The Pittsburgh Press (May 10, 1943)
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.