The first American using and promoting VW.
The Pittsburgh Press (May 13, 1943)
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.
The Pittsburgh Press (May 14, 1943)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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!
The Pittsburgh Press (May 20, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
In Tunisia – (by wireless)
Most of the German prisoners have been worked out of the forward Tunisian area by now. Where they went, we don’t know. They’ve just left for the west.
Handling them and feeding them must be a tremendous job. It takes a lot of transportation to move those thousands of men back across Africa, and if we kept them in Africa, we would have to use valuable shipping space bringing them food.
This colossal batch of human beings is, indeed, a white elephant on our hands. And yet, as somebody says, what we want is about 50 more white elephants just like this one.
Although they are usually friendly and pleasant, you seldom find a prisoner who has any doubt that Germany will win the war. They say they lost here because we finally got more stuff into Tunisia than they had. But they laugh at the idea of our invading the Continent. On the whole, they can’t understand why America is in the war at all, figuring it is not our business.
False news misleads captives
Whether from deliberate Nazi propaganda or mere natural rumor I don’t know, but the prisoners have a lot of false news in their heads. For instance, some of them had heard that Japan had been at war with Russia for six months and had practically cleaned the Russians out of Siberia. One of them heard that the Luftwaffe had bombed New York. When told that this was ridiculous, he said he didn’t see himself how it could be possible.
Pvt. Bill Connell, of 183 Menahan St., Brooklyn, had a funny experience. He was talking with an English-speaking prisoner, and the conversation finally unearthed the information that, as Pvt. Connell says, “We know different people together” – meaning, I’m sure, that they had once actually lived in adjoining houses in Brooklyn – Connell at 251 Grove St. and the German at 253 Grove. But that coincidence didn’t cause any old-palship to spring up between them, for the prisoner was one of those bullheaded Nazis and Connell got so disgusted he didn’t even ask his name.
The prisoner was very sarcastic, and said to Connell:
You Americans are saps. You’re still in the war, and I’m out of it.
I thought Connell’s answer was pretty good. He replied:
You’re such a hot Nazi, but it’s lots of good you’re going to do your country from now on.
Nazis disgust Yanks
The first contacts of our troops with prisoners were extremely pleasant. So pleasant in fact that American officers got to worrying because the men found the Germans so likable. But if you talk to them long enough, you find in them the very thing we are fighting this war about – their superior-race complex, their smug belief in their divine right to run this part of the world. A little association with a German prisoner, like a little knowledge, is a bad thing, but if our troops could just have an opportunity to talk at length with the Germans, I think they would come out of it madder than ever at their enemy.
Captured supplies show that the Germans use excellent materials in all their stuff. However, it seems to us that there is some room for improvement in their vaunted efficiency. They have more of a hodgepodge and more overlapping designs than we do. They have big 10-wheeler troop carriers with seats running crosswise, but it is far too much vehicle for the service it performs. It can’t possibly be used for any other work than troop-carrying, and even for that it is an easy target, with men sitting up there in the open. And it is slow.
They also have a gadget that resembles a motorcycle except that the back end runs on two small caterpillar tracks instead of wheels. It’s a novel idea, but, as somebody says, it can carry only three men and there’s enough material wasted to make a young tank.
Nazis boondoggle, too
In rummaging around one supply dump, I came upon a stack of copies of a new booklet entitled Tausend Worte Italienisch. I picked up a handful, thinking to glean a little backyard Italian. It didn’t occur to me at the time that the booklets obviously would be translating Italian into German.
The Germans do things thoroughly, we have to admit. My handful of booklets turned out not to be several copies of the same thing but a whole series of different booklets comprising a set of lessons for troops complete enough to give you a college course in Italian.
It seems a prodigal way to use money, yet I suppose it does make things better if the Germans are able to insult their allies in their own language.
The Pittsburgh Press (May 21, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
Southern Tunisia – (by wireless)
This column has three heroes, if you want to call them that. They are the three men who commanded, one after the other, the same infantry company – all within five hours of battle. For lack of a better name, we’ll simply call it Company K.
It was daytime. The whole company was pinned down on a green wheatfield that led up onto the slope of a hill. We were trying to take the Germans on the back slope of the hill, but from the ridge they could butcher our men below with their machine guns if they stirred.
Lt. Richard Cole, of Worcester, Massachusetts, was commander of Company K. In midafternoon, a German shell found him as he lay in hiding with his men in the wheat. One leg got only a slight wound, but the other was shattered.
His head saves his life
Lt. Cole saved his life by using his head. He made a tourniquet of his handkerchief, and using a fountain pen for a lever he twisted the tourniquet and held it, and at the same time began slowly crawling to the rear. For he knew the medics didn’t dare to venture onto the shell-raked field looking for possible wounded.
After about an hour he loosened the tourniquet, to prevent gangrene. Darkness came on and he continued to crawl slowly, attending to the tourniquet at intervals.
Sometime during the night, he felt a telephone wire under him. That was what he had been hunting for. He got out his knife and cut the wire. He knew that eventually linemen would come looking for the break. Then he lay down on the wire and waited. And finally they did come, just as he had anticipated. It was long after daylight, and Lt. Cole had by then been wounded 20 hours.
He is now in a hospital. Not only will he live, but he won’t even lose a leg. One opf these days he will probably be going homer to recuperate.
Antonelli has job four hours
As soon as Lt. Cole was wounded. Lt. Theodore Antonelli, of New Britain, Connecticut, automatically took command of Company K. They waited in the wheatfield till dusk, then began slowly working around the left end of the hill that was facing them. They took the Germans from the rear, completely by surprise. They rushed up the hill and attacked with bayonets.
Lt. Antonelli, instead of staying behind his company, pulled out his .45 and led the company up the hill. Usually, a company commander doesn’t do that, but this time it was the thing to do.
Lt. Antonelli paid for his bravery. A hand-thrown German grenade scattered fragments over his chest, and he fell. His wounds were not serious, but they put him out of action. He had had command of Company K just four hours.
Sergeant leads bayonet charge
Company K has three commissioned officers. One of them was already on a hospital from a previous wound. The two remaining ones, as you have seen, fell in succession. Next in line of command was Sgt. Arthur Godwin. He instantly assumed the command expected of him, and he carried it so well that today his praises are being sung throughout the whole division.
Sgt. Godwin led his men in one of the few bayonet charges Americans made in the Tunisian war. They didn’t kill or capture the enemy. He just fled in terror, yelling, “Madmen! Madmen!” The hill was taken.
Sgt. Godwin is from Enterprise, Alabama, the cotton town that is famous for its statue to the boll weevil. Back home he used to drive a truck, and in season he roved the Florida orchards as a fruit picker. He has been in the Army more than three years.
Godwin is a tall, nice-looking fellow of 26. He swears in good soldier fashion, but his manner is quiet and considerate. There is something calmly forceful about him. He is the kind of man you like to have faith in.
Story has a happy ending
Everybody in the regiment, including its commanding officer, wished Godwin could keep Company K, he had served it so well. But it was impossible. Other officers in the battalion deserved a company command, so Sgt. Godwin was replaced the next day.
But wait – the story doesn’t have a bitter end nor a sad one. Godwin has had a commission in the offing ever since he landed in Africa six months ago. It was one of those Army things. Months passed and nothing happened. Like a good soldier, he kept on plugging as a sergeant. But the division commander has put a stop to that nonsense. He exercised his right to promote a man on the battlefield, and within a few hours after the last German was marched off the hill, Sgt. Godwin was Lt. Godwin. A company command will not be far behind.
Everybody is glad. That’s the way good men rise to their rightful niche in battle, where true character shows and red tape is a hated phrase.
Ernie’s story highlights one aspect that may be unique in the US military compared to other countries. The chain of command is maintained by the next officer or NCO as the situation evolves regardless of rank.
The Pittsburgh Press (May 22, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
In Tunisia – (by wireless)
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column describing the winter’s battleground in Tunisia, in which I said there wasn’t much evidence over the countryside of the fighting that had gone on. That was the central Tunisian battlefield – the one we fought over all winter.
But now we have a new battlefield to look over, the northern one, and it looks vastly more warlike than the southern one. There are two reasons for that – the fighting was more concentrated and on a much greater scale, and the Germans collapsed so quickly they had no time to retrieve vehicles and clean up the battlefields as they did in the south.
Today there are roads in northern Tunisia that are littered for miles at a stretch with wrecked and burned-out vehicles. Sometimes a skeleton of a tank or a big truck sits right in the middle of a road and you have to drive around it. In spots you can see two or three dozen wrecked tanks scattered across a mile-wide valley. In many places the roads are rough from filled-in shell holes.
All bridges blown up
In the first day or two after the finish you would still see an occasional blanket-covered body lying at the roadside. Frequently you would see one or two German graves, where victims of vehicle strafing are buried. And as you drive along your noses tell you now and then of one that the burial parties missed.
I am constantly amazed and touched at the number of dogs and mules killed on the highways by artillery and strafing planes. Practically all the bridges in northern Tunisia have been blown up. You detour around the smaller ones. Over the larger streams American and British engineers have thrown sudden and magnificent steel bridges, or laid pontoon bridges.
Only a few of the towns in central Tunisia were really wrecked by shellfire, but in northern Tunisia all the towns along the line of battle have been truly destroyed. Bizerte is the most completely wrecked place I have ever seen. It was a large city, and a beautiful one. It is impossible to picture in words what it looks like now.
If you remember World War I pictures of such places as Verdun, that is the way it is. Nothing could possibly have lived through the months-long bombing that Bizerte took. Those who say a city can’t be destroyed by bombing should go and see Bizerte.
Arabs trek back home
As soon as the Tunisian war was over, the Arabs began flocking back to their homes. They had been cleaned out of the battle area by both sides, for two reasons – to keep them from getting hurt and because neither side trusted them. Most of them were simply evacuated to safe hills in the rear, but those under suspicion were arrested and put in outdoor prison camps while the fighting was going on.
They come back across country now in long caravans. Scores of Arabs are in each group, with their sheep and their cattle, their burros and their kids. They are a dirty and disheartening lot. Their junklike belongings are piled high on two-wheeled carts. I saw one cart with 14 oxen hitched to it. The women usually have large bundles on their backs. Now and then one Arab will give you the Victory sign and said, “Bonjour,” but most of them pass in silence. For the Tunisian Arab was well sold by German propaganda.
Chris won’t forget Ferryville
Ferryville and Tunis are the two places where fantastic demonstrations were put on as the Americans and British entered and released the cities from their captivity. The wild Ferryville demonstration has already been written about, but I am mentioning it again in order to tell a little story.
Chris Cunningham of the United Press and I shared a tent and traveled together quite a bit in this northern campaign. Chris is a stocky fellow, with black whiskers. He looks pretty tough, although he is actually rather bashful. When he drove into Ferryville in his jeep, he was immediately surrounded and overpowered by jubilant men, women and children, throwing flowers and shouting, “Vive la France!” and “Vive l’Amérique!”
In the midst of this hubbub a pompous-looking gentleman, a gruffly dignified Frenchman of the old school, arrived on the scene. He stood for a moment at the curb, surveying the outburst with what appeared to be disapproval. Then he took a deep breath, brushed the common herd aside with both hands as though he were swimming, reached over into the jeep and kissed Chris first on one cheek and then on the other. That accomplished, he turned and strode pompously away.
Chris hasn’t heard the last of it yet.
The Pittsburgh Press (May 24, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
In Tunisia – (by wireless)
The major portion of my time during the Tunisian campaign was spent with the 1st Infantry Division and the 1st Armored Division. That was because they were the earliest ones on the scene and I was best acquainted with them.
But there were other divisions in Tunisia too, and in the final phase all contributed their part to the cracking of the Hun. If the war had lasted longer, I would have swung over and written about these other units too, but since that chance didn’t come, those of you at home who have men in these divisions may know that what I’ve written about one is largely representative of all.
The 1st Armored Division was the one that made the kill and got the mass of prisoners. Yet their fighting was no better and no greater than that of the 1st Infantry Division, which lost so heavily cleaning out the mountains, or of the 34th Division, which took the key Hill 609 and made the victory possible, or of the 9th Division, which swept the Heinies out of the rough coastal country in the north, or of the Artillery that softened up the enemy, or of the fighting Engineers who kept streams bridged and highways passable. Or of any other of the countless units that contributed to the whole, and without a single one of which all the others would have been lost.
Plenty of everything!
In this final phase of the Tunisian campaign, we have yet to hear a word of criticism of our men. They fought like veterans. They were well handled. We had enough of what we needed. Everything meshed perfectly, and the end was inevitable. So, you at home need never be ashamed of our American fighters. Even though they didn’t do too well in the beginning, there was never at any time any question about the Americans’ bravery.
It is a matter of being hardened and practiced by going through the flames. Tunisia has been a good warmup field for our armies. We will take an increasingly big part in the battles ahead.
The greatest disservice you folks at home can do our men over here is to believe we are at last over the hump. For actually – and over here we all know it – the worst is yet to come.
Our frontline troops are by now getting pretty well saturated with little personal things they got from the Germans. Nearly everybody has a souvenir of some kind, running all the way from machine guns to writing paper.
Fancy pistol grips
A good many soldiers have made new pistol grips for themselves out of the windshields of shot-down German planes. The main advantage of this switch from the regulation handle is that the composition is transparent; you can put your girl’s picture under the grip and it will show through.
Sgt. Gibson Fryer, of Troy, Alabama, has a picture of his wife on each side of the handle of his .45. Sgt. Fryer has noticed that the Germans are very neat in some ways. They have little toilet kits in their pockets. Among his souvenirs is a pair of manicure scissors he got from a prisoner long before the big surrender came.
Sgt. Fryer had an experience on one of the last few days of the campaign that will be worth telling his grandchildren about. He was in a foxhole on a steep hillside. An 88mm shell landed three feet away and blew him out of his hole. He rolled, out of control, 50 yards down the rocky hillside. He didn’t seem to be wounded, but all his breath was gone. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t make a sound. His chest hurt. His legs wouldn’t work.
A medic came past and poked him. Sgt. Fryer couldn’t say anything, so the medic went on. Pretty soon two of Fryer’s best friends walked past and he heard one of them say:
There’s Sgt. Fryer. I guess he’s dead.
And they went right on too.
It was more than an hour before Fryer could move, but within a few hours he was perfectly normal again. He laughs and says that if his wife sees this in print she’ll think for sure he’s a hero.
The Pittsburgh Press (May 25, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
In Tunisia – (by wireless)
While with the infantry in the north Tunisian campaign, I had to live of course just as they did. Our home was on the ground. We sat, ate, and slept on the ground.
We were in a different place almost every night, for we were constantly moving forward from hill to hill. Establishing a new bivouac consisted of nothing more than digging new foxholes. We never took off our clothes, not even our shoes. Nobody had more than one blanket, and many had none at all. For three nights I slept on the ground with nothing under or over me. Finally, I got one blanket and my shelter-halves sent up.
We had no warm food for days. Each man kept his own rations and ate whenever he pleased. Oddly enough I was never conscious of the lack of warm food. Water was brought to us in cans, but very little washing was done.
Artillery is worst to stand
Sometimes we were up all night on the march and then would sleep in the daytime till the hot sun made sleep impossible. Some of the men slept right in their foxholes, others on the ground alongside. Since rocks were so abundant, most of us buttressed our foxholes with little rock walls around them.
During that week, we were shot at by 88s, 47s, machine guns, tanks. Despite our own air superiority, we were dive-bombed numerous times, but they were always in such a hurry to get it over and get home that usually their aim was bad and the bombs fell harmlessly in open spaces. You could always count on being awakened at dawn by a dive-bombing.
Having now been both shelled and bombed, I believe an artillery barrage is the worse of the two. A prolonged artillery barrage comes very close to being unbearable, and we saw many pitiful cases of “anxiety neurosis.”
The nights were sometimes fantastic. The skies would flash all night from the muzzle blasts of big guns. Flares shot from the ground and dropped from planes would hang in the sky. Armored vehicles would rumble across country all night. German planes would thrum through the skies seeking some flash of light on the ground.
Awake, 30 hours at a time
At dusk groups of litter-bearers would set out to carry the wounded from forward companies. Just after dawn each morning the stretchers and the walking wounded would come slowly downhill from the night’s fighting. Ammunition carriers in long lines toiled up to us, carrying those triple clusters of heavy mortar shells on their shoulders.
A couple of miles behind us the engineers worked day and night without cease, digging and blasting and bulldozing passes through the hills so that our wheeled vehicles could follow the advance.
Sometimes we didn’t sleep at all for 30 hours or more. At first the activity and excitement and everything kept me awake. I didn’t want to go to sleep for fear of missing something. Also, at first the terrific noise of the artillery kept us awake. But on my last two nights in the lines, I slept eight hours solid and never heard a thing.
Letdown comes after victory
During all the time we were under fire I felt fine. The catch-as-catch-can sleep didn’t seem to bother me. I never felt physically tired even after the marches. The days were so diverse and so unregimented that a week sped by before I knew it. I never felt that I was excited or tense except during certain fast-moving periods of shelling or bombing, and these were quickly over. When I finally left the line just after daylight one morning I never felt better in my life.
And yet, once I was safe back in camp, an intense weariness came over me. I slept almost every minute of two days and nights. I just didn’t have the will to get up, except to eat. My mind was as blank as my body was lifeless. I felt as though every cell in my makeup had been consumed. It was utter exhaustion such as I had never known before. Apparently, it was the letdown from a week of being uncommonly tense without realizing I was tense. It was not until the fourth day that I began to feel really normal again, and even now, I’m afraid I think too much about the wounded men.
MORAL: German 88mm shells are evil companions and their company should be avoided.
The Pittsburgh Press (May 26, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
Little items… The constant boom and roll of heavy artillery are still to me the most saddening, sickening, doom-spelling sound of all the ghastly war noises I know… One of the funniest sights of the war to me so far is to see an Arab, clad in nothing but American GI skintight winter underwear, running along behind a caravan of camels…
The most pathetic little sight I’ve seen in the war was just after a 500-pound bomb landed in the garden of a monastery (only 50 yards from my tent, incidentally) … We went over to look at the great crater it left, and lying there just outside the rim of the crater was a big frog, dead from concussion. His legs were still spread, in leaping position, his eyes still open, his mouth still agape as if just about to say in hurt wonderment:
Why did you want to do this to me?
Captor buys prisoner’s camera
Maj. Charles Miller of Detroit had a Rolleicord camera and 10 rolls of film that he bought from an English-speaking Italian prisoner. When he offered to buy it, the prisoner was aghast. He said:
Why, I’m a prisoner. It’s yours. You don’t buy it, you take it.
But Maj. Miller told him we didn’t do it that way over here, and he gave the Italian three times as much as the price the prisoner finally proposed. At home the same camera would cost $200.
We aren’t the only ones who like to collect enemy gear. The Germans did the same. German prisoners showed up with American mess kits and with Tommy guns, and even wearing pieces of American uniforms.
The Germans worked up a terrific respect for the uncanny accuracy of our artillery. It was so perfect it had them agog. They tell of one German officer, taken prisoner before the collapse, who when brought into camp said:
I know you’re going to kill me, but before you do, would you let me see that automatic artillery of yours?
We didn’t kill him, of course, and neither did we show him our automatic artillery, because we haven’t got any. We’re just crack shots, that’s all.
Killing sickens pilot
A fighter pilot I know – a squadron leader – sent close to 200 Germans to their doom. He was homeward bound from a mission and flying right on the deck – in other words, just above the ground. He zoomed over a little rise, and there straight ahead, dead in his sights, was the evening chow line behind a German truck.
It all happened in a second. There wasn’t time for the Germans to duck. The pilot simply pressed the button, cannon shells streamed forth, and Germans and pieces of Germans flew in all directions.
The squadron leader barely mentioned it in his report when he got back. He says it almost made him sick. Killing is his business, but it is killing an opponent in the air that he likes. I’m not even giving his name, because he feels so badly about it.
I have run onto another dog that came all the way from America. He is a black-and-white springer spaniel, and he sprang from the dog pound at St. Petersburg, Florida. Two pilots originally had him – Lt. Richard East, of East Orange, New Jersey, and Lt. Harold Taft, of Jeffersonville, Indiana. They named him Duckworth, after the third member of their original flying-school trio – Lt. John Stewart Duckworth of Boston.
Mascot dog loves to fly
Duckworth has checked out in seven different kinds of airplanes. He has flown across the Atlantic, and twice across Africa, and once up and once down Africa. He loves to fly.
I heard one pilot who had a pet cat that burst its eardrums on its first flight and is now stone deaf. But the boys stuff cotton in Duckworth’s ears and he’s okay.
The dog’s namesake, Lt. Duckworth, is now at Randolph Field, Texas, fretting because he isn’t overseas in combat. The dog’s co-owner. Lt. East, is one of those who never came back from a Tunisian mission. So, Duckworth now belongs only to Lt. Taft, who humors him and cusses him and is very proud of him.
He says “Duckworth” is the biggest ladies’ man in Africa.
The Pittsburgh Press (May 27, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
Two little profiles of men who fight:
When I first met Charles P. Stone on a Tunisian hillside, he was a major. Within two hours he was a lieutenant colonel. The promotion consisted of nothing more than his regimental commander walking up and telling him about it. Stone is a West Pointer and a Regular Anny man. So was his father before him.
He says proudly:
I beat my father by 13 years. He was 40 when he got his lieutenant-colonelcy.
Col. Stone goes by the name of Charlie, and he calls his officers by their first names. He is tall and slender, his hair is short in a crew cut, and he has a front tooth missing. He had a one-tooth bridge but it came out in battle and he lost it. Despite his rank he sleeps on the ground in the open, with only one blanket. He is friendly, but his decisions are quick and positive.
Rebukes friend’s disrespect
I remember one night one of the other officers was speaking of “a dead stiff” they had found in the grass that evening. The office speaking was one of Stone’s best friends, but Stone instantly stopped the conversation and said:
After this it will be “dead soldiers.” None of this “dead stiff” stuff.
Stone carries a couple of dozen big snapshots of his wife in his pocketbook. His home is at New Brunswick, New Jersey. He writes one letter a day no matter where he is. He manages to shave every three or four days.
He paid almost no attention to little happenings around him such as wounded men coming up, prisoners passing, and shells landing too close. Where the rest of us would look foe a long time, and ask questions, he took one quick glance and then lay down.
You can’t cross up this man
He has the ability to ignore all the little clutterings of war that have nothing to do with the action. He is a hard man to rattle. You could see that the whole complicated battle area and its hourly confusing changes were as clear as crystal in his mind.
At 27, a battalion commander and a lieutenant colonel, with four big engagements behind him, I would wager heavy money on him to be a general before the war is over.
Sgt. Jack Maple is one of those funny guys. The boys of his infantry company say Maple is about a 120%. While he’s around, he’s the kind who makes himself the butt of his own jokes. When a visitor shows up, the others gather around just to hear him perform.
Sgt. Maple says he fully intends to be a hero every time he’s in a battle but somehow there’s always so much suction in his foxhole that he can’t get out of it. Sgt. Maple says he expects to be the Sgt. York of this war, but since he’s a little slow in starting he has nicknamed himself Sgt. Cork.
‘Cork’ demands the headlines
He asked me:
What kinda headlines they gonna put on your piece? Can you get ‘em to out a big headline clear across the front page in San Francisco or Los Angeles saying “Sgt. Cork Maple Is Hero of Tunisia”?
I told him I would use my influence.
Maple lives at 8885 Carson St., Culver City, California, in case you want to know the hero’s home address. He says that if he gets killed, he doesn’t want any of this nonsense of sending his money home. He has already made a verbal will – his friends in the company are to take whatever money he has and keep it till they’re in a rest period, and then all get good and drunk on it.
Cork says he has all the hard luck. He pulled a tiny piece of shrapnel out of his pocket. It was paper-thin and about the size of a pinhead. He said:
That’s my souvenir. It landed on top of my hand and didn’t even break the skin.
When I saw it, I just looked at it and said:
Cork Maple, you unfortunate SOB, if it had been anybody else in the company it would have gone clear through his hand and he’d have got the next hospital boat home. But you can be smothered by 88s and they won’t even draw blood on you.
‘88 Club’ all planned
Maple has his after-war career all mapped out. He’s going to open a sort of nightclub in Los Angeles. He will call it the Eighty-Eight. All the drinks will have war names, such as Airburst, Stuks, Bouncing Baby and so on, the booths will be foxholes in the floor, and the place will be full of boobytraps that will go off and scare people.
I oughta be able to get somebody to back it. There’ll still be more suckers left after the war.
It sounds good to me, but if I put it in the paper some patriot will steal your idea and have the club before you get home.
That’s all right. If you put it in the paper, that’ll be a record that it is my idea. Then if somebody steals it, I can sue him. Maybe I’d make more money that way anyhow. Go ahead and put it in.
And as I walked down the hill, Sgt. Cork called after me:
And don’t forget the big headline now! Clear across the front page!
The Pittsburgh Press (May 28, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
One day out on a Tunisian hillside, I sat on a box and got a shave and haircut from a soldier-barber. While I was getting clipped, Carol Johnson, who has been over here doing pen-and-ink battle sketches for NEA Service, came along and snapped my picture.
The last time I had a barbershop picture taken was six years ago, up on the coast of the Bering Sea, when I got shaved by the only woman barber in Alaska. I was sitting on a box that time, too. I don’t seem to make any progress in the world.
The soldier who cut my hair was Pvt. Patrick Fitzgibbons, of 315 West 57th St., New York. He has been barbering for 17 years – on ocean liners, in Hollywood, on Broadway. Pvt. Fitzgibbons calls it cutting hair. He says:
I’ve been cutting hair ever since I was 15. You get used to cutting hair, and you miss it if you can’t do it every day.
When I told Pvt. Fitzgibbons I probably would put his name in the paper, he fussed around and spent an extra half hour on me, putting on after-shaving creams, washing my neck, and going over and over the remnants of my hair with his scissors. I think he would probably have given me a bath if I hadn’t kept an eye on him.
Ernie breaks both record
Speaking of baths, I had my first one in six weeks a few days after the Tunisian campaign was finished. That breaks my five-week record of the winter.
I’ve discovered that I’m a guy who can take baths or leave them alone. Certainly, my unsanitary condition didn’t undermine my health, for I never felt better than during those long dirty periods.
We found out one thing about baths at the front – if you don’t bathe for a long time the fleas don’t bother you. Apparently, you either build up a protective coating that they can’t reach through or else you become too revolting even for fleas. Whatever the reason, I know of rash people who took an occasional bath and were immediately set upon by fleas, while we filthy characters sailed along blissful and unbitten.
Some of the boys did find the cleanup process quite a thrilling experience. Will Lang, of LIFE and TIME Magazines, got a haircut and shampoo one afternoon and then went right back next morning to the same shop and got another shampoo. When I expressed astonishment at this unusual procedure he said, why, that was nothing, he’d seen Bob Capa, the Colliers photographer, sit in a chair and get three shampoos, one right after another, each one with a different flavor of soap.
Army takes Volkswagen away
Will and I came back from the front in a jeep, because the Army up and took my little German Volkswagen away from me. The High Command put out a general order that all captured vehicles were to be turned in, so in she went, even though she had been given to me officially.
Upon hearing of the order my first impulse was to take off the tires and bury them, remove the engine, and put a hand grenade under the front seat, just to show the Army they couldn’t do that to me. But after seeing my lawyer I decided the Army probably could do anything to me it wished, so I bowed gracefully and left the Volkswagen sitting in a plowed field for the Army to collect. I didn’t really care. The damn thing would hardly run anyway.
Everybody’s doin’ it
Our jeep was stolen on the way back, but the MPs picked it up after 12 hours. That was a stroke of luck, for stolen jeeps are usually gone forever. Since they’re all alike, it is very hard for the MPs to identify a particular one. Ours was easy, however, because the glass was gone from the windshield on the right-hand side, and we knew the thieves couldn’t do anything about that, for we’d tried to get it fixed ourselves and there was no glass in that whole area.
Jeep thievery has been practiced on such a scale that it’s practically legitimate, I’ve not yet heard of a jeep being stolen right out from under the driver, leaving him riding along in mid-air, but I’ve heard of cases almost as bad. Some friends of mine were standing on a sidewalk and actually saw their jeep driven away by thieves.
In one city, soldiers stole a jeep with “Military Police” painted all over it. And to top it off, an unthinking private stole Maj. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle’s car.
What are you all stealing at home these days?
The Pittsburgh Press (May 29, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
During the Tunisian campaign I had a chance to visit the 9th Division only once. I didn’t know a soul in this division, and I drove into their shrub-hidden command post with the same feeling of lonely uneasiness one gets in approaching a strange big city for the first time.
But as we piled out of our jeep, one of the MPs came over and pulled one of these columns out of his pocket – one written way back last winter about the about the Military Police. He laughed and said he’d been waiting a long time for me to show up. He said he knew the Military Police were good, but he didn’t think they were quite as good as I made them out.
This particular soldier was Pvt. Walter Wolfson, of 714 W 181st St., New York. He is a coffee merchant by profession, a radio actor by avocation, and a soldier by the trend of events. Wolfson’s family owns a coffee-importing business – the Empire Coffee Mills, at 323 W 42nd St. He had some newspaper pictures of crowds queueing up at their door to buy coffee after rationing started. His mother and brother run the business while he is away. Wolfson’s sergeant says of him:
If he can sell coffee like he can stop autos, he must have had a good business.
Before he went into the Army, Wolfson was on the “Rainbow House” program. He knows a lot of poetry and opera by heart and is always reciting and singing around camp.
Sergeant digs round foxholes
Wolfson’s sergeant is Charles Harrington, a former mill worker from Gary, Indiana. He is another one with pistol grips made from the windshield of a Messerschmitt, and he carries a picture of his wife in each side of his gun handle.
Sgt. Harrington is the only soldier I’ve ever seen who digs round foxholes instead of rectangular ones. He says that’s literally so it will be harder for strafing bullets to get at him, but figuratively so the Devil can’t get him cornered. He says he’s convinced the adage is true that “there are no atheists in foxholes.”
Running onto those two was a pretty good start in breaking into new territory. So, then we went up to the tent where correspondents always check in and find out what’s going on, and who should be there but Maj. Bob Robb, a old friend of mine from the San Francisco Exposition I met him when he was publicizing the big fair. Then on another trap he and I went out together to visit Jack London’s old home, the Valley of the Moon. And on a later visit to San Francisco, he went with me through the wine country while I was writing some columns about the vineyards. And the last time I had seen him was at the Golden Gate a year and a half ago. He was a lieutenant then, in Army Public Relations at the Presidio – and rapidly going nuts, I might add, from the chaos. To escape that treadmill, he asked for overseas duty, and, boy, did he get it! He was right in the thick of things in the latter phase of the Tunisian campaign, and having the time of his life.
Pvt. Wolfson, Sgt. Harrington, and Maj. Robb have one thing in common with every soldier in the Army – they think their division is the best one extant. Being myself a man without a division, I just agree with them all.
A man without an anecdote
Pfc. Joseph Lorenze is one of my infantry friends out of the 1st Division. His home is at 963 Holly St., Inglewood, California. He’s a nice, quiet, friendly fellow who worked in a furniture factory before the war.
We were together during that unforgettable period when our infantry was fighting day and night for the hills west of Mateur. I wanted to put Lorenze’s name in one of my dispatches, but I told him I didn’t like to use names without having some little anecdote to go with them that would be interesting to everybody. So, while the shells commuted incessantly back and forth overhead, Pvt. Lorenze and I sat in our foxholes and thought and thought, and damned if we could think of a thing to say about him, even though he had been through four big battles. So, finally I said:
Well, I’ll put it in anyhow. You live only half a mile from my friend Cavanaugh, so I’ll hook it up with him some way.
You may remember my friend Cavanaugh. He was in France in the last war when he was 16 years old. This time, he is serving his country by writing me funny letters about the home front, to keep up my morale. In the latest one, he says:
This is just getting around to being a fit country to live in. No gas, no tires, no salesmen, no gadgets, and plenty of whisky to last the duration. Money ain’t worth a damn and I’m glad I’ve lived to see the day. Everybody you talk to has a military secret. I have completed my plans for the postwar world, and I find no place in it for you. Good luck with your frail body, my friend, and try to bring it back to Inglewood sometime. And a can of salmon would be nice too.
So someday Pvt. Lorenze and I will take off our shoes and lie in the grass in Cavanaugh’s backyard and tell him all about our narrow escapes on Hill 428, and not even listen when he tries to get in a word about how it was around Verdun and Vimy Ridge.
I couldn’t quite picture what he was describing until I found this.
The Pittsburgh Press (June 1, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
The nicest American camp I’ve ever seen in the fighting area of North Africa is one inhabited by about a hundred men who run the smokescreen department around a big port to help confuse German air-raiders.
I happened upon the thing wholly by accident. Another correspondent and I were driving through country that was strange to us. We came to a town late one afternoon, and were told by a bored billeting clerk that there was no place in town for us to stop and that’s that. So, we just said phooey on you, friend, we haven’t slept under a roof in months anyhow, we carry our own beds with us, and we hate cities to boot.
Whereupon we drove right out of town again and started looking for some spot under a tree where we could camp for the night.
It was during this search that we passed a very neat-looking American camp by the roadside. On an impulse we drove in and asked the first officer we saw if we could just throw our bedrolls down on the ground and stay all night with them.
What do you want to throw them on the ground for?
Well, we don’t want to put you to any trouble, and we’re accustomed…
Nonsense! We’ll make room for you in our cabins. Have you had supper yet?
No, but we’ve got our own rations with us.
Nonsense! Come and eat first, and then we’ll find you a place to stay.
What an outfit!
The officer was Lt. Sam Kesner, of Dallas, Texas. He was wearing coveralls and a field cap and you couldn’t tell him from a private except for his bars. He went to Texas A&M and got his chemical engineering degree and his Army commission both on the same day.
Lt. Kesner’s boss is Capt. J. Paul Todd, of Clinton, South Carolina. He was a schoolteacher before the war. He taught mathematics at Rock Hill, South Carolina, and at Atlanta, Georgia. Their outfit is a part of the Chemical Warfare Service, but instead of dealing out poisonous gases they deal out harmless smoke that covers up everything when raiders come over.
By the nature of their business, they work all night and sleep all day. They take their various stations in little groups in a big semicircle around the city, just before dusk, and stay there on the alert till after daylight. At midnight a truck makes the rounds with sandwiches and hot coffee. Capt. Todd himself also makes a four-hour tour of the little groups each night, ending about 2 a.m.
Their assignment has been permanent enough to justify their fixing up their camp in a homelike way. They have taken old boards from the dock area and built about three dozen small cabins, sort of like tourist-camp cabins back home. They have board floors, board side walls, and canvas roofs.
Cabins have been named
They have built bunks for their bedrolls, hung up mosquito nets, hammered boards together for chairs, made tables, and put little steps and porches in front of their cabin doors. They’ve named their cabins such things as “Iron Mike’s Tavern,” “African Lovers,” “The Village Barn,” “The Opium Den.”
Lt. Kesner has a sign hanging outside his door that says, “Sixty-Five Hundred Miles from Deep in the Heart of Texas.” The heart is drawn instead of spelled out.
Capt. Todd has a wife back home named Marigene and a daughter named Paulagene. He left when his daughter was four weeks old. Now she’s a year and a half. But he keeps himself well reminded of them, for tacked on the wall of his cabin are 34 pictures of his wife and baby. He’s the picture-takingest man I ever ran onto.
The hundred men in this camp are just like a clan. They have all been together a long time and they have almost a family pride in what they’re doing and the machinery they’re doing it with.
One of the boys in the kitchen said he’d read this column in The Cleveland Press for years. He is Cpl. Edward Dudek, of 8322 Vineyard Ave., Cleveland. I asked him what he did before the war besides read this column, and he said he was a chemical worker. The Army clicked long enough to put him into the Chemical Service, but then a cog slipped somewhere and now he’s a cook instead of a chemical worker. But I suppose he can make his own fumes when he gets homesick by spilling a little grease on the stove.
We spent a comfortable night with this outfit and tarried around a couple of hours the next morning, just chatting, because everybody was so friendly. Then, they gassed us up without our even asking, and we finally left feeling that we’d visited the nearest thing to home since hitting Africa.
The Pittsburgh Press (June 2, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
Men and machines have both now passed their shakedown period in this war – at least here in North Africa. Men who weren’t up to their jobs have largely been culled out and given different work. There are still some inept ones in office jobs, but among the line troops the mill of experience has pretty well ground out the weaklings, the freaks, and the misfits.
And it’s the same with machinery and weapons. Some things have proved themselves almost useless. Others have turned out so perfectly that the engineers would have to scratch their heads to think of any change in design.
In the mechanical end of our African war, three American vehicles stand out above all the others. They are the jeep, the GMC two-and-a-half-ton truck, and the Douglas DC-3 cargo plane.
The DC-3, known in the Army as the C-47, is the workingest airplane in existence, I suppose. It lifts incredible loads, and takes terrific beatings from rough fields, hard handling, and overuse. Almost any pilot will tell you it is the best airplane ever built.
The GMC truck does the same thing in its field. It hauls big loads, it is easy to drive and easy-riding, and the truck driver can do practically anything with it up to an outside loop. It seldom gets stuck, and if it does it can winch itself out. The punishment it will take is staggering.
Jeep goes everywhere
And the jeep – good Lord, I don’t think we could continue the war without the jeep. It does everything, goes everywhere. It’s as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule, and as agile as a goat. It consistently carries twice what it was designed for, and still keeps on going. It doesn’t even ride so badly after you get used to it.
I have driven jeeps thousands of miles, and if I were called upon to suggest changes for a new model, I could think of only one or two little things.
One is the handbrake. It’s perfectly useless – won’t hold at all. They should either design one that works or else save metal by having none at all.
And in the field of acoustics, I wish they could somehow fix the jeep so that at certain speeds the singing of those heavy tires wouldn’t sound exactly like an approaching airplane. That little sound effect has caused me to jump out of my skin more than once. Except for those two trivial items the jeep is a divine instrument of wartime locomotion.
Only once in my long and distinguished jeep career have I ever had anything go wrong. That time the gears got all mixed up and the thing wouldn’t come out of low gear. It was while we were still fighting around Mateur.
There’s repair depot
Our road was under heavy German shellfire, so the only thing we could do was to take off cross-country and make a wide circle around the shell-infested area. We drove through shoulder-high barley fields, along foot-wide goat trails, up over hills, down steep banks, across creeks, and over huge rockbeds. Then just as we hit the main road and were out in the free again, this gear thing happened.
We still had 20 miles ahead of us, and there was nothing to do but keep on going in low gear. Luckily, we hadn’t gone more than a mile when we saw a little sign denoting an Armored Force repair depot. We drove in just on a chance, and sure enough they said they could fix the jeep. They not only fixed it but gave us supper while we waited, and were extremely pleasant about the whole thing. That’s better service than you get in the States.
The boss man of this outfit was Lt. George P. Carter, of Louisa, Kentucky. He had intended becoming a doctor, and had just finished his premedical course, but now he’s a doctor of heavy machinery. His gang retrieves tanks and repairs them, and keeps all the mighty rolling equipment of an armored division in order. To them, fixing a jeep is like a boilermaker fixing a watch, but they can do it.
The mechanic who fixed our gears was Sgt. Walter Harrold, of Wadena, Minnesota. Already that day his outfit had been forced to move twice. German artillery had got their range once, and they were dive-bombed another time.
Sgt. Harrold had been working and moving and dodging all day and would have to work some more that night, yet he worked on our jeep with as much interest as though it were his own. You can tell a mechanic at heart even on a battlefield. Or maybe I should say especially on a battlefield.