The Pittsburgh Press (July 23, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
Aboard a U.S. ship of the invasion fleet – (by wireless, delayed)
In the week that we were aboard ship before we set out on the invasion, I naturally was not permitted to send any columns. So, I spent the days reading and gabbing with the sailors.
Every now and then I would run in to take a shower bath, like a child playing with a new toy.
I got to know a great many of the sailors personally and almost all of them by nodding acquaintance. I found them to be just people, and nice people like the soldiers. They are fundamentally friendly. They all want to get home. They are willing to do everything they can to win the war. They all would kind of like to have their names in the paper and deep down they’re all a little afraid.
I did sense one rather subtle difference between sailors and soldiers, although many of the sailors will probably resent it, and that is – the sailors aren’t hardened and toughened as much as the soldiers. It’s understandable.
Lived like animals
The frontline soldier has lived for months like an animal, and is a veteran in the cruel, fierce world of death. Everything has been abnormal and unstable in his life for months. He has been filthy dirty, has eaten if and when, has slept on hard ground without cover.
His clothes have been greasy and he has lived in a constant haze of dust, pestered by flies and the heat, moving constantly, deprived of all the things that once meant stability. Things such as walls, chairs, floors, windows, faucets, shelves, and the greatly important little matter of knowing that you’ll go to bed tonight in the same place you got up this morning.
The frontline soldier has had to harden his inside as well as his outside or he would crack under the strain. Sailors aren’t sissies – either by tradition or by temperament – but they aren’t as rough and tough as the Tunisian soldiers, at least the gang I was with.
Death just as horrible
A ship is a home, and the security of home has kept the sailors more as they were. They don’t cuss as much or as foully as soldiers. They don’t bust loose as riotously when they hit town. They aren’t as all-round hard in outlook.
They’ve not drifted as far from normal life as the soldiers – for they had world news every morning in mimeographed sheets, radios, movies nearly every night, ice cream. Their clothes, their beds are clean. They walk through the same doors, up the same steps every day for months. They sleep every night in the same beds.
Of course, when they die, death for them is just as horrible – and sometimes they die in greater masses than soldiers. But until the enemy comes over the horizon a sailor doesn’t have to fight. A frontline soldier has to fight everything all the time. It makes a difference in a man’s character.
Along this line, a very subtle and I’m sure very temporary change came over the soldiers who came aboard for the invasion. They were no longer the rough-and-tumble warriors I knew on the battlefield. They were quiet, almost meek, aboard ship. From all I can figure they were awed by their sojourn back into the American way.
There was no quarreling aboard between soldiers and sailors, as you might expect. Not even any ridicule or words of the traditional contempt for each other. One night I was talking with a bunch of sailors on the fantail and they spoke thoughts you could never imagine coming from sailors’ mouths.
‘They really take it’
One of them said:
Believe me, after seeing these soldiers aboard, my hat’s off to the Army, the poor bastards. They really take it and they don’t complain about anything. Why, it’s pitiful to see how grateful they are just to have a hard deck to sleep on.
And another one said:
Any little thing we do for them they appreciate. We’ve got more than they have and, boy, I’d go three miles out of my way to share something with a soldier.
A third said:
Yes, they live like dogs and they’re the ones that have to take those beaches, too. A few of us will get killed, but a hell of a lot of them will.
And a fourth said:
Since hearing some of their stories, I’ve been down on my knees every night thanking God I was smart enough to enlist in the Navy. And they’re so decent about everything. They don’t even seem to resent all the things we have that they don’t.
The sailors were dead serious. It almost brought a lump to my throat to hear them talk.
You folks back home know how I feel about the infantry. I’m a rabid one-man movement bent on tracking down and stamping out everybody in the world who doesn’t fully appreciate the common frontline soldier. Now that even the sailors are on my side, you’d better watch out.