Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

Lennie lived a long interesting life and passed away at the age of 85 in 1994. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


He’s around the same age as my grandfather, I see.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 3, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In the frontlines before Mateur, Tunisia – (May 2, by wireless)
We’re now with an infantry outfit that has battled ceaselessly for four days and nights.

This northern warfare has been in the mountains. You don’t ride much anymore. It is walking and climbing and crawling country. The mountains aren’t big, but they are constant. They are largely treeless. They are easy to defend and bitter to take. But we are taking them.

The Germans lie on the back slope of every ridge, deeply dug into foxholes. In front of them the fields and pastures are hideous with thousands of hidden mines. The forward slopes are left open, untenanted, and if the Americans tried to scale these slopes, they would be murdered wholesale in an inferno of machine-gun crossfire, plus mortars and grenades.

Consequently, we didn’t do it that way. We have fallen back to the old warfare of first pulverizing the enemy with artillery, then sweeping around the ends of the hill with infantry and taking them from the sides and behind.

I’ve written before how the big guns crack and roar almost constantly throughout the day and night. They lay a screen ahead of our troops. By magnificent shooting they drop shells on the back slopes. By means of shells timed to burst in the air a few feet from the ground, they get the Germans even in their foxholes. Our troops have found that the Germans dig foxholes down and then under, trying to get cover from the shell bursts that shower death from above.

Enough… for once

Our artillery has really been sensational. For once we have enough of something and at the right time. Officers tell me they actually have more guns than they know what to do with.

All the guns in any one sector can be centered to shoot at one spot. And when we lay the whole business on a German hill the whole slope seems to erupt. It becomes an unbelievable cauldron of fire and smoke and dirt. Veteran German soldiers say they have never been through anything like it.

Now to the infantry – the goddamned infantry, as they like to call themselves.

I love the infantry because they are the underdogs. They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end, they are the guys that wars can’t be won without.

I wish you could see just one of the ineradicable pictures I have in my mind today. In this particular picture I am sitting among clumps of sword-grass on a steep and rocky hillside that we have just taken. We are looking out over a vast rolling country to the rear.

A narrow path comes like a ribbon over a hill miles away, down a long slope, across a creek, up a slope and over another hill.

All along the length of this ribbon there is now a thin line of men. For four days and nights they have fought hard, eaten little, washed none, and slept hardly at all. Their nights have been violent with attack, fright, butchery, and their days sleepless and miserable with the crash of artillery.

The men are walking. They are 50 feet apart for dispersal. Their walk is slow, for they are dead weary, as you can tell even when looking at them from behind. Every line and sag of their bodies speaks their inhuman exhaustion.

The line never ends

On their shoulders and backs they carry heavy steel tripods, machine-gun barrels, leaden boxes of ammunition. Their feet seem to sink into the ground from the overload they are bearing.

They don’t slouch. It is the terrible deliberation of each step that spells out their appalling tiredness. Their faces are black and unshaved. They are young men, but the grime and whiskers and exhaustion make them look middle-aged.

In their eyes as they pass is not hatred, not excitement, not despair, not the tonic of their victory – there is just the simple expression of being here as though they had been here doing this forever, and nothing else.

The line moves on, but it never ends. All afternoon men keep coming round the hill and vanishing eventually over the horizon. It is one long tired line of ant-like men.

There is an agony in your heart and you almost feel ashamed to look at them. They are just guys from Broadway and Main Street, but you wouldn’t remember them. They are too far away now. They are too tired. Their world can never be known to you, but if you could see them just once, just for an instant, you would know that no matter how hard people work back home they are not keeping pace with these infantrymen in Tunisia.


Writing like this is an art that is missed in today’s world. He puts the reader directly in his shoes to see what he sees, to smell what he smells, to hear what he hears, and to feel the emotions he feels. This is one reason the families back home were an integral part of the war effort.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 4, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Tunisia – (by wireless)
When our infantry goes into a certain big push in northern Tunisia, each man is issued three bars of D-ration chocolate, enough to last one day. He takes no other food. He carries two canteens of water instead of the usual one. He carries no blankets. He leaves behind all extra clothes except his raincoat. In his pockets he may have a few toilet articles. Some men carry their money, others give it to friends to keep.

In the days that follow they live in a way that is inconceivable to us at home. They walk and fight all night without sleep. Next day they lie flat in foxholes, or hide in fields of freshly green, knee-high wheat. If they’re in the fields they dared not even move enough to dig foxholes, for that would have bring the German artillery. They can’t rise even for nature’s calls. The German feels for them continually with his artillery.

Daylight waiting is torture

The slow drag of these motionless daylight hours is nearly unendurable. Lt. Mickey Miller of Morgantown, Indiana, says this lifeless waiting in a wheatfield is almost the worst part of the whole battle.

The second evening after the attack began, C-rations and five-gallon cans of water are brought up across country in jeeps, after dark. You eat in the dark, and you can’t see the can you are eating from. You just eat by feel. You make cold coffee from cold water.

One night, a German shell landed close and fragments punctured 15 cans of water.

Each night enough canned rations for three meals are brought up, but when the men move on after supper most of them either lose or leave behind the next day’s rations, because they’re too heavy to carry. But, as they say, when you’re in battle and excited you sort of go on your nerve. You don’t think much about being hungry.

The men fight at night and lie low by day, when the artillery takes over its blasting job. Weariness gradually creeps over them. What sleeping they do is in daytime. But, as they say, at night it’s too cold and in daytime it’s too hot. Also the fury of the artillery makes daytime sleeping next to impossible. So does the heat of the sun. Some men have passed out from heat prostration. Many of them get upset stomachs from the heat.

But as the third and fourth days roll on, weariness overcomes all obstacles to sleep. Men who sit down for a moment’s rest fall asleep in the grass. There are even men who say they can march while asleep.

Men can sleep anywhere

Lt. Col. Charlie Stone, of New Brunswick, New Jersey, actually went to sleep standing up talking on a field telephone – not while listening, but in the middle of a spoken sentence.

When sometimes they do lie down at night the men have only their raincoats to lie on. It is cold, and the dew makes the grass as wet as rain. They don’t dare start a fire to heat their food, even in daytime, for the smoke would attract enemy fire. At night they can’t even light cigarettes in the open, so after digging their foxholes they get down and make hoods over their heads with their raincoats, and light up under the coats.

They have plenty of cigarettes. Those who run out during battle are supplied by others. Every night new supplies of water and C-rations are brought up in jeeps.

You can’t conceive how hard it is to move and fight at night. The country is rugged, the ground rough. Everything is new and strange. The nights are pitch-black. You grope with your feet. You step into holes, and fall sprawling in little gullies and creeks. You trudge over plowed ground and push through waist-high shrubs. You go as a man blindfolded, feeling unsure and off balance, but you keep on going.

Fear of mines ever-present

Through it all there is the fear of mines. The Germans have mined the country behind them beyond anything ever known before. We simply can’t take time to go over each inch of ground with mine detectors, so we have to discover the minefields by stumbling into them or driving over them. Naturally there are casualties, but they are smaller than you might think – just a few men each day. The greatest damage is psychological – the intense watchfulness our troops must maintain.

The Germans have been utterly profligate with their mines. We dug out 400 from one field. We’ve found so many fields and so many isolated mines that we have run out of white tape to mark them with. But still we go on.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 5, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In the frontlines before Mateur – (by wireless)
After four days in battle, the famous infantry outfit that I’m with sat on its newly won hill and took two days’ rest, while companion units on each side of it leapfrogged ahead.

The men dig in on the back slope of the hill before any rest begins. Everybody digs in. This is an inviolate rule of the commanding officers and nobody wants to disobey it. Every time you pause, even if you think you’re dying of weariness, you dig yourself a hole before you sit down.

The startling thing to me about those rest periods is how quickly the human body can recuperate from critical exhaustion, how rapidly the human mind snaps back to the normal state of laughing, grousing, yarn-spinning, and yearning for home.

Here is what happens when a unit stops to rest.

My unit stops just after daybreak on Hill 394. Foxholes are dug, outposts placed, phone wires strung on the ground. Some patrol work goes on as usual. Then the men lie down and sleep till the blistering heat of the sun wakes them up.

Darkness brings hot food

After that you sit around in bunches recounting things. You don’t do much of anything. The day just easily kills itself. That first evening is when life begins to seem like Christmas Eve. The mail comes up in jeeps just before dark. Then come the men’s blanket rolls. At dark, hot food arrives – the first hot food in four days. This food is cooked in rolling kitchens several miles back and brought up by jeep, in big thermos containers, to the foot of the hill. Men carry the containers, slung on poles over their shoulders, up goat paths in the darkness to all parts of the mountain.

Hot food and hot coffee put life into a man, and then in a pathetic kind of contentment you lie down and you sleep. The all-night crash of the artillery behind you is completely unheard through your weariness. There are no mosquitoes so far in the mountains, and very few fleas, but there are lots of ants.

Hard to write letters

Hot food arrives again in the morning, before daylight. You eat breakfast at 4 a.m. Then begins a day of reassembling yourself. Word is passed that mail will be collected that evening, so the boys sit on the ground and write letters. But writing is hard, for they can’t tell in their letters what they’ve just been through.

The men put water in their steel helmets and wash and shave for the first time in days. A few men at a time are sent to a creek in the valley to take baths. The remainder sit in groups on the ground talking, or individually in foxholes cleaning their guns, reading, or just relaxing. A two-month-old batch of copies of the magazine Yank arrived, and a two-week-old bunch of Stars and Stripes. Others read detective magazines and comic books that have come up with their bedrolls. At noon everybody opens cans of cold C ration. Cold coffee in five-gallon water cans is put in the sun to warm.

Soldiers cut each other’s hair. It doesn’t matter how it looks, for they aren’t going anywhere fancy anyhow. Some of them strip nearly naked and lie on their blankets for a sunbath. By now their bodies are tanned as though they had been wintering at Miami Beach. They wear the inner part of their helmets, for the noonday sun is dangerous.

Purple with ointment

Their knees are skinned from crawling over rocks. They find little unimportant injuries that they didn’t know they had. Some take off their shoes and socks and look over their feet, which are purple with athlete’s-foot ointment.

I sit around with them, and they get to telling me stories, both funny and serious, about their battle. They are all disappointed when they learn I am not permitted to name the outfit they’re in, for they are all proud of it and would like the folks at home to know what they’ve done.

They say:

We always get it the toughest. This is our third big battle now since coming to Africa. The Jerry is really afraid of us now. He knows what outfit we are, and he doesn’t like us.

Thus they talk and boast and laugh and speak of fear. Evening draws down and the chill sets in once more. Hot chow arrives just after dusk. And then the word is passed around. Orders have come by telephone.

There’s no grouching

There is no excitement, no grouching, no eagerness either. They had expected it. Quietly they roll their packs, strap them on, lift their rifles and fall into line.

There is not a sound as they move like wraiths in single file down tortuous goat paths, walking slowly, feeling the ground with their toes, stumbling, and hushfully cussing. They will walk all night and attack before dawn.

They move like ghosts. You don’t hear or see them three feet away. Now and then a light flashes lividly from a blast by our big guns, and for just an instant you see a long slow line of dark-helmeted forms silhouetted in the flash. Then darkness and silence consume them again, and somehow you are terribly moved.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 6, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In the frontlines before Mateur, Tunisia – (by wireless)
Rest periods for our frontline troops in Tunisia are few and far between. And when they do come, they are only for a day or two, and subject to being ended at any moment.

The infantry battalion that I’ve attached myself to had its rest cut short just after dark on the second evening. Word came to move again into the lines, which were only a mile and a half away.

We had been dug in on a high, rocky ridge. German shells pounded continuously on the back side of the ridge, just a hundred yards off. The whole solid mountain seemed to tremble with each blast, but of course it didn’t actually. And we were perfectly safe.

Glad to leave reptiles, ants

Our view there was beautiful and majestic. Yet, I, personally, was not reluctant to leave. For our ridge was inhabited by a frightening menagerie of snakes, two-legged lizards, scorpions, centipedes, overgrown chiggers and man-eating ants.

Our battalion marched in two sections. The first left early, with orders to attack a certain forward hill at 3 a.m. The other half was to start after midnight, reach a certain protected wadi before dawn, dig itself in, and stand by for use whenever needed. I went with the second batch.

The men weren’t upset about going into the line again so soon. They just accepted it. They feel they have already done more than their share of this war’s fighting, but there is in their manner a touchingly simple compliance with whatever is asked of them.

At 1 a.m., we were ready to go. Blanket rolls and personal gear were left behind. I carried only my mackinaw and small hand shovel. In columns of twos, we plowed down a half-mile slope waist-high in wild grass. The slope was full of big bomb craters. We had to feel for them with our feet and walk around them. There were big rocks hidden in the grass, and soldiers stumbled and fell down awkwardly in their heavy gear, and get up cussing.

Finally, we hit a sort of path and fell into a single line of march. It was very slow at first, for we were crowding the last stragglers of the first section. For long periods we would stop for some unexplained reason and just sit on the ground.

The man ahead of me, Pvt. Lee Hawkins of Everett, Pennsylvania, had a 50-pound radio strapped on his back, plus two boxes of ammunition. How he kept on his feet in that rough sightless march, I don’t know.

Orders prohibit talking

After a couple of hours, the route ahead seemed to clear up. We walked briskly in single file. You had to keep our eyes on the ground and watch every step. The moon came up, but it was behind a great black cloud and gave only a little light. We talked some, but not much. We made a couple of brief unexplained stops, and then suddenly word came down the column:

No more talking. Pass it back.

From then on, we marched in silence except for the splitting crash of German artillery ahead, and of ours behind. The artillery of both sides was firing almost continuously. There would be the heavy blast of the guns, then an eerie rustle from each shell as it sped unseen across the sky far above our heads. It gave the night a strange sense of greatness.

As a first-timer, I couldn’t help but feel a sort of exaltation from this tense, stumbling march through foreign darkness up into the unknown.

Seems Howell never comes in

It did have its lighter touch, if you were inclined to hunt for a laugh. One soldier with a portable radio had been trying since early evening to get contact with our leading column. He was having static trouble, and kept walking around trying various locations all night long. Wherever you turned, wherever you stopped, you could always hear this same voice, gradually growing pitiful in its vain quest, calling softly:

Lippman to Howell. Come in, Howell.

As the night wore on and this voice kept up its persistent wandering and fruitless calling for its mate, it got to be like a scene out of a Saroyan play, and I had a private giggle over it.

Shells from both sides kept going far over our heads. They were landing miles away. Then, all of a sudden, they weren’t. With the quickness of an auto accident, a German shell screamed toward us. Instinct tells you, from the timber of the tone, how near a shell is coming to you. Our whole column fell flat automatically and in unison.

The shell landed with a frightening blast 200 yards to our right. We got up and started, and it happened again, this time to our left. I felt weak all over, and all the others had the creeps too.

Then, off to the left, we heard German machine-gun fire. You can always tell it from American machine-gun because it is so much faster. Word was passed down the line for us to squat down. We sat silently on our haunches for a minute, and then on another order we all crept over into some grass and lay hidden there for about five minutes. Then we started on.

All dig in, go to sleep

We got to where we were going half an hour before dawn. It was an outcropping of big white rocks, covering several acres, just back of the rise where the earlier half of our unit was already fighting.

The commanding officer told us to find good places among the rocks, get well scattered, and dig in immediately. He didn’t have to do any urging. Machine guns were crashing a few hundred yards off. Now and then a bullet would ricochet down among us.

The order went around to dig only with shovels, for the sound of picks hitting rocks might give us away to the Germans. We talked only in low voices. The white rocks were like ghosts and gave an illusion of moving when you looked at them. I picked out an L-shaped niche formed by two knee-high rocks, and began shoveling out a hole in front of them. At dawn, we were all dug in, and the artillery had increased to a frenzy that seemed to consume the sky.

We now had been without sleep for 24 hours, and we lay in our holes and slept wearily, oblivious of the bedlam around us and the heat of the bright early sun. Just as I fell off to sleep, I heard a low voice just behind my rock, pleading, it seemed to me now, a little hoarsely, but still determinedly:

Come in, Howell. Come in, Howell.


Wow that was so good.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 7, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In the frontlines near Mateur, Tunisia – (by wireless)
The day I’m writing about in this column is one of those days when you sit down on a rock about once an hour, put your chin in your hand. And think to yourself:

What am I doing here, anyway?

On this unforgettable Tunisian day, between 3,000 and 4,000 shells have passed over our heads. True, most of them were in transit, en route to somewhere else, but enough of them were intended for us to make a fellow very somber before the day was over. And just as a sideline, a battle was going on a couple of hundred yards to our left, mines were blowing up jeeps on our right, and German machine-gun bullets were zinging past with annoying persistency.

My outfit was in what was laughingly called “reserve” for the day. But when you hear soldiers who have been through four big battles say with dead seriousness, “Brother, this is getting rugged!” you feel that you would rather be in complete retirement than in reserve.

Noise of guns brutal

All day we were a sort of crossroads for shells and bullets. All day guns roared in a complete circle around us. About three-eighths of this circle was German, and five-eighths of it American. Our guns were blasting the Huns’ hill positions ahead of us, and the Germans were blasting our gun positions behind us. Shells roared over us from every point of the compass. I don’t believe there was a whole minute in 14 hours of daylight when the air above us was silent.

The guns themselves were close enough to be brutal in their noise and, between shots, the air above us was filled with the intermixed rustle and whine of traveling shells. You can’t see a shell, unless you’re standing near the gun when it is fired, but its rush through the air makes such a loud sound that it seems impossible it can’t be seen. Some shells whine loudly throughout their flight. Others make only a toneless rustle. It’s an indescribable sound. The nearest I can come to it is the sound of jerking a stick through water.

Some apparently defective shells get out of shape and make queer noises. I remember one that sounded like a locomotive puffing hard at about 40 miles an hour. Another one made a rhythmic knocking sound as if turning end over end. We all had to laugh as it went over.

Close ones sound differently

They say you never hear the shell that hits you. Fortunately, I don’t know about that, but I do know that the closer they hit, the less time you hear them. Those landing within a hundred yards you hear only about a second before they hit. The sound produces a special kind of horror inside you that is something more than mere fright. It is a confused form of acute desperation.

Each time you are sure this is the one. You can’t help but duck. Whether you shut your eyes or not, I don’t know, but I do know you become instantly so weak that your joints feel all gone. It takes about 10 minutes to get back to normal.

Shells that come too close make veterans jump just the same as neophytes. Once we heard three shells in the air at the same time, all headed for us. It wasn’t possible for me to get three times as weak as usual, but after they had all crashed safely a hundred yards away, I know I would have had to grunt and strain mightily to lift a soda cracker.

Heinous bedlam after lull

Sometimes this enemy fire quiets down and you think the Germans are pulling back, until suddenly you are rudely awakened by a heinous bedlam of screaming shells, mortar bursts, and even machine-gun bullets.

Here is an example of these sudden changes. As things had died down late one afternoon, and the enemy was said to be several hills back. I was wandering around among some soldiers who were sitting and standing outside their foxholes during the lull. Somebody told me about a new man who had had a miraculous escape, so I walked around till I found him.

He was Pvt. Malcolm Harblin, of Peru, New York, a 24-year-old farmer who has been in the Army only since June. Pvt. Harblin is a small, pale fellow, quiet as a mouse. He wears silver-rimmed glasses. His steel helmet is too big for him. He looks incongruous on a battlefield. But he was all right in his very first battle, back at El Guettar – an 88mm shell hit right beside him, and a big fragment went between his left arm and his chest, tearing his jacket, shirt and undershirt all to pieces. But he wasn’t scratched.

Dud passes on first bounce

He still wears that ragged uniform, for it’s all he has. He was showing me the holes, and we were talking along nice and peaceful-like when all of a sudden here came that noise, and boy this one had all the tags on it.

Pvt. Harblin dived into his foxhole and I was right on top of him. But sometimes you don’t hear a shell soon enough, and in this case, we would have been too late, except that the shell was a dud. It hit the ground about 30 feet ahead of us, bounced past us so close we could almost have grabbed it, and finally wound up less than a hundred yards behind us.

Pvt. Harblin looked at me, and I looked at Pvt. Harblin. I just had strength enough to whisper bitterly at him:

You and your narrow escapes!


The Pittsburgh Press (May 8, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (by wireless)
A few weeks ago, I said in one of these columns that the part the Americans would play in the final phase of the Tunisian war would be comparatively small. That was true, if you look at it from the big angle. But when you look at it from the worm’s-eye view that has been mine in the frontlines during a big portion of the fight, it is hard to see anything from the big angle, and I feel constrained to eat my words.

Our part has seemed mighty large to me at times. For our American troops had a brutal fight in the mountain phase of the campaign.

It was war of such intensity as Americans on this side of the ocean had not known before. It was a battle without letup. It was a war of drenching artillery and hidden mines and walls of machine-gun fire and even of the barbaric bayonet.

Germans fight desperately

It was an exhausting, cruel, last-ditch kind of war, and those who went through it would seriously doubt that war could be any worse than those two weeks of mountain fighting.

The Germans battled savagely and desperately from hill to hill until the big break came. There were times when we had to throw battalion after battalion onto an already-pulverized hill before we could finally take it. Our casualties will surely run high.

Nobody will care to underrate the American contribution to the end of Rommel in North Africa.

My time at the front was spent with a certain unit of the 1st Infantry Division. This division has now been through four big battles in North Africa and has made a good name for itself in every one of them. But it has paid dearly for its victories.

Apparently, there have been some intimations in print back home that the 1st Division did not fight well in its earlier battles. The men of the division all are as sore as hornets about it. If such a thing was printed, it was somebody’s unfortunate mistake. For the 1st Division has always fought well.

1st Division has enviable record

It is natural to be loyal to your friends, and I feel a loyalty to the 1st Division, for I have lived with it off and on for six months. But it is a sad thing to become loyal to the men of a division in wartime. It is sad because the men go, and new ones come and they go, and other new ones come until at last only the famous number is left. Finally, it is only a numbered mechanism through which men pass. The 1st Division will exist forever, but my friends of today may not.

For you at home who think this African campaign has been small stuff, let me tell you just this one thing – the 1st Division has already done more fighting here than it did throughout the last war.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 10, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (by wireless)
Just after daylight on the first morning of the battle that I recently sat in on as an awed semi-participant, wounded men and German prisoners began coming back down the hill to us.

They didn’t have far to come – the less seriously-wounded could walk back down in five minutes. We were that close.

About an hour after daylight, I noticed that a man on one of the stretchers coming toward us had on a British officer’s cap. I had a hunch, and ran over to look closely. Sure enough, it was my tentmate of the previous three nights – a British captain.

When I ran, the litter-bearers put down the stretcher, and I kneeled down beside it. As I did so, the captain opened his eyes. He smiled and said:

Oh, hello, hello. I was worrying about you. Are you alright?

How’s that for British breeding?

Bad wounds are ‘nothing at all’

I started to say something about being sorry, but before I could get a word out, he said:

Oh, it’s nothing at all, absolutely nothing. Just a little flesh wound. It isn’t as if I’d been hit in the spine or anything.

But the captain had a big hole in his back, arid his left arm was all shot up. They had given him morphine and he wasn’t in much pain. His shirt was off, but he still wore his pistol and his cap as he lay there. There was blood all over his undershirt. His tanned face had a pale look, but his expression was the same as usual.

Our first-aid station was too much under fire for ambulances or any vehicles to be brought up, so four litter-bearers still had to carry the captain a mile and a half back to the rear. When he heard this, he said:

That’s perfectly ridiculous, carrying me that far. They’ll do no such thing. I can walk back.

The doctor said no, it would start him bleeding again if he got up. But the captain got halfway off the litter and I had to give him a push and a few cusswords before he would consent to being carried.

First half-hour of first battle

The captain was a young fellow, sort of pugilistic-looking but with a gentle manner and an Oxford accent. He had been in the British 8th Army two years without getting hurt. He had just joined us as liaison officer, and was shot in the first half-hour of his first battle.

We’d had nice talks about England and the war and everything. It seemed impossible that someone I’d known and liked and who had been so whole and hearty such a few hours before could now be torn and helpless. But there he was.

A few minutes later, two German prisoners came down the hill, with a doughboy behind them making dangerous motions with his bayonet at their behinds.

Couple of Hitler’s supermen

The captor was a straight American of the drawling hillbilly type, who talked through his nose. I’m sorry I didn’t get his name. When he walked the Germans back to his sergeant he said, in his tobacco-patch twang:

Hey, Sarge, here’s two uv Hitler’s supermen for yuh.

The two prisoners were young and looked very well fed. Their uniforms were loose-fitting khaki, sort of like men’s beach suits at home. With their guns and all their other soldier gear taken away, they had the appearance of being only half-dressed. The expression on their faces was one of wondering what came next.

They were turned over to another soldier, who marched them across the fields to the rear. I couldn’t help grinning as I watched, for the new guardian stayed well behind them and walked as if he were treading on ice.

Our aid station was merely a formation of outcropping rocks on the hillside. The wounded all stopped there to await new litter-bearers to carry them on back.

The battalion surgeon, Capt. Robert Peterman of Hicksville, Long Island, had remarked earlier how our wounded never groaned or made a fuss when they came in, so I paid special attention. And it is true that they just lie on their stretchers, docile and patient, waiting for the medics to do whatever they can.

Seatless britches almost funny

Some of them had been given morphine and were dopey. Some smoked and talked as if nothing much had happened. A good many had been hit in their behinds by flying fragments from shells. The medics there on the battlefield would either cut the seat out of their trousers or else slide their pants down, to treat the wounds, and they’d be put on stretchers that way, lying face down. It was almost funny to see so many men coming down the hill with the white skin of their backsides gleaming against the dark background of brown uniforms and green grass.

Some of the boys who were not too badly wounded seemed to have an expression of relief on their faces. I know how they felt, and I don’t blame them. I remember from the last war the famous English phrase of “going back to Blighty” – meaning being evacuated to England because of wounds. In this war, we have a different expression for the same thing. It is “catching the white boat,” meaning the white hospital ship that takes wounded men back across the Atlantic.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 11, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Tunisian front – (by wireless)
The thing that Americans in Africa had fought and worked six months to get came today. When it did come, it was an avalanche almost impossible to describe. The flood of prisoners choked the roads. There were acres of captured material.

I’ll try to tell you what the spirit of the day was like.

It was a holiday, though everybody kept on working. Everybody felt suddenly free inside, as though personal worry had been lifted. It was like we used to feel as children on the farm, when parents surprised us by saying work was finished and we were going to the state fair for a day. And when you have looked all day goggle-eyed at more Germans than you ever expected to see in your life, you really feel like you have been to a fair.

Today you saw Germans walking alone along highways. You saw them riding, stacked up in our jeeps, with one lone American driver. You saw them by hundreds, crammed as in a subway in their own trucks, with their own drivers. And in the forward areas our fairgrounds of mile after mile contained more Germans than Americans. Germans were everywhere.

German officers weep

It made you a little lightheaded to stand in the center of a crowd, the only American among scores of German soldiers, and not have to feel afraid of them. Their 88s stood abandoned. In the fields, dead Germans still lay on the grass. By the roadside, scores of tanks and trucks still burned. Dumps flamed, and German command posts lay littered where they had tried to wreck as much as possible before surrendering.

But all those were sideshows – the big show was the mass of men in strange uniform, lining roads, swamping farmyards, blackening fields, waiting for us to tell them where to go. High German officers were obviously down in the mouth over the tragic end of their campaign. We saw some tears. Officers wept over the ghastly death toll taken of their men during the last few days. Officers were meticulously correct in their military behavior, but otherwise standoffish and silent.

Not so the common soldiers. I mingled with them all day and sensed no sadness among them. Theirs was not the delight of the Italians, but rather an acceptance of defeat in a war well-fought – why be surly about it?

Germans are friendly

They were friendly, very friendly. Being prisoners, it obviously paid them to be friendly; yet their friendliness seemed genuine. Just as when the French and Americans first met, the Germans started learning English words and teaching us German words.

But circumstances didn’t permit much communion between them and our troops. Those Americans who came in direct contact with them gave necessary orders and herded them into trucks. All other Americans just stared curiously as they passed. I saw very little fraternizing with prisoners. I saw no acts of belligerence and heard neither boos nor cheers. But I did hear a hundred times:

This is the way it should be. Now we can go on from here.

Americans and Germans trade cigarettes

German boys were as curious about us as we were about them. Every time I stopped a crowd would form quickly. In almost every group was one who spoke English. In all honesty I can’t say their bearing or personality was a bit different from that of a similar bunch of American prisoners. They gave us their cigarettes and accepted ours, both for curiosity’s sake. They examined the jeep, and asked questions about our uniforms. If you passed one walking alone, usually he would smile and speak.

One high American officer told me he found himself feeling sorry for them – until he remembered how they had killed so many of his men with their sneaking mines, how they had him pinned down a few days ago with bullets flying; then he hated them.

A ‘sucker for guy who loses’

I am always a sucker for the guy who loses, but somehow it never occurred to me to feel sorry for those prisoners. They didn’t give you a feeling they needed any sorrowing over. They were loyal to their country and sorry they lost but, now it was over for them, they personally seemed glad to be out of it.

Tonight, they still lounge by thousands in fields along the roads. Our trucks, and theirs too, are not sufficient to haul them away. They will just have to wait their turn to be taken off to prison camps. No guards are necessary to keep them from running off into the darkness tonight. They have already done their running and now they await our pleasure, rather humbly and with a curious eagerness to see what comes next for them.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 12, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (May 8, by wireless)
Before the first day of the great surrender on the Bizerte-Tunis front was over, I believe half the Americans in the area had German souvenirs of some sort.

There was very little of what one would call looting of German supply dumps. The Germans gave away helmets, goggles and map cases, which they will not be needing anymore. The spoils of war which the average doughboy has on him are legitimate, and little enough recompense for his fighting.

Practically every American truck has a German or Italian helmet fastened to its radiator. Our motorcycles are decorated like a carnival, with French flags and the colorful little black-and-yellow death’s-head pennants the Germans use for marking their own minefields.

Ernie gets big souvenir

Many soldiers have new Lugers in their holsters. Lots of our men clowningly wear German field caps. German goggles are frequently seen on American heads. I got in on the souvenirs too. I got one memento that is a little gem. It’s an automobile – yep, a real automobile that runs.

I drove back to camp that first evening in my German “Volkswagen,” the bantam car the Nazis use as we use our jeep. It is a topless two-seater with a rear motor, camouflaged a dirty brown.

Mine was given me by our 1st Armored Division for – as they said – “sweating it out with us at Faid Pass all winter.” As I drove back from the lines, Americans in the rear would stare, startled-like and belligerent; then, seeing an American at the wheel they would laugh and wave. I have owned half a dozen autos in my life, but I’ve never been so proud of one as of my clattering little Volkswagen.

Germans well-fed, well-equipped

On that first day of surrender, the Germans sat in groups of hundreds in the fields, just waiting. They lay on their overcoats, resting. They took off their shirts to sun themselves. They took off their shoes to rest their feet.

They were a tired army but not a nondescript one. All were extremely well-equipped. Their uniforms were good. They had plenty in the way of little personal things, money, cigarettes, and food. Their equipment was of the best materials. One English-appearing soldier had a Gem nail-clipper. He said he paid 25¢ for it in New York in 1939.

Some were clean-shaven, some had three- or four-day beards, just like our soldiers. Lots of them had red-rimmed eyes from lack of sleep.

As a whole, they seemed younger than our men, and I was surprised that on the average they didn’t seem as big. But they did appear well-fed and in excellent health.

Germans admire Americans

They think Americans are fine fighters. They express only good-natured contempt for their allies, the Italians. As one of them said:

It isn’t just that Italians don’t fight well. It’s simply that Germans don’t like Italians very much in the first place.

Wherever any American correspondents stopped, prisoners immediately gathered around. They all seemed in good spirits. Even those who couldn’t speak a word of English would try hard to tell you something.

The main impression I got, seeing German prisoners, was that they were human like anybody else, fundamentally friendly, a little vain. Certainly they are not supermen. Whenever a group of them would form, some American soldier would pop up with a camera to get a souvenir picture. And every time all the prisoners in the vicinity would crowd into the picture like kids.

Big boost to American morale

One German boy had found a broken armchair leaning against a barn, and was sitting in it. When I passed, he grinned, pointed to his feet and then to the chair arms, and put back his head in the international sign language for “Boy, does this chair feel good!”

This colossal German surrender has done more for American morale here than anything that could possibly have happened. Winning in battle is like winning at poker or catching lots of fish – it’s damned pleasant and it sets a man up. As a result, the hundreds of thousands of Americans in North Africa now are happy men, laughing and working with new spirits that bubble.


The first American using and promoting VW. :slight_smile:


The Pittsburgh Press (May 13, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (by wireless)
Much of our Northern Tunisian mountain fighting was done at night, and in the dark of the moon too. It had always been a mystery to me how troops could move on foot in total darkness over rough, pathless country that was completely strange to them. Having moved with them on several night marches, I know how it is done.

The going is just as difficult as I had thought it would be. The pace is slow – one mile an hour in moving up into the lines would be a good speed. The soldiers usually go single file. They don’t march, they just walk. Each man has to pick and feel for his own footholds.

Sure, you fall down. You step into a hole or trip on a telephone wire, or stub your toe on a rock, and down you go. But you get right up again and go on. You try to keep close enough to the man in front so that you can see his form dimly and follow him. Keeping your course at night is as difficult as navigating at sea, for it is total darkness and you have no landmarks to go by.

Gremlins move mountains

Captain E. D. Driscoll, of New York, says:

We have gremlins in the infantry too. And the meanest gremlin is the one who moves mountains. You start for a certain hill in the dark, you check everything carefully as you go along, and then when you get there some gremlin has moved the damn mountain and you can’t find it anywhere.

Here’s how they do these night marches.

At the head of the column are guides who have reconnoitered the route in daytime patrols and memorized the main paths, hills and gullies. In addition, an officer with a compass is at the head of the column, and in case of doubt they get down and throw a blanket over himself for blackout, and look at the compass by flashlight.

Other guides are posted along the line to keep the rear elements from straying off on side paths. Furthermore, the leaders mark the trail as they go. They usually do this by leaving strips of white mine-marking tape lying on the ground every hundred yards or so. On our march they had run out of white tape so they used surgeon’s gauze instead. Sometimes they mark the trail by wrapping toilet paper around rocks and leaving them lying on the path.

But still they get lost

In spite of all this, two or three dim-witted guys out of every company get lost and spend the next couple of days wandering around the hills asking everybody they come onto where their company is.

A column advancing into new country strings its own telephone wire. You probably know that Army telephone wire is simply strung along the ground. We are now using very light wire, and even a small person like myself can carry a half-mile reel of it under his arm.

On our first night march, we carried two miles of phone wire with us. At the end of a half-mile reel, we’d contact with a field telephone and call back to battalion headquarters to tell them how far we’d got, what we had seen and heard, and whether there was any opposition. As soon as another half-mile was strung, the phone would be advanced.

The Germans were adept at one tiring up here. That is in digging and camouflaging their gun positions. I know one case where we captured a dug-in 88mm gun while driving the Germans off a hill, and after the battle was over and we came back to get the big gun we couldn’t find the damn thing, though it was obviously still right there.

Snipers well concealed, too

Also, they dug in machine-gun snipers on the hillsides and left them there. When the rest of the Germans withdrew these guys would be hidden in the rocky hillsides right among our own troops. After we had occupied the hill, they would fire on our troops to the rear, and generally make pests of themselves. We had an awful time finding them.

I know of two machine gunners who stayed in their little dugouts and kept firing for three days after we had occupied their hill, despite the fact that our troops were bivouacked all over the hillside, living within a few feet of them, walking past or over their gun positions scores of times a day.

They dig a good-sized hole and cover it with the rocks that abound on these hillsides, leaving a little hole just big enough to fire through. They keep a few days’ rations, and just stay there until captured. The place looks like any other of thousands of places on the hillside. You can walk past it or stand on it and not know what’s beneath us. Once you do know, you find that you can’t get the gunners out without practically tearing the rocks out by hand.

One of these smart guys had a circus for three says shooting at me till they finally dug him out. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow, as I’m shaking too badly right at the moment.

1 Like

The Pittsburgh Press (May 14, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (by wireless)
It isn’t good form for correspondents to put themselves too much into their war stories, for we at best are only onlookers. But right up in the lines interesting things happen which you cannot tell without writing about yourself.

So, I am going to violate the usual ethics and regale you with some of my own mild experiences. I’ll tell you the machine-gun story first.

Usually on trips into the lines I have enough columns written to last until I get back to our permanent camp, but this time I didn’t. I have had to write on the spot. Of course, I couldn’t have a typewriter with me, so I wrote with a pencil, sitting on the ground.

Now the midday sun is so bright and hot one can’t sit out in it and write. Where we were there was only one spot of shade in miles. That was a tiny patch, made by a big rock behind which our battalion staff lay directing the battle. So, I picked out this spot of shade for my writing room.

Ernie sits on the bullet side

It would have been all right at that, except my special spot of the rock was the front side and consequently afflicted with bullets. I would write for 10 or 15 minutes, when suddenly machine-gun slugs would come singing down from the hilltop and buzz past us overhead. They came from a dugout sniper on our own hill. Apparently, my paper made a target for him. I would stay each time until three or four bullets went past, then I go around to the other side of the rock and tell the battalion staff:

That guy is shooting at me again.

We’d all laugh, and after a while I would go back to try to recapture the muse. Four times in one day that fellow chased me out of my shady place. The fourth time finally three bullets went past so close they had fuzz on them, and the fourth went into the ground with a squish just 10 feet away. At that I went around that rock so fast I made a groove in the ground. From then on, I stayed on the correct side. Our soldiers finally dug out and captured the sniper that last afternoon. So, there is my narrow escape story, and I’ll stick with it.

Snake stories abound

I don’t know which was the greater mental hazard – my writing, the bullets, or snakes. This rocky hill country is a reptilian paradise. After the machine-gunner had made me flee in shame, I sat down in a foxhole and tried to write. If I had just kept my eyes on the paper, it would have been all right, but for some perverse reason I happened to look down on the ground. There, alongside my leg in the bottom of the hole was one of our dear little slithery friends. A movie of me leaving that foxhole would look like a shell leaving a rifle.

When I finally crept back to peer into the hole, my new roommate turned out to be one of those mistakes of Nature with which this country abounds – something or other that is two-thirds snake and one-third lizard. It is a snake, except it has two legs, side by side, about halfway down its body. Before we could exterminate this monstrosity, he wiggled back under a sunken rock which formed one end of my foxhole. And there he still is, so far as I know.

Pyle discovers an adder

Cpl. Richard Redman of Struthers, Ohio, occupied a shallow foxhole adjoining. An hour or so after my episode, Cpl. Redman was catching some daytime sleep in his trench when I happened to walk by. There, within a foot of his head, was a real snake. This time I let out my special snake-fright whoop, which can be heard miles. The battalion surgeon grabbed a shovel and killed the thing. He said it was an adder, very poisonous. Later they killed another at the same spot.

When Cpl. Redman woke up, I told him how I had practically saved his life. He was very grateful. Indeed, it turned out that he was also cursed with snake horrors. If circumstances were a little different, I think Cpl. Redman and I would just leave these snakes to the Arabs, and come on home.

Cpl. William Otter of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, had the next foxhole. So, he joined in our snake discussion. He said he, too, had had a complex about snakes all his life, but since being in Tunisia he had seen so much horror of battle that a snake seemed minor stuff to him and his unreasonable fear had gone.

Maybe I feel a little like that myself. I thought I couldn’t possibly lie down in my foxhole that night, with that lizard still there and snakes all around. Yet, when the time came, there was nothing else to do. So, I made myself crawl in, and I slept soundly all night.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 15, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (by wireless)
I hope somebody in this war writes a book about the medics at the front. I don’t mean the hospitals so much as the units that are actually attached to troops and work on the battlefields under fire.

They are a noble breed. They and the telephone linemen deserve more praise than I have words for. Their job is deadly, and it never ends. Just in one battalion, several of the battlefield medics have been killed, and a number decorated.

But noble as it is, it seems to me – and to the doctors themselves – that our battlefield medical system isn’t all it should be. There aren’t enough stretcher-bearers in an emergency, and in a recent battle at which I was present, some of our wounded lay out as long as 20 hours before being brought in. The work of the medics comes in peaks. If they had enough stretcher-bearers for all emergencies, there would be thousands of men sitting around most of the time with nothing to do. Yet when an emergency does come and there are not enough, it’s an awful thing.

Stretcher-bearing difficult work

Wounded men had a rough time of it in this rocky, hilly country of northern Tunisia. It is hard enough to walk when you aren’t carrying anything, but when two or four men are lugging 200 pounds on a stretcher, it is almost impossible to keep on their feet. I have seen litter-bearers struggling down a rocky hillside with their heavy burden when one of them would slip or stumble on a rock and fall down, and the whole litter would go down, giving the wounded man a bad shaking up.

Litter-bearers sometimes had to carry wounded men five miles or more over this rugged country. A bearer is just about done in by the time he does that, yet in battle he has to start right back again. And somehow, although it gets to be just a miserably tough job, I’ve noticed that they manage to keep their sympathetic feeling for the wounded.

Few complaints on Nazi ethics

We heard stories about the Germans shooting up ambulances and bombing hospitals, and I personally know of instances where those stories were true. But there are also stories of just the opposite nature. Many of our officers tell me the Germans fought a pretty clean war in Tunisia. They did have scores of crafty, brutal little tricks that we didn’t have, but as for their observance of the broader ethics of war, our side has no complaint.

One battalion surgeon told me of running his ambulance out onto a battlefield under heavy artillery fire – whereupon the Germans stopped shelling and stayed stopped while he evacuated the dead and wounded for eight hours.

I’ve heard other stories where our ambulances got past German machine-gun nests without knowing it until the Germans came out and stopped them and, seeing they had wounded, waved them on. And so far as our doctors know, the German doctors give our captured wounded good medical care – as we do theirs also, of course.

Some ‘anxiety neurosis’ faked

In the last war, nerve cases were called “shell shock.” In this war, they’re called “anxiety neurosis.” About 50% of our neurosis cases are recoverable, and even return to fighting units. A large proportion of these cases are brought about by complete fatigue, by fighting day and night on end with little sleep and little to eat.

Surgeons sometimes spot neurosis cases that they suspect of being faked in order to get out of the frontlines. Their system is to put these men on stretcher-bearer duty – a hard, thankless, dangerous task. If they are faking, they get well quickly and ask to be returned to their regular outfits.

Constant noise gets one’s goat

In the frontlines, you get so used to the constant boom of artillery that you stop jumping every time a big gun went off. If you didn’t, you’d look like somebody with St. Vitus’ Dance. However, there’s another reaction – you get irritated. You get irritated in the same way you lose patience with a baby that cries all day or a dog that barks all night. The damn noise just never ends. There’s hardly a second of the day when the guns aren’t rolling or those ghostly shells rustling through the air.

Finally, you get so bored with its consistency that you feel like jumping up in a huff and yelling:

Oh, for God’s sake, stop it!


The Pittsburgh Press (May 17, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Tunisia – (by wireless)
When about to go into battle, some men are very introspective and thoughtful. Others carry on as though everything were normal. I remember one night when chow had come up just after dusk and a dozen or so of us were opening tin cans to the tune of constant shellfire. Somebody started singing a parody of some song. Others joined in, and for five minutes there in the night they sang funny songs. A silly feature of that episode is that now I can’t remember what we sang.

Another time we were sitting in the darkness on a rocky ledge waiting to start a night march that would culminate in an attack in which some of the men were to die before dawn.

As we sat there, the officers who were to lead the attack got into a long discussion comparing the London and New York subways. The sum total of the discussion was that the London subways were better than ours. After that the conversation drifted off onto the merits and demerits of the Long Island Railroad. The only “warlike” thing about the discussion was that somebody expressed a hearty desire to be riding on the Long Island Railroad that very minute.

Almost like Hollywood

War sometimes gets almost like Hollywood. We had a fantastic example one day.

A company of our troops worked far ahead of us and got pinned down on the far side of a hill. This back slope was almost a cliff. It was practically straight up and down. Our men were trapped there, just hiding behind rocks and on little ledges. The Germans had worked their way up onto a long slope in front of them, and around each and behind them.

The first Hollywood effect was that, although they were completely surrounded by the enemy, we still had telephone communication with them. So, their company commander asked us to start shooting mortars over onto the Germans on the face of the hill.

The happy ending

We set up a battery of mortars and let fly a practice round at the Germans a mile or so away. As the mortars roared, our battery commander said over the phone:

They’re on the way, Mac.

Then we’d wait about 30 seconds and Mac’s voice would come back:

They went clear over our heads. Bring her down a little.

Thus, with him directing us to right and left, up and down, we kept shooting until our mortar shells were landing smack on the Germans.

Of course, that’s the way all artillery is directed. But usually there is an observer on some other hill a mile or so away, watching through binoculars. In this case, our observer was beyond our own falling shells and so close he’d duck down behind his cliff every time they came over. Even veterans where we were had to laugh at the thing. And just as in Hollywood, it had a happy ending. Our shells ran off the Germans and our men were rescued.

Drowsy in the sun

One afternoon Capt. Russell Wight and I were lying in the sun against a bank alongside a dirt road, waiting for some tanks to come past so he could show them where to attack. While we lay there, machine-gun bullets sang over our heads. Once a dozen Messerschmitts dived and bombed hell out of an empty field a quarter of a mile away. And a German tank was whamming 75mm shells into a hillside just behind us with such rhythmic fury that we felt the gunner must be shooting from personal outrage.

But we were quite safe from it all in our ditch behind the hill, and we lay drowsily in the sun as though on a picnic back home.

Capt. Wight is the kind of person I feel at home with. The enlisted men love him more than any officer I ever heard them speak about. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and he was an executive of a big soap company. His business experience with personnel would fit him for some safer work, but he wound up in the fightingest job in the Army – as an infantry company commander.

On borrowed time

He has no kicks. He is already living on borrowed time, for three times 88mm shells have landed within 10 feet of him and freakishly left him untouched. He had no bad effects at all other than being deaf for about 24 hours. He says he heard no explosions. He says the sensation was that of an enormous bear giving him a sudden hug.

Finally, the tanks came by and the leader got out and talked for a few minutes before going into battle. The young tank commander’s boss drove up in a jeep and gave him some instructions. He told him:

If it gets too hot, button up and pray for darkness.

The young tank commander laughed and said that’s what he would do. A half hour later he was dead. Capt. Wight and I sat on our hillside and saw it happen.

That is the way it goes. After a while you don’t feel too deeply about it. You don’t dare to.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 18, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Tunisia – (by wireless)
Sgt. Eugene Box, of Babylon, Long Island, is an infantryman. He is one of these lighthearted blonds. He is always grinning, and he has a tooth out in front. He has been through four big battles, had his bookful of close shaves, and killed his share of Germans. Yet he is just the same when it is all over.

Sgt. Box is an expert with the dice and the cards. He has already sent $1,200 home to be banked since arriving in North Africa. That’s in addition to a $25-a-month allotment. Furthermore, he has another $700 ready to send off any day.

When his last battle started, he gave his wallet to a friend back of the lines to keep for him, just in case. He wears a diamond ring, and before every battle he takes it off his third finger, where it fits, and forces it onto his middle finger, where it is terribly tight. That’s so if he gets captured or wounded the Germans can’t steal the ring without cutting off his finger, which he apparently thinks they wouldn’t do.

Wounded man deserts stretcher

Pfc. William Smith, of Decota, West Virginia, is an infantryman who sometimes doubles as a stretcher-bearer. He has had a couple of unusual experiences.

One day they found a badly wounded German soldier, so they put him on a litter and started back to an aid station with him. But he was almost gone, and he died after they had walked only a few minutes. They kept on with him anyhow. Then suddenly the German batteries started dropping 88s right around them, so Pvt. Smith finished the episode by this means, to use his words:

I just dumped that SOB in a crick and took off from there.

Another time he and another soldier were carrying a wounded American back from a battle area. They had got about halfway back when those familiar 88s started falling. But they didn’t dump this guy in any crick. No, sir, the wounded man took off from that stretcher all alone and lit out on a dead run. He beat the two panting litter-bearers back to the aid station.

On one night march, we stopped about midnight and were told to find ourselves places among the rocks on a nearby hillside. This hillside was practically a cliff. You could barely stand on it. And it was covered with big rocks and an especially vicious brand of thistle that grew between the rocks. It was pitch-dark, and we had to find our little places to lie down – several hundred of us – largely by feel.

Ernie sleeps among thistles

I climbed almost to the top of the cliff, and luckily found a sloping place without bumps, just long enough for my body. I tromped down the thistles, thought a few trembling thoughts about snakes and lizards, then lay down and put one shelter-half on the ground, wrapped my one blanket around me, and drew the other shelter-half over me. The thistles had such a strong and repugnant odor that I thought I couldn’t go to sleep, but I was dead to the world in two seconds. In fact, I never slept better in my life.

The next thing I knew the entire universe seemed to be exploding. Guns were going off everywhere, and planes screaming right down on top of us. It was a dawn dive-bombing. I thought to myself:

Oh, my God, they’ve got us this time!

I didn’t even look out from under the shelter-half. I just reached out one arm to where I knew my steel helmet was lying, and put it on my head under the covers. And I remember lying on my side and getting my knees up around my chin so there wouldn’t be so much of me to hit.

Perfect targets for machine-gunning

What happened was this – the planes had bombed some vehicles in the valley below us, and pulled out of their dives right over our hill. They just barely cleared the crest as they went over. They couldn’t have been more than a hundred feet above us. We were all lying there in the open, perfect targets for machine-gunning.

They never did shoot, but it was my worst dive-bombing scare of the war, and I felt mighty glad that the whole Tunisian business was about over.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Many readers have requested information on how to write Ernie Pyle. Since his address overseas changes from time to time, letters should be sent to his permanent headquarters at 1013 13th St., NW, Washington.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 19, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Tunisia – (by wireless)
The finish of the campaign such as this one in Tunisia has a definite reaction on everybody. At first there is terrific enthusiasm. Then after a few days a letdown occurs.

Each man realizes, once he relaxes, how terribly tired he is. He is like a rubber band that had been stretched too tight. A feeling of anticlimax settles over him. Dozens of times I’ve heard such expressions as “I’m all jumpy” and “I feel at loose ends” and “I want to get moving, I don’t care where, but somewhere.”

Staying in Tunisia now is like sitting on in the tent after the circus has finished its performance. Everybody is wondering what we are going to do next, and when, and where. Of course, the Germans would like to know that too. And I can assure you that if they don’t know any more about our plans than the correspondents and the bulk of the Army, they are completely in the dark.

We in the common herd have no inkling of what the next act will be. We can only hope it will be soon, for this feeling of intermission is getting us down.

Ernie at loose ends

As for me, I don’t know what I’ll do either. First, I’m going back into Algeria and take a bath and get some laundry done and read a few letters. The I’ll sit down for a couple of weeks of column-writing in peaceful surroundings. You’ll have to bear up under a few more Tunisian columns, for I have a lot of leftover items to put on paper.

What comes after that is anybody’s guess. I might go back to England for a while. I might take a Cook’s tour of South Africa. I might even take a Mediterranean cruise, or feed the pigeons at St. Peter’s in Rome, who knows?

The Germans didn’t quite hew to the ethical line in one thing – they continued trying to destroy their own stuff after the surrender. Vehicles were set afire, and soldiers broke their rifles over bridge abutments as they walked along. Sometimes their destructive frenzy was almost laughable. I saw one bivouac where they had left all their big guns, their ten-wheelers, all their heavy gear intact, yet they had smashed such things as personal radios, toilet kits, chairs, and even an accordion.

Destruction was trivial

However, what they put out of action was trivial. The collapse was so huge that most of their stuff was taken intact. Today you see long convoys of German trucks on the Tunisian highways, but they have American drivers, and the yellow star of the U.S. Army is painted on their sides. Our Military Police acted quickly to throw guards around all captured supply dumps and preserve them until the Army can collect, sort, and put to use all the captured material.

A little scene on the day of the surrender sticks in my mind. Hundreds of Germans were standing and sitting around a Tunisian farmyard. There was a sprinkling of Italian prisoners too, and a scattering of American, British, and French soldiers on various errands. It was indeed an international assembly.

In this far foreign farmyard, there was a windmill. The printing on the windmill’s big fan seemed so incongruous that I had to jot it down: “Flint & Walling Manufacturing Co., Kendallville, Ind.” You just can’t get foreign enough to lose us Hoosiers.

One of the English-speaking German soldiers asked me why I was copying that down, and when I told him it was because the windmill came from my home state he smiled and said, oh yes, he’s been in Indiana several times himself!