there was considerable seasickness, especially below, among the troops. But they handled themselves well, and the holds didn’t get into the frightful condition they do on some voyages.

Rehearse for shipboard show

After a while, the sea calmed, and it was in the main a happy voyage. The soldiers were routed out at 6:30 a.m., and at 10 every day they had to attend muster and have boat drill for an hour.

Outside of that, they had little to do, and passed the time just standing around on deck, or lying down below reading, or playing cards. There wasn’t any saluting on board during the whole trip. Lots of the soldiers started growing beards.

The trip had no sooner started than rehearsals for an enlisted men’s variety show began. I believe you could take any 1,000 soldiers in our Army, and out of them create a good orchestra. From our troops they dug up an accordionist, saxophonist, trumpeter, violinist, two banjo players, a dancer, a tenor, a cowboy singer and several pianists – all professionals.

They rehearsed every afternoon. The big night came a couple of nights before we got to Gibraltar. They put on two shows that night, for the enlisted men only. It was a burlesque, and I mean burlesque. Word got around, and the officers and nurses wanted to see it.

So, the night we were approaching Gibraltar, they put it on again. They cleaned it up some, by the colonel’s request, but it still sparkled.

The show went over terrifically. There was genuine talent in it, and serious music, as well as the whiz-bang stuff. But the hero of the evening was a hairy corporal – Joe Comita of Brooklyn – who did a striptease burlesque of Gypsy Rose Lee.

Colonel gets kiss on bald spot

His movements were pure genius. Gypsy herself couldn’t have been more sensuous. Joe twirled and stripped, twirled and stripped. And then when he was down to his long heavy G.I. underwear, he swung to the front of the stage, lifted his veil, and kissed a front-row colonel on top of his bald head!

The whole show was marvelously good. But there was something more to it than just that. There was the knowledge, deep in everybody’s mind, that this was our night of danger.

The radio had just brought word that Germany’s entire U-boat pack was concentrated in the approaches to Gibraltar. More than 50 submarines were said to be waiting for us. I doubt there was a soul on board who expected the night to pass without an attack.

It was a perfect night for romance or for death. The air was warm and the moon put its brilliant sheen across the water. The night by its very gentleness seemed in evil collusion with the plague that lay beneath the waters.

And in that environment the boys from down below went buoyantly through their performances. We sat with life preservers on and water canteens at our belts. We laughed and cheered against a background of semi-conscious listening for other sounds.

As the show ended, a major whom I did not know turned to me and said:

That’s wonderful, those boys doing that when they’re being taken to war like galley slaves down there in the hold. When you think of people at home squawking their heads off because they can only have 20 gallons of gasoline, it makes my blood boil.

The Pittsburgh Press (December 22, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria –
Our ship had two tunnels, or smokestacks. The forward one was a dummy – empty inside. About three feet from its top a steel platform had been built. It was reached by a steel ladder. The Army kept a lieutenant and three enlisted men up there all the time, on lookout with binoculars for it was indeed a grandstand seat.

I used to go up every afternoon and suit with the lookouts. The sun was bright, the funnel sides cut off the wind, they had deck chairs, and it was really like a few square feet of Miami Beach.

We could get a perfect view of our zigzagging maneuvers. Once we saw three rainbows at once, one of them making a horseshoe right over our ship.

Lt. Winfield Channing, who had charge of an anti-aircraft battery, usually had the afternoon watch up there, and we’d chat for hours about his job before the war, and of our chances for the future, and of what we’d do when it was over.

They had an empty barrel up there, to which was tied about 200 feet of heavy rope, for escape in case the ship was hit. The enlisted men on lookout had made bets among themselves as to which side of the ship the first torpedo would hit. Fortunately, nobody collected. We called our little post “The Funnel Club.”

Gunners on duty at all times

We correspondents and a few Army officers made up a pool on when we would arrive at our destination. The various arrival dates we chose covered more than a week. The pool of about $8 was finally won by Bill Lang, of TIME and LIFE.

American gunners manned all the ship’s guns, but they never had to fire a serious shot.

Once underway, two canteens were opened for the troops. One sold cigarettes, chocolates and so forth; the other, called a “west canteen,” sold hot tea. There was a constant long queue at each one. Soldiers often had to stand in line for three hours.

My special hangout down below was in a section where I ran onto a bunch of soldiers fr4om New Mexico. One of them was Sgt. Cheedle Caviness, a nephew of Senator Hatch. Sgt. Cheedle has grown a blond mustache and goatee, and looks like a duke.

There was no trouble at all among the troops during the voyage. But we did have a couple of small “incidents” in the officers’ section of the ship. One officer, monkeying with his revolver in his cabin, “didn’t know it was loaded” and shot a nice hole through the wardrobe, thoughtfully missing his cabinmates. Another officer was arrested for taking pictures of the convoy out of his porthole.

No movies shown during trip

No movies were shown during the trip. The troop commander issued orders that electric razors were not to be used, for fear the enemy could pick up our position from the current, but we found out later this wasn’t necessary.

We got radio news broadcasts twice a day from BBC. It was rumored they would be discontinued after we were a couple of days at sea, but they weren’t. They were piped over the ship by loudspeakers so the troops could hear the news.

Chaplains aboard ship said that church attendance among the troops went up noticeably after we sailed, and continued to rise as we approached submarine waters.

The nurses and doctors aboard were mainly from Roosevelt Hospital in New York. There were two other detachments of nurses on other ships in the convoy, we learned later. The nurses teamed up with the officers, played cards, walked the decks, sat in the lounge. That moonlight was pretty enchanting, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some romances got started.

As time wore on, acquaintanceships grew broader and broader, just as they do on a peacetime cruise. The days were purposeless and without duties, yet they seemed to speed by. For many of us the trip was a grand rest. Toward the end some of us even hated to have it over – we felt the sad sense of parting from new friends and of returning to old toils, and we were reluctant. But the war doesn’t humor such whims.

The Pittsburgh Press (December 23, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

With U.S. forces in Algeria –
I had often wondered in just what sort of formation a big convoy moved, and whether you could see the whole thing all the time or not, and how the escort vessels acted.

Well, ours was a medium convoy. The day we left, we counted a certain number of ships. We were never able to count the same number again until we got almost to port, not because they were out of eye-range, but because they were lined up in rows and you couldn’t see those behind other ships. Usually, our convoy was wider than it was long, which surprised me.

The convoy seemed to use three or four different geometric patterns. Every little bit the entire formation would change from one pattern to another, like a football team shifting after a huddle. It was fascinating to watch some ships speed up, others drop back, and the new pattern takes shape.

In addition, the entire convoy, moving in unison, zigzagged constantly. The turns were sudden, and so sharp that the ships would heel over. These zigzags were made at frequent intervals – very frequent when we were in suspicious waters.

British corvettes and warships were ahead and on all sides of us. They didn’t do much dashing about, but seemed to keep their positions just as steadily as we did ours.

In the daytime, we ran half a mile or so apart, and at night, the entire convoy tightened up. At night, you could distinguish two or three dark shapes close around us. I do not know whether it was true, but they said we had additional escorts out of sight over the horizon.

Sunrises but no submarines

So far as we know, there was only one “incident” during the entire trip. We were on the outside of the convoy. The corvette out beyond us, and the transport running aft of us, both signaled that a torpedo had passed just behind us and just ahead of the other transport.

The corvettes dashed around and dropped depth charges. That was all there was to it. Nobody on our ship saw the torpedo, and nobody at all saw the submarine.

As we progressed southward, the weather became absolutely heavenly – softly warm and so calm there was no movement whatsoever in the ship. Many soldiers slept on deck those last few nights. Often it seemed like a peacetime tropical cruise.

The last three nights, we were ordered to sleep in our clothes. It would be wrong to deny that people were tense those days, but it would also be wrong to say that fear was shown by anybody.

Dawn and dusk were the crucial times, and the last two mornings, I managed to get awake and on deck just before daylight. I never saw any submarines, but I saw two of the most thrilling sunrises I’ve ever known.

As we drew closer and closer to journey’s end, we acquired a feeling something akin to family love for our team of ships. We somehow became like an enormous oceanic machine, engaged in a giant rhythmic rotation, our ability to go on and on forever insured by the perfection of our own discipline.

The sight of us, above all the sights of wartime that I’ve ever seen, thrust itself into my memory forever. Hour after hour, I stood at our rail looking out over that armada of marching ships – they did really seem to march across the ocean – and an almost choking sense of its beauty and power enveloped me.

At last, we came to the Straits of Gibraltar – to lights on both sides of us – and then on into the calmness of the Mediterranean. We still sailed a long time, still in danger waters, but a pleasant relief took hold of us.

With thoughts of home

We started to pack. We were issued our desert gear of dust masks, water purifiers and so on. We tipped our stewards. We returned borrowed books. We traded our money for the new American issue. We took down outfit numbers, for looking up new Army friends.

Finally, we arrived, slowly and intricately, like twine from a hidden ball, the ships poured us out onto the docks in long brown lines, we lined up and marched away.

Some of us marched three miles, some of us 20 miles. We marched at first gaily and finally with great weariness, but always with a feeling that at last we were beginning the final series of marches that would lead us home again – home, the one really profound goal that obsess every one of the brown-clad Americans marching today on foreign shores.

The Pittsburgh Press (December 24, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Oran, Algeria –
Oran, as a city, is not a bad place at all. But most of the Americans here would trade the whole layout for the worst town in the United States, and throw in a hundred dollars to boot.

That’s the way Americans are, including me. Most of us had never heard of Oran till the war started. Yet it is bigger than El Paso. It has palm-lined streets, broad sidewalks, outdoor cafés, a beautiful harbor, restaurants with soft-colored lighting, and apartments with elevators.

On the other hand, it has Arabs dressed in ragged sheets, garbage in the gutters, dogs that are shockingly gaunt, and more horse carts than autos.

Most of the Americans talk about how dirty Oran is. Which just goes to show they haven’t been around. Oran is cleaner than some of the poorer Latin cities in our own hemisphere. And at this season, it doesn’t even smell very bad.

World travelers had told me that Oran had an Oriental atmosphere, but I can’t sense it. It seems much more like a Latin city than an Oriental one.

You could compare it in many ways with El Paso if you discounted the harbor. The climate is roughly the same. Both cities are in semi-arid country. Both are dusty in the spring and very hot in summer. Both are surrounded by fertile, irrigated land that produces fruit and vegetables and grain. And if you just substitute Mexicans for Arabs, the proportions are about the same.

The population of Oran is actually mostly French, Spanish and Jewish. The Arabs are a minority. They run all the way from hideous beggars up to solemn men in long white robes and bright turbans, sitting in the most expensive cafés and sipping tall drinks. But you see many more Europeans than Arabs.

American forces fight boredom

Our troops are rather lost here, officers and men both. There aren’t the usual entertainments to be had at home and in England. Nothing much is left to drink but wine, and most of the Americans haven’t learned to drink wine with much relish.

The movies are few and pretty poor. There are no dances. There is a professional “line,” but the parents of nice girls are very cranky and won’t let the girls out.

Everybody feels a sense of rage at not being able to talk to the local people. The soldiers try hard with French but it’s not much fun. Officers stationed here at desk jobs are already itching to move onward.

Troops camped far out in the country – which the vast majority are – really are better satisfied than those in town.

Everybody is plenty busy. That is, almost everybody. There are at the moment two correspondents in Oran, and several times that many Army censors to handle our stuff. I turn in one piece a day, and the other correspondent one piece a week. The censors are so bored that when I bring my column in, the entire office staff grabs for it and reads it hungrily, everybody makes flattering remarks, and then we all go out and have a bite to eat.

For some reason, communications from here are faint, you might even say mystic. I can’t find out how my copy is transmitted. The censors themselves don’t know. We write the stuff and send it away with about the same assurance of delivery as though we’d put it in a bottle and tossed it in the Mediterranean. I’m positive I saw a small Arab boy feeding my column to his goat yesterday morning.

We have no word at all from our correspondent friends in Algiers.

U.S. supplies and men fill place

Yesterday, two correspondents arrived from Casablanca bringing the first news we’d had from out there except communiqués. They say Casablanca is a beehive but very dull, and they think they’ll like Oran better.

They say naval aviation did the best job in the original occupation at Casablanca.

Outside of the poor censors, everybody is busy here. The Army’s immense supply organization is working at fever pitch, unloading supplies and getting them started forward.

The scenes at the docks and warehouses are thrilling. It is astounding the amount of rolling stock we have here. There seems to be just as many trucks as I ever saw in America. The coastal highways are good macadam, and our trucks roar over them constantly.

Combat troops that are still bivouacked in this area continue their training, keeping constantly fit by long marches down the highways.

Day by day, the whole of North Africa grows nearer the saturation point with American soldiers, machines of war and supplies. Before long, they will be ready to spill out in a smothering flow over the enemy.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 26, 1942)

pyle

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Oran, Algeria – (by wireless)
The American soldier is an incurable wishful-thinker. Today the average soldier in North Africa, despite the slow going in Tunisia and the long distances we still have to go, thinks the war will be over by April.

The censors tell me that the soldiers’ letters home are full of such belief, and I know that in the camps they are willing to bet good money on it whenever they can find a taker. If you try to point out that such a quick victory is against all logic, and that even a year from now would be pretty optimistic, they look at you as though you were nuts.

Mail has started coming to the troops again in enormous gobs, after a blank of more than two months. Lt. Herbert Desforges, a friend of mine from Gallup, New Mexico, got 20 letters from his wife the other day. Another friend, Lt. Bill Wilson of Des Moines, got 30 personal letters in one day.

They tell a story about one soldier who hadn’t heard from his wife in three months, and finally was so disgusted he wrote her and told her to go to Hell, saying he was going to get a divorce. Then in one huge batch came 50 letters, covering the whole three months. So, he’s had to cable her and take back the divorce threats.

As for me, I have been the recipient of only two letters – one from a girl in Pittsburgh wanting me to say hello to her soldier sweetie, and one from a reader in Iowa telling me that eggs were plentiful and only 38¢ a dozen. I suppose my 50 family letters are at the bottom of somebody’s ocean.

Our soldiers are all over being seriously homesick now, but they do constantly think about home. Even a general said the other day:

What I wouldn’t give for 24 hours in New York. I’d just like to see how it looks and hear what people are saying.

What are the folks thinking?

And as I travel about the camps, the question I’m most frequently asked is:

What are the folks at home thinking about?

…never “What are the papers saying?”

Unfortunately, I don’t know any more about this than they do. In fact, even less, since the Post Office Department apparently considers me unworthy to receive mail. All I know is what I read in the French newspapers, such as an item about America building 32,000 “chars” in the past year. I assumed that a “char” was a chair or a charwoman, but my French dictionary swears it means chariot. So, all I can tell the boys at the camps is that there’s apparently some mighty funny business going on in America. Thirty-two thousand chariots indeed!

Rumors are almost as numerous here on land as they were aboard ship coming down. Today, for example, it was rumored all over town that Tokyo had been bombed by 400 planes, that a thousand American planes were over Germany, that Deanna Durbin has died in childbirth, that Jack Dempsey and Bing Crosby had both kicked the bucket.

No, we don’t know what you are thinking at home, but I hope you aren’t letting yourselves believe we’ll all be headed for New York by spring.

Few troops in action

My powers of prediction are pretty feeble, but as I see things, this neighborhood may not be very exciting for some little time. After the initial occupation, there necessarily follows a period of getting established and building up immense stocks of men and supplies. We are in the middle of that period over here.

Only a very small portion of our troops in North Africa are in action now. The remainder of the combat troops are just waiting and a huge organization of supply troops is busy day and night back of the lines, as it will always be.

We are, it seems to me, in another period of waiting to strike, as Mr. Churchill says, when it suits us best and Hitler least. I have no idea when or where that will be.

El Agheila looks on the map like an afternoon’s drive from Algeria, but actually it’s as far as from New York to Kansas City. So don’t get impatient if nothing much seems to happen for a while.

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