Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

The Pittsburgh Press (July 28, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean – (by wireless, delayed)
Now it can be told that we had a couple of horrible moments as we went to invade Sicily.

At the time they both looked disastrous for us, but in the end, they turned out with such happy endings that it seemed as though Fate had deliberately waved her wand and plucked us from doom.

The weather was the cause of the first near-tragedy on the morning of the day on which we were to attack Sicily. That night, the weather turned miserable. Dawn came up gray and misty, and the sea began to kick up. Even our fairly big ship was rolling and plunging and the little flat-bottomed landing craft were tossing around like corks.

As the day wore on, it grew progressively worse. By noon, the sea was rough even to professional sailors. By midafternoon, it was breaking clear over our decks. By dusk, it was absolutely mountainous. The wind howled at 40 miles an hour. You could barely stand on deck, and our far-spread convoy was a wallowing, convulsive thing.

High command worried

In the early afternoon the high command aboard our various ships had begun to wrinkle their brows. They were perplexed, vexed and worried. Damn it, here the Mediterranean had been like a millpond for a solid month, and now on this vital day, this storm had to come up out of nowhere! Conceivably it could turn our whole venture into a disaster that would take thousands of lives and prolong the war for months.

High seas and winds like this could cause many things such as:

  1. The bulk of our soldiers would hit the beach weak and indifferent from seasickness, two-thirds of their fighting power destroyed.

  2. Our slowest barges, barely creeping along against the high waves, might miss the last rendezvous and arrive too late with their precious armored equipment.

  3. High waves would make launching the assault craft from the big transports next to impossible. Boats would be smashed, lives lost, and the attack seriously weakened.

There was a time when it seemed that to avoid complete failure the landings would have to be postponed 24 hours and we’d have had to turn around and cruise for an extra day, increasing the chance of being discovered and heavily attacked by the enemy.

I asked our commanders about it. They said, “God knows.” They would like to change the plans, but it was impossible now. We’d have to go through with it, regardless (Later I learned that the Supreme High Command did actually consider postponement).

Many ships in the fleet carried barrage balloons against an air attack. The quick snap of the ship’s deck when it dropped into a trough would tear the high balloon loose from its cable. The freed silver bag would soar up and up until finally in the thin, high air it would burst and disappear from view. One by one we watched the balloons break loose during the afternoon. Scores of them dotted the sky above our convoy. That night, when the last light of day failed, only three balloons were left in the entire fleet.

In the early afternoon we sent a destroyer back through the feet to find out how all the ships were getting along. It came back with the appalling news that 30% of all the soldiers were deathly seasick. One Army officer had been washed overboard from one craft but had been picked up by another about four ships behind.

The little subchasers and the infantry-carrying assault craft would disappear completely as you watched them. Then the next moment they would be carried so high they seemed to leap clear out of the water. By late afternoon, many of the sailors on our vessel were sick. Surely 50% of our troops must have been flat on their backs.

Officers try to joke

During the worst of the blow, we hoped and prayed that the weather would moderate by dusk, but it didn’t. The officers tried to make jokes about it at suppertime. One said:

Think of hitting the beach tonight, seasick as hell, with your stomach upside down, and straight off you come face to face with an Italian with a big garlic breath!

At 10 o’clock, I lay down with my clothes on. There wasn’t anything I could do and the rolling sea was beginning to take nibbles at my stomach, too.

I have never been so depressed in my life. I lay there and let the curse of a too-vivid imagination picture a violent and complete catastrophe for America’s war effort before another sun rose. The wind was howling and the ship was pounding and falling through space.

The next thing I knew a loud voice over the ship’s loudspeaker was saying:

Standby for gunfire. We may have to shoot out some searchlights.

I raised up, startled. The engines were stopped. There seemed to be no wind. The entire ship was quiet as a grave. I grabbed my helmet, ran out onto the deck, and stared over the rail. We were anchored, and you could see dark shapes in the Sicilian hills not far away. We had arrived. The water lapped with a gentle, caressing sound against the sides of the motionless ship.

I looked down and the green surface of the Mediterranean was slick and smooth as a table top. The assault boats were already skimming past us toward the shore. Not a breath of air stirred. The miracle had happened.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 29, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean – (by wireless, delayed)
As long as this ship of ours sails the high seas, even after every member of the present crew has been transferred away, I’m sure the story of the searchlights will linger on in her wardroom and forecastle like a written legend.

It is the story of a few minutes in which the fate of this ship hung upon the whim of the enemy. For some reason which we probably will never know, the command to obliterate us was never given.

Our great, bad moment occurred just as we had ended our long invasion voyage from North Africa and stopped at our designated place off the south coast of Sicily. Our ship was about three and a half miles from shore which in the world of big guns is practically hanging in the cannon muzzle.

Two or three smaller ships were in closer than we, but the bulk of our invasion fleet stood far out to sea behind us. Our admiral had the reputation of always getting up close where he could have a hand in the shooting and he certainly ran true to form throughout the invasion.

We’d been stopped only a minute when big searchlights blinked on from the shore and began to search the waters. Apparently, the watchers ashore had heard some sounds at sea. The lights swept back and forth across the dark water and after a few exploratory sweeps one of them centered dead upon us and stopped. Then, as we held our breaths, the searchlights one by one came down with their beams down upon our ship. They had found their mark.

Just like sitting ducks

All five of them, stretching out over a shoreline of several miles, pinioned us in their white shafts as we sat there as naked as babies and just as scared. I would have been glad to bawl like one if it would have helped, for this searchlight business meant the enemy had us on the block. Not only were we discovered, we were caught in a funnel from which there was no escaping.

We couldn’t possibly move fast enough to run out of those beams. We were within simple and easy gunning distance. We were a sitting duck. We were stuck on the end of five merciless poles of light. We were utterly helpless.

One of the officers said later:

When that fifth searchlight stopped on us, all my children became orphans.

Another one said:

The straw that broke my back was when the anchor went down. The chain made so much noise you could have heard it in Rome.

A third one said:

The fellow standing next to me was breathing so hard I couldn’t hear the anchor go down. Then I realized there wasn’t anybody standing next to me.

We got all set to shoot at the lights, but then we waited. Our admiral decided there was some possibility they couldn’t see us through the slight haze although he was at a loss to explain why all five lights stopped on us if they couldn’t see us.

We had three alternatives – to start shooting and thus compel return fire; to up anchor and run for it; or to sit quiet like a mouse and wait in terror. We did the latter.

Lights blink out

I don’t know how long the five lights were on us. It seemed like hours. It may have been five minutes. At any rate, at the end of some unbelievably long time one of them suddenly blinked out. Then one by one, seemingly erratically and with no purpose in mind, the others went out too. The last one held us a long time as though playing with us. Then it too went out and we were once again in the blessed darkness. Not a shot had been fired.

Assault boats had been speeding past us all the time and a few minutes later they hit the beach. The searchlights flashed on again but from then on, they were busy fanning the beach itself. It didn’t take our attacking troops long to shoot the lights out from close range.

I’m not sure some of them weren’t just turned out and left off for good. We’ve never yet found out for sure why the Italian big guns on the shore didn’t let us have it. Several of us inquired around when we got ashore after daylight. We never found the searchlight men themselves, but from other Italian soldiers and citizens of the town we learned that the people ashore were so damn scared by whatever was about to attack them from out there on the water that they were afraid to start anything.

I guess I’m always going to have to love the Italians, for had anybody else been behind those searchlights and guns that night, we of this ship would be telling our searchlight yarn to St. Peter by now.


The Pittsburgh Press (July 30, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean – (by wireless, delayed)
In invasion parlance, the day you strike\ a new country is called D-Day, and the time you hit the beach is H-hour. In the invasion contingent for which I am a very biased rooter, H-hour was set for 2:45 a.m. on July 10.

That was when the first mass assault on the beach was to begin. Actually, the paratroopers and Rangers were there several hours before. The other two large American forces, which traveled from North Africa in separate units, hit the beaches far down to our right about the same time. You could tell when they landed by the shooting during the first hour or so of the assault.

It seemed to me out on our ship that all hell was breaking loose ashore, but now that I look back upon it from a firmer foundation, actually knowing what had happened, it didn’t seem so very dramatic.

As I’ve said before, most of our special section was fairly easy to take, and our naval guns didn’t send any fireworks ashore until after daylight. The assault troops did all the preliminary work with rifles, grenades and machine guns. Out on ship we could hear the bop, bop, bop of the machine guns, first short bursts, then long ones.

Tennis match in Sicily

I don’t know whether I heard any Italian ones or not. In Tunisia you could always tell the German machine guns because they fired so much faster than ours, but that night all the shooting seemed to be of one tempo, one quality.

Now and then we could see a red tracer bullet arching through the darkness. I remember one that must have ricocheted from a rock, for suddenly it turned and went straight up a long way into the sky. Now and then, there was the quick flash of a hand grenade.

There was no aerial combat during the night and only a few flares shot up from the beach. To be factual, our portion of the night assault on Sicily was far less spectacular than the practice landings I’d seen our troops do back in Algeria.

A more spectacular show was in the sector to our right, some 12 or 15 miles down the beach. There, the 1st Infantry Division was having stiff opposition and their naval escort stood off miles from shore and three steel at the enemy artillery in the hills.

It was the first time I’d ever seen tracer shells used at night and it was fascinating.

From where we sat it was like watching a tennis game played with red balls, except that all the balls went in one direction. You would see a golden flash way off in the darkness. Out of the flash would go shooting a tiny red dot. That was the big shell. It covered the first quarter of the total distance almost instantly. Then it would uncannily begin a much slower speed, as though it had put on a brake.

Shells seemed on wheels

There didn’t seem to be any tapering down between its high and low speeds. It went from high to low instantly. You’d think it would start arching downward in its the slower speed, but instead, it just kept on in an almost flat trajectory as though it were on wheels being propelled along a level road. Finally, after a flight so long you stood unbelieving that the thing could still be in the air, it would disappear in a little flash as it hit something on the shore. Long afterward you’d hear the heavy explosions come rolling across the water.

Our portion of the American assault went best of all. The 1st Division on our right had some bitter opposition and the 45th on beyond them had some rough seas and bad beaches. But with us, everything was just about perfect.

Our Navy can’t be given too much credit for putting the troops ashore the way they did. You can’t realize what a nearly impossible task it is to arrive in the dead of night at exactly the right spot with your convoy, feel your way in through the darkness, pick out the very pinpoint of an utterly strange shoreline which you’d been told long beforehand to hit, and then put your boat safely ashore right there. In our sector every ship hit every beach just right.

He found the white house

They tell me it is the first time in history that it has ever been accomplished. The finest tribute to the Navy’s marksmanship came from one soldier who later told Maj. Gen. Lucian Truscott, his division commander:

Sir, I took my little black dog with me in my arms and I sure was scared standing in that assault boat. Finally, we hit the beach and as we piled out into the water, we were worse scared than ever. Then we waded ashore and looked around. Right ahead of me was a white house just where you said it would be. After that I wasn’t scared.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 31, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean – (by wireless, delayed)
Just before daylight on the morning we landed in Sicily, I lay down for a few minutes’ nap, knowing the pre-dawn lull wouldn’t last long once the sun came up. And sure enough, just as the first faint light was beginning to come, bedlam broke loose for miles all around us. The air was suddenly filled with sound and danger and tension, and the gray-lighted sky became measled with thousands of the dark puffs of ack-ack.

Enemy planes had come to dive-bomb our ships. They got a hot reception from our thousands of guns, and a still hotter one from our own planes, which had anticipated them and were waiting out beyond.

The scene that emerged from the veil of night was a moving one. Our small assault craft were all up and down the beach, unloading and dashing off again. Ships of many sizes moved toward the shore, and others moved back away from it. Still other ships, so many they were uncountable, spread out over the water as far as you could see. The biggest lay far off, waiting their turn to come in. They made a solid wall on the horizon behind us.

Between that wall and the shoreline, the sea writhed with shipping. Through this hodgepodge, and running out at right angles to the beach like a beeline highway through a forest, was a single solid line of shore-bound barges, carrying tanks. They chugged along in Indian file, about 50 yards apart – slowly, yet with such calm relentlessness that you felt it would take some power greater than any we know to divert them.

Italians blast away, miss

The airplanes left, and then other things began to happen. Italian guns opened up on the hills back of the beach. At first the shells dropped on the beach, making yellow clouds of dust as they exploded. Then they started for the ships. They never did hit any of us, but they came so close it made your head swim. They tried one target after another, and one of the targets happened to be us.

The moment the shooting started, we had got quickly underway – not to run off, but to be in motion and consequently harder to hit. They fired at us just once. The shell struck the water 50 yards behind us and threw up a geyser of spray. It made a terrific flat quacking sound as it burst, exactly like a mortar shell exploding on land.

Our ship wasn’t supposed to do much firing, but that was too much for the admiral. He ordered our guns into action, and for the next ten minutes we sounded like Edgewood Arsenal blowing up.

A few preliminary shots gave us our range, and then we started pouring shells into the town and into the gun positions in the hills. The whole vessel shook with every salvo, and scorched wadding came raining down on the deck like cinders.

We traveled at full speed, parallel to the shore and about a mile out, while shooting.

Ships’ shooting thrills Ernie

For the first time, I found out how they do something like this. Two destroyers and our ship were doing the shelling, while all the other ships in close to land were scurrying around to make themselves hard to hit, turning in tight circles, leaving half-moon wakes behind them. The sea actually looked funny with all those semi-circular white wakes splattered over it and everything twisting around in such deliberate confusion.

We sailed at top speed for about three miles, firing several times a minute. For some reason, I was as thrilled with our unusual speed as with the noise of the steel we were pouring out. If you watched closely, you could follow our shells almost as far as the shore, and then pick up the gray smoke puffs after they hit.

At the end of our run, we would turn so quickly that we would heel far over, and then start right back. The two destroyers would do the same. We would meet them about halfway. It was just like three teams of horses plowing a cornfield – back and forth, back and forth – the plows taking alternate rows.

This constant shifting would put us closest to shore on one run, and farthest away a couple of runs later. At times, we were right up on the edge of pale-green water, too shallow to go any closer.

Barges go in under

During all this action I stood on a big steel ammunition box marked “Keep Off,” surrounded by guns on three sides, with a smokestack at my back. It was as safe as anyplace else, it kept me out of the way, and it gave me an $8.80 view of everything.

Finally, the Italian fire dwindled off. Then the two destroyers went in as close to shore as they could get and resumed their methodical runs back and forth. Only this time they weren’t firing. They were belching terrific clouds of black smoke out of their stacks. The smoke wouldn’t seem to settle, and they had to make four runs before the beach was completely hidden. Then, in this blinding screen, our tank-carrying barges and more infantry boats made for the shore.

Before long, you could see the tanks let go at the town. They only had to fire a couple of salvos before the town surrendered.

That was the end of the beach fighting in our sector of the American front. Our biggest job was over.


The Pittsburgh Press (August 2, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless, delayed)
After being ashore all the first day of our Sicilian invasion, I went back to the ship and stayed aboard almost a week before coming ashore more or less permanently.

It was my hope to do a complete picture of the Navy’s part in such actions as this, and the Navy’s part didn’t end the moment it got the assault troops ashore. In the days that followed, our headquarters vessel patrolled back and forth between the American sectors, kept an eye on the shore in case help was needed, directed the fire of other ships, mothered new convoys by wireless, issued orders and advice throughout the area, and from time to time scurried in swift circles when planes appeared in the sky.

For despite the enemy’s obvious air weakness, he did manage to sneak over a few planes several times a day. The day after D-Day, “General Quarters” was sounded 15 times on our ship. Nobody got any rest, day or night. The sailors worked like Trojans.

Out of the way!

When I try to picture our soldiers and sailors in camps back home now, I always visualize – and no doubt wrongly – a draftee who is going through his training like a man, but still reluctantly and without interest. There isn’t a breath of that left over here. Once you are in action that’s all gone. It goes because now you are working. You are working to stay alive, and not because somebody tells you to work.

You should see our sailors when General Quarters sounds. They don’t get to their stations in the manner of schoolkids going in when the bell rings. They get there by charging over things and knocking things down. I have seen them arrive at gun stations with nothing but their drawers on. I’ve seen officers upset their dinner and be clear out of the wardroom by the time the second “beep!” of the alarm signal sounded.

Whenever we had General Quarters, I always just froze wherever I was for about five minutes, to keep from getting bowled over in the rush.

Too busy to be afraid

And the boys on the guns – you would hardly recognize them. Shooting at planes isn’t a duty for them; it’s an outlet. I doubt if they ever watched a ball game or gave a girl the eye with the complete intentness with which they follow a distant plane in the sky. A gun has one blessing in addition to the one of protecting yoi: it occupies you.

Having no vital part to play in moments of extreme danger is one of the worst curses of being a correspondent. Busy people aren’t often afraid.

Bombs fell in our vicinity for several days. The raiders went mostly for the beaches, where the barges were unloading. The number of narrow escapes we had must have been very discouraging to the Axis fliers. The Axis radio said our beaches were littered with the wrecked and burned-out hulks of our landing ships. Actually, in our 14-mile area they hit very few. But we had our tense moments.

Alone – desperate, helpless

The enemy fliers were brave, I’ll have to say that. They would come right in through the thickest hail of fire I have ever seen thrown into the sky.

Dozens of our ships had escapes that were uncanny. Once two bombs hit the water just a good stone’s throw from the stern of our vessel. And late one afternoon a lone Italian – I really believe he must have gone mad, for what he did was desperate and senseless – dove right down into the midst of a hundred ships. He had no bombs, and was only strafing. He went over our fantail so low you could almost have caught him in a net. Everything in the vicinity cut loose on him at once. It was like throwing a bucketful of rice against a spot on the wall. He was simply smothered with steel.

Yet somehow, he pulled out and up to about 1,000 feet, charged at our barrage balloons like an insane bee, and shot two of them down afire. And then at last the bullets we had put into him took effect. He burst all aflame and fell in wide circles until he hit the water. No parachute ever came out.

Enemy quits cold

Air raids at night were far more nerve-racking than the daylight ones. For you can’t see the enemy, you only hear him. You do see the ghostly flares and the sickening bomb flashes, and hear the heavy thunder of it roll across the water.

With us it was always a game of hide and seek. Sometimes we would sit on the water as quiet as a mouse. No one would speak loudly. The engines were silent. You could hear the small waves lapping at our sides. At other times we would start so suddenly that the ship would almost jump out from under us. We would run at full speed and make terrifically sharp turns and churn up an alarmingly bright wake in the phosphorescent water. But we always escaped.

And then after the third day, all of a sudden there was never an enemy plane again. They quit us cold. If they still fought, they fought elsewhere than our front.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 3, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
Our first few days aboard ship after the Sicilian landings were broken by many things besides air raids.

A few wounded soldiers were brought from shore for our doctors to treat before the hospital ships arrived. Important generals came to confer on our ship. We had fresh tomatoes and watermelon at the same meal. We took little trips up and down the coast. Repair parties back from the beaches brought souvenir Fascist banners, and stories of how poor the Sicilians were and how glad they were that the war was over for them. The weather remained perfect. Our waters and beaches were forever changing.

I think it was at daylight on the third morning when we awoke to find the Mediterranean absolutely devoid of ships, except for scattered naval vessels. The vast convoys that brought us over had unloaded to the last one and slipped out during the night. For a few hours the water was empty, the shore seemed lifeless, and all the airplanes had disappeared. You couldn’t believe that we were really at war.

Crawling with ships

And then after lunch you looked out again and here the sea was veritably crawling with new ships – hundreds of them, big and little. Every one was coated at the top with a brown layer like icing on a cake, which turned out when we drew closer to be decks crammed solid with Army vehicles and khaki-clad men.

We kept pouring men and machines into Sicily as though it were a giant hopper. The schedule had all been worked out ahead of time: On D-Day Plus 3, Such-and-such Division would arrive. A few hours later another convoy bringing tanks was due. Ships unloaded and started right back for new cargoes.

The whole thing went so fast that in at least one instance I know of, the Army couldn’t pour its men and equipment into the African embarkation ports as fast as the returning ships arrived.

Unloading these ceaseless convoys in Sicily was a saga. The Navy sent salvage parties of Seabees ashore right behind the assault troops and began reclaiming harbors and fixing up beaches for unloading. The Army worked so smoothly that material never piled up on the beaches but got immediately on its way to the front. The number of vehicles that had to be landed to take care of this was almost beyond conception.

We have stevedoring regiments made up of New York professional stevedores. We have naval captains who in civil life ran worldwide ship-salvaging concerns and made enormous salaries.

Days reduced to hours

We run some ships up to the beaches, we unload others at ports, we empty big freighters by lightering their cargoes to shore in hundreds of assault barges and amphibious trucks. Great ships loaded with tanks have been known to beach and unload in the fantastic time of half an hour.

Big freighters anchored a mile from shore have been emptied into hordes of swarming, clammering small boats in 18 hours, when the same unloading with all modern facilities at a New York pier would take four days.

Convoys arrive, empty, and slip away for another load. Men work like slaves on the beaches. Bosses shout and rush as no construction boss ever did in peacetime. Speed, speed, speed!

You walk gingerly on big steel pontoon piers, and you can’t tell a naval lieutenant commander in coveralls from an Army sergeant in a sun helmet. Sometimes it seems as if half the men of America must be there, all working madly together.

Power of production

And do you realize what it is? It is America’s long-awaited power of production finally rolling into the far places where it must be to end the war.

It sounds trite when it is put into words, but if you could be here and see, you would understand how the might of material can overwhelm everything before it. We saw that in the last days of Tunisia. We are seeing it here. We can picture it in inklings of the enemy collapse that inevitably lies ahead.

The point was that we on the scene know for sure that you can substitute machines for lives and that if we can plague and smother the enemy with an unbearable weight of machinery in these next few months, hundreds of thousands of our young men whose expectancy was small can someday walk again through their own front doors.

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I admire how the US and it’s citizens came together to create the vast means of production to fight and win the war across the globe, I am concerned that given the same challenges will we be able to do it again because “again” will occur again when flawed humans are involved.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 4, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
Fewer than a third of the sailors on our ship were Regular Navy. And most of that third hadn’t been in the Navy many years. Most of our crew were young peacetime landlubbers who became sailors only because of the war and who were longing to get back to civil life.

These “amateurs” made a crew somewhat less efficient than you would have found before the war. They just haven’t had tome to become thoroughly adept. But their officers say they are all terribly willing.

Here are a few sketches of some of the men who made the wheels go ‘round on the ship I was on:

Joe Raymer: He’s an electrician’s mate first class. His home is at 51 South Burgess Ave., Columbus, Ohio. He is married, and has a daughter four years old. Joe was in the Navy from 1924 to 1928, so he knows his way around ships.

He is medium height, a pleasant fellow with a little silver in his hair and a cigar in his mouth. I don’t know why, but sailors smoking cigars have always seemed incongruous to me.

Before the war, Joe was a traveling salesman, and that’s what he intends to go back to. He worked for the Pillsbury flour people – had central-southern Ohio. He was a hot shot and no fooling. The year before he came back to the Navy, he sold more pancake flour than anybody else in America, and won himself a $500 bonus.

Warren Ream: His home is at Paradise, California, and he has worked for several years in the advertising departments of big Los Angeles stores – Bullock’s, Barker Brothers, Robinson’s. He arrived over here just in time to get aboard ship for the invasion. Actually, he thinks he wasn’t supposed to be aboard ship at all, but he was glad he didn’t miss it.

Ream is a storekeeper third class, but that doesn’t mean he keeps store. In fact, he does a little bit of everything from sweeping up to passing shells.

His life is a great contrast with what it used to be. Ream is the kind of fellow you would think would be tortured by the rough life of the Navy. But we were standing at the rail one day and he said:

I wonder what’s happened to the old Navy we used to read about. I remember hearing of skippers who could cuss for forty-five minutes without repeating themselves. But from what I’ve seen, skippers today can’t cuss any better than I can. I’m disappointed.

Harvey Heredeen: He is now a warrant officer, which means he eats in the wardroom and is called “mister.” But a man’s a man by any other name, and Mr. Heredeen looked exactly like what he has always been – a regular old-time chief petty officer. He got orders to return to the States just before we sailed, but you wouldn’t get an old-timer to miss a show like that. He got permission to postpone the homeward trip until after we had made the invasion.

Mr. Heredeen retired from the Navy in 1935 after 17 years of it, 12 of them in submarines. He had met a Memphis schoolteacher so he got married and settled down there in a job at the Linde Air Products Company, making oxygen. He came back two and a half years ago. He is 45 now.

Before long, he will be back in America instructing at submarine school. His nickname is “Spike,” and his home is at 1200 Tanglewood St., Memphis. Back home he was a deacon in the London Avenue Christian Church. He says not to make any wisecracks about his cussing and tobacco-chewing when I write him up. Okay, Deacon.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 5, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
Some more shipboard sketches:

Joe Talbot: He is an aviation ordnanceman first class, and since there is no aviation aboard his ship, he is a round peg in a square hole. Of course, that isn’t his fault.

What he actually does is a little bit of everything, when things were normal, and during battle, he is the head of a crew down in a magazine of big shells. He wears headphones, and upon orders he shoots more ammunition up to the gun batteries above.

Joe is a black-haired, straight-shouldered Southerner from Columbus, Georgia. In civil life, he was a photographer on the Columbus Ledger-Inquirer. The last big story he photographed was Eddie Rickenbacker’s crash near Atlanta. Joe has been married four years. His wife works at Woolworth’s store in Columbus.

This is his second time in the Navy. He was in it from 1931 to 1935, and he has been in two years this time. He has no intention of making it a career. He has one great postwar ambition – he says he’s going to do it in the first six months after he gets out. He’s going to buy a cabin cruiser big enough for four, get another couple, and cruise down the Chattahoochee River to the Gulf of Mexico, then up the Suwannee, making photos of the whole thing in color.

Tom Temple: His full name is Thomas Nicholas Temple. His father deliberately put in the middle name so the initials would make TNT. Tom is only 19. He is tall and thin, very grave and analytical. He talks so slowly you think sometimes he’s going to stop altogether. After the war he wants to go to Harvard and then get into the publishing business. Tom’s mother is a high-school teacher at Far Rockaway, Long Island, and writes on the side. She used to write for Story Magazine under the name Jean Temple.

Tom’s father was wounded in the last war. He is now in the big veterans’ hospital at Albuquerque, only a short way from my home.

Tom says when he first came into the Navy, the sailors’ profanity shocked him, but now it rolls off his back like water off a duck. Tom is a seaman second class. He is very sincere and thoughtful and one of my favorites aboard ship.

Joe Ederer: He is a lieutenant commander and chief engineer of the ship, and he was my part-time host while I was aboard, since I did all my writing in his cabin. Furthermore, I ate his candy, smoked his cigarettes, used his paper, and would have read his mail if I could have found it.

Cdr. Ederer has been at sea for more than a quarter of a century. He is out of the Merchant Service, and he indulges in constant pleasant feuds with his Regular Navy friends.

His home is at 2724 Northeast 35th Place, Portland, Oregon. His wife is used to waiting, so his absence is not as hard on her as it is on many wives. They have a 15-year-old boy upon whom the chief engineer dotes. He has two pictures of his family on his shelves.

Cdr. Ederer is one of the few officers who are genuine salts. He is not exactly a Colin Glencannon, but they have many things in common. The commander spent many years on the Orient run and has a personal hatred for the Japs. He has been with his present ship ever since she was commissioned two years ago, and he hopes this part of the war soon gets over so he can get to the Pacific.

Like all sailors he wants someday to get five acres, preferably in the Oregon woods, build a cabin and have a creek running past his door. If he ever did, he’d probably go nuts.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 6, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
A few more sketches of men on our ship:

Dick Minogue: He has been in the Navy six years and intends to stay. He is a bosun’s mate first class, and may be a chief before long. He comes from White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and aboard ship they call him “Minny.”

It is men like Minogue who form the backbone of the present-day Navy. He is young and intelligent, yet strong and salty enough for any job. He definitely has the sea about him, but it is modern sea. He wears his bosun’s pipe from a cord around his neck, and a white hat cocked way down over one eye. He says the worst moment he ever had in the Navy was while piping a British admiral over the side. Dick had a chew of tobacco in his mouth, and right in the middle of his refrain the whistle got full of tobacco juice and went gurgly.

Arch Fulton: He is an electrician’s mate second class, of 493 E 129th St., Cleveland, Ohio. Before the war, he was a lineman for the Cleveland Illuminating Company. He is married and has two children.

Fulton is 37 – much older than most of the crew. He is a Scotsman. He came to America 20 years ago. His parents are still living at Kilmarnock, Scotland. He has a brother who is a sergeant major in the British Army, and a sister who is a British WREN.

Arch has a short pompadour that slants forward, giving him the effect of standing with his back to the wind. He has a dry Scottish humor, and he takes the Navy in his stride. Back in Cleveland he used to read this column, so you can see he’s a smart man.

Three up, three down

We have 11 Negro boys aboard, all in the stewards’ department. They wait table in the officers’ mess, and run the wardroom pantry that keeps hot coffee going 24 hours a day. They have a separate compartment of their own for quarters, but otherwise they live just as the white sailors do.

They are all quiet, nice boys and a credit to the ship. Three of them are exceedingly tall and three exceedingly short. They all have music in their souls. Sometimes I have to laugh – when the wardroom radio happens to be playing a hot tune during meals, I’ve noticed them grinning to themselves and dancing ever so lightly as they go about their serving.

I haven’t room to give more than a couple of their names. One is George Edward Mallory, of Orange, Virginia. He is 32, and before the war worked as an unloader at a chain grocery store in Orange. He has been in the Navy for a year and has been operated on for appendicitis after arriving in the Mediterranean. He got seasick once but it doesn’t bother him anymore. He is tall, quiet, and serious. He had never waited tables before but he’s an expert now.

He’s little meek and dark

Another one is Fred Moore, who is the littlest, meekest and darkest one on ship. Fred has a tiny mustache that you can’t even see, and a perpetually startled look on his good-natured face. He is very quiet and shy.

His home is in 1910 Tenth Ave., South Birmingham, Alabama. He is just 21 and has been in the Navy only since March. He likes it fine, and thinks he may stay in after the war. Before joining up he did common labor at Army camps and fruit farms.

Fred has a gift. He is a wizard at baking delicate and beautiful pastries. He makes all the pastry desserts for the officers’ mess. He had never done any cooking before joining the Navy, except to fry a few hamburgers at a short-order joint. He can’t explain his knack for pastry baking. It’s just like somebody who can play the piano beautifully without ever taking lessons. The whole ship pays tribute to his little streak of genius.

Fred says he has never been seasick nor very homesick, but during some of our close shaves in action he says he sure was scared.

I appreciate Ernie’s columns but I must admit I found the Three Up Three Down section to be so foreign to our current world particularly when compared to my six years in the US Navy in the late 1970s.


Feel free to elaborate for the TimeGhost forum audience :slight_smile:

Of course, in the late '70s, there was no segregation of races, so there’s one aspect that’s different.

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Ernie is a keen observer of people and his written words particularly regarding military men and women reflect his utmost respect of all people, This is one reason I so enjoy his columns. Interestingly, he often describes many occupations or jobs previously held by military members that have become obsolete or disappeared. Given the lexicon of his time, I found his descriptions of the negro men made them into simpletons who can only serve as stewards. By August 1943, Ernie has observed and written about thousands of military men and women of all ranks and ages in Europe and Africa during countless battles and as a firsthand witness to ravages of war on human beings, yet he does not question that the negros are treated differently as second class citizens. Ernie impresses me as being very perceptive so I wonder if he did see the problem and was not allowed to report on it. Other than reading his columns here, I do not know much about Ernie, Therefore, I wonder if Ernie would have subsequently questioned and written about race relations had he not died in April 1945 on Okinawa.


The Pittsburgh Press (August 7, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
It is an axiom that the closer you get to the front, the less you know about what is going on. During the invasion of Sicily, we would often say that we wished we were back in New York so we could find out how we were doing.

During the first two days, we had no word at all in our sector about the two American sectors to our right. Even though we were within sight and sound of their gunfire we knew nothing about how they were faring. You in America knew, but we didn’t.

Aboard ship, we were better off than the troops on land, for we did get some news by radio. Many of the troops inland didn’t know about the bombing of Rome till nearly a week later.

On our ship, what news we did get came mostly from BBC in London, the German radio in Berlin, and our little daily newspaper assembled from worldwide shortwave broadcasts picked up during the night.

Our skipper, Cdr. Rufus Young, feels that a lack of news is bad for morale, so he did all he could to give the ship’s crew the news. He asked me to edit the daily mimeographed paper, and took one radio operator off his regular watch and just gave him his own time to sit and sample various air channels for news.

Missed only one day

This operator was Frank Donohue, radioman second class, of 139-49 87th Ave., Jamaica, Long Island. He started in as a child with the Commercial Cable Company and has been a radio operator for 18 years, though he is still a young man. He was working for Press Wireless when he joined the Navy a year ago.

He has had so much experience taking down news dispatches that he has a good news sense. He took as much pride in our little paper as I did, and it got so he would sort out the stories by subjects before waking me at 3 a.m. Then while I assembled and rewrote the stuff, he would bring us cups of coffee and cut the stencils for the mimeograph.

It was always daylight when we finished, and I would stop on the bridge to talk for a little while with the men of the early-morning watch. Off Sicily, as everywhere else in the world, dawn is the most perfect part of the day – if you’ve got the nerve to get up and see it.

We did our work in a big steel-walled room where about 30 other radio operators were taking down code messages by typewriter, so it did seem sort of like a newspaper office. Throughout the invasion period we missed getting out our paper only one day. That was on the morning of our landings. Getting up at 3 a.m. every day and not getting any sleep in the daytime almost got me down before it was over, but there was considerable satisfaction in feeling that you were not entirely useless aboard ship.

Here’s that girl again

Such a privilege would doubtless seem fantastic to a German soldier, but we listened every night throughout our invasion to the Berlin broadcasts and to the special propaganda program directed at American troops.

The master of ceremonies on this program is a girl who purports to be an American and who tries to tell the boys that their sweethearts will marry somebody else while they are over here fighting a phony war for the “Jewish” Roosevelt, and that there will be no jobs for them when they get home. The boys listen to her partly to get mad, partly to get a laugh, and partly because the program always has excellent music.

The girl calls herself Midge. The soldiers in North Africa called her Axis Sally, and the boys aboard our ship nicknamed her Olga.

The biggest laugh the boys had had since joining the Navy was the night the traitorous Olga was complaining about something horrible President Roosevelt had done. She said it made her almost ashamed to be an American!

Olga has a come-hither voice, and she speaks straight American. Every night you’d hear the boys conjecturing about what she looked like. Some thought she was probably an old hag with a fat face and peroxide hair, but the majority liked to visualize her as looking as gorgeous as she sounded.

The most frequently expressed opinion heard aboard ship was that if they ever got to Berlin, they’d like first to sock Olga on the chin – and then make love to her.


The Pittsburgh Press (August 9, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
Before closing this series about the Navy, I want to tell you of one member of our ship’s crew who didn’t make the invasion trip with us. She was the ship’s dog, and this is the story of her and her master.

He is a Regular Navy man, a chief petty officer of many years’ service. He is tattooed, wind-burned, a bachelor, and quietly profane. His officers say he is an excellent worker. I’m not giving his name because the story concerns his getting drunk.

It seems that several months ago, some sailors from our ship had picked up a German shepherd puppy. She belonged to the whole crew, but the puppy took to our friend and he took to it, and sort of by acclamation she became recognized as his dog.

The puppy grew into a beautiful dog, smart, alert and sweet. But when hot weather came along, she got the mange. Our friend doctored it with everything he could find, and other sailors helped him with the doctoring, but still the mange got worse. They finally clipped her hair close, so they could get medicine on her skin more thoroughly, but nothing did any good.

When they hit the last port before leaving Africa, my friend told me he went ashore and searched the country for a French or American Army veterinary, but couldn’t find any.

She was buried at sea

When I came aboard ship, this beautiful dog was frisky and alert, but the sailors had given up all hope of curing her. Something had to be done. The others left it up to our friend. Whatever he chose to do had their approval. He told me later that you couldn’t just put her ashore, for she had grown up aboard ship and wouldn’t know how to take care of herself on land.

So, our friend solved it in his own way, the morning after I came aboard. He didn’t ask anybody to help him or tell anybody what he was going to do. He just tied a weight around her neck and let her down into the water. That was her end – in the tradition of the sea.

I heard about it a few hours later, and stopped by the rail to tell our friend I was sorry. He couldn’t talk about it. He just said:

Let’s go below and have a cup of coffee.

A few hours after that, I saw that he had started having something else.

In the midafternoon, I saw one of the ship’s officers talking to him very seriously. It didn’t look too good. Drinking aboard ship just doesn’t go. The next day our friend was called before the mast and given a light suspension of privileges.

At lunch the boys were kidding him about it and he said, well, hell, he wasn’t sore about it, for obviously they had to do something to him.

That evening I happened to be sitting with the officer who had sentenced our friend, and just to make conversation I mentioned that it was sad about the dog being gone. He sat up and said, “What!”

Ernie off to new adventures

I said yes, the dog was gone.

He said, “My God!” And then he said:

He’s one of the best men on the ship, and I knew something was wrong, but I tried for half an hour to get it out of him and he wouldn’t tell me.

The officer sat there looking as though he was sick, and again he said:

So that was it! My God!

By the end of the first week after the Sicilian invasion, there was almost no indication of warfare along our beachfront. Every night the German radio told us we were getting bombed, but actually a stultifying peace had settled over us.

Hour by hour we could feel the ship slide back into her normal ways. The watches were dropped down to “Condition Three,” which is almost the peacetime regime. The ship’s laundry reopened for the first time in weeks. Movies were borrowed and shown after supper. The wearing of white hats became optional once more. The men went swimming over the side, and fished with rod and reel from the forecastle head. The captain had time on his hands and played gin rummy with me when I got worn out with writing. Finally, liberty parties were let ashore for sightseeing.

I knew then that the war, for our little family in this special phase, was over. So, I shouldered my barracks bags and trundled myself ashore in Sicily for good.

These few weeks with the Navy were grand, and I hated to part from the friends I had made. Too, this taste of civilized living had been a strange delight, and yet for some perverse reason I seemed to look forward to going back to the old soldier’s way of sleeping on the ground and not washing before breakfast, and fighting off fleas. Man is a funny creature.


The Pittsburgh Press (August 10, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
Our troops have found Sicily on the whole perhaps a little better than North Africa. Certainly, the people are just as friendly, if not more so. So, this whole thing seems kind of ridiculous, when you sit down and think about it.

Here these people are our enemies. They declared war on us. We had to come clear over here and fight them – and now that we’re here, they look upon us as their friends.

If anything, their attitude is more that of a liberated people than was the case in French North Africa, and they seem to look to us more eagerly for relief from their hunger. In several of the smaller mountain towns, our troops were greeted by signs saying “Welcome,” in English, pasted on the walls of buildings, and American flags were fluttering from windows.

Of course there are some Sicilians who treat us as enemies. There has been some small sabotage, such as cutting our phone wires. But on the whole, the Sicilians certainly are more for us than the Arabs of Africa were.

Sicily is really a beautiful country. Up here in the north it is all mountainous, and all but the most rugged of the mountains are covered with fields or orchards. Right now, everything is dry and burned up, as we so often see our own Midwest in dry summers. They say this is the driest summer in years.

It’s like Garden of Eden

Our ceaseless convoys chew up the gravel roads, and the dust becomes suffocating, but in springtime Sicily must look like the Garden of Eden. The land is wonderfully fertile. Sicilians would not have to be poor and starving if they were capable of organizing and using their land to its fullest.

Driving over Sicily, you have a feeling of far greater antiquity than you get even from looking at the Roman ruins in North Africa. Towns sit right smack on the top of needle-point mountain peaks. They were built that way in the old days for protection. Today, a motorcar can’t even get up to many of them.

The houses are of a cement-colored stone, and they blend into the mountains so that often you can’t see a city at all from a few miles away.

In these mountain towns, the streets are too narrow for vehicles, the passageways are dirty, and the goat and burro are common.

In the very remotest and most ancient town, you’ll find that half the people have relatives in America, and there is always somebody popping up from behind every bush or around every corner who lived for 12 years in Buffalo or 30 years in Chicago.

Yum, yum, watermelons–

Farming is still done in Biblical style. The grain-threshing season is now on, and how do you suppose they do it? Simply by tying three mules together and running them around in a small circle all day long while another fellow keeps throwing grain under their hoofs with a wooden pitchfork.

We hit Sicily in the middle of the fruit and vegetable season. The troops went for fresh tomatoes like sourdoughs going for gold in the Klondike. Tomatoes and watermelons too. I’ve never seen so many watermelons in my life. They are mostly small round ones, and do they taste good to an old watermelon devourer like myself! Also, we eat fresh peaches, grapes, figs and even mulberries.

At first when we hit a new town the people in their gratitude gave away their fruit to the troops. But it didn’t take them long to learn, and soon they were holding out for trades of rations or other Army stuff. The people don’t want money. When we ask them to work for us, they say they will but that we must pay them in merchandise, not money.

The most sought-after thing is shoes. Most of the people are going around in sandals made of old auto tires. I believe you could take two dozen pairs of G.I. shoes and buy half the island of Sicily.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 11, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
Since Sicily was a new country for me, I figured I might as well get sick right away and get it over with. So, on my fifth day ashore, they threw me into an ambulance and off we went hunting for a hospital.

We were looking for a certain clearing station, and we couldn’t find it because it was moving forward while we were moving back, and we passed on different roads. The result was that the determined ambulance boys drove nearly halfway across Sicily before they finally gave up and started back.

We drove a total of 75 agonizing miles over dusty gravel roads, and then found the hospital all set up and ready for business within four miles of where we had started from in the first place.

The clearing station was a small tent hospital, a sort of flag stop for wounded on the way back from the lines. The first regular hospital was about 15 miles to the rear.

The average patient stays in the clearing station only a few hours at most. But once the doctors got a squint at me, they beamed, rubbed their rubber gloves, and cried:

Ah! Here is the medical freak we have been waiting for. We’ll just keep this guy and play with him awhile.

Everything but a hot dog!

So, they put me to bed on a cot, gave me paregoric and bismuth, aspirin and codeine, soup and tomato juice, and finally wound up with morphine and a handful of sulfaguanidine. The only thing I can say on behalf of my treatment is that I am well and hearty again.

My family physician in this case was Capt. Joe Doran, of Iowa City, Iowa. Capt. Doran is a young and enthusiastic doctor who is different from most frontline doctors in that his main interest lies in treating sick soldiers rather than wounded ones. Capt. Doran likes to get at the seat of a man’s ills. In furtherance of this, he has a nice little laboratory set up in one of the tents, complete with microscope and glass tubes. He is always taking specimens from his patients and then peering at them like Dr. Arrowsmith.

Capt. Doran’s germ quest upon me was somewhat agitated by the fact that upon the evening of my arrival, he received a letter saying he had become a father for the second time, about six weeks previously. He was so overjoyed he gave me an extra shot of morphine and I was asleep before I could say “Congratulations!”

They kept me in what is known as a semi-comatose condition for about 24 hours, and then began to get puzzled. At first, they thought I had dysentery, but the little laboratory showed no dysentery. Then they thought I had malaria, so they called in a couple of Italian malaria experts from down the highway. They chatted in English, punched my finger, took blood specimens, and reported back later that I had no malaria.

He had ‘battlefield fever’

By that time, I was getting better anyhow, so they decided that what I had was a nonconforming and just now fairly common illness which they call “battlefield fever.” With this you ache all over and have a very high temperature.

The doctors say it is caused by a combination of too much dust, bad eating, not enough sleep, exhaustion, and the unconscious nerve tension that comes to everybody in a frontline area. You don’t die of battlefield fever, but you think you’re going to.

They put me in a corner of a tent, and in this corner at various times there were three officers with similar fevers. Their illnesses were brief, like mine, and they all left before I did, so their families needn’t worry upon reading that they were ill.

One of my classmates was a redheaded and bespectacled lieutenant named Rahe Chamberlin, from Clarksville, Ohio. Since coming into the Army, Chamberlin has bought a half interest in a grocery store back home. Whenever they would bring us fruit juice in cans, he would take a good gander to see if it was a product his partner was selling.

Another fellow sufferer was Lt. Richard Van Syckle, of Sewaren, New Jersey. He used to be in the automobile business at Perth Amboy. He is married to Clare Raftery, a delicious former Powers model, and he carries magazine-cover pictures of her in his map case.

Major’s claim to fame

The third was Maj. Ellzey Brown of Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Maj. Brown used to be president and general sales manager of the Cleveland Tractor Company. He is a tough outdoor man, and he was so thoroughly disgusted at getting sick that it made him even sicker. He celebrated his 44th birthday just before entering the hospital.

Maj. Brown distinguished himself in our midst by paying a flat hundred dollars to the station’s chaplain for a $14 air mattress. His own gear was lost in the original Sicily landings and, as he says, money meant nothing over here anyhow, so why not pay a hundred dollars for something that will help a little?

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 12, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
All my life I have enjoyed being in hospitals (as soon as the original moaning-and-groaning stage was past), and my recent time at a frontline Army clearing station was no exception.

On the third day I was scared to death that I was well enough to leave. But the doctor looked thoughtful and said he wanted me to stay another day. I would have kissed him if he had been a nurse instead of a man with a mustache and a stethoscope.

That was the only trouble with the hospital – it didn’t have any nurses. In fact, we lacked a number of the usual hospital touches. We were hidden, inevitably, in an olive grove, and our floors were merely the earth. The toilet was a ditch with canvas around it. And if you washed, you did so in your own steel helmet. There were no such things as hospital pajamas or bathrobes. I arrived in my Army coveralls and left in my coveralls, and I never once had them off all the time I was there.

During the day they kept the sides of our tent rolled up, and it was pleasant enough lying there with nothing to do. But at night the tent had to be tightly closed for the blackout, and it became deadly stuffy. And all night long the litter-bearers would be coming and going with new wounded. It made an eerie scene in the dim glow of our single lantern, and sleep was almost impossible.

Doctor humors Ernie

So the last couple of nights we moved our cots outdoors and slept again under the wide starry skies of Sicily, and attendants brought our medicine out there in the dark. German bombers came over but we just lay there. Every morning a chaplain would come around with a big boxful of cigarettes, tooth powder and stuff.

The doctor had me on a liquid diet at first, but I gradually talked him into advancing me to a soft diet and finally to a regular one. That progression from liquid to soft to regular diet was one of the great experiences of my life, for believe it or not, all three diets were exactly the same thing – soup and canned tomato juice.

When I accused the doctor of duping me, he grinned and said:

Well, it comes under the heading of keeping the patient happy by pretending to humor his whims.

Happy! I was hungry! But as you see, I survived, and actually I must say I have never been treated more grandly anywhere than by those doctors and men.

During the time I lay at the clearing station with my own slight aches and pains, hundreds of wounded soldiers passed through on their way back to hospitals in the rear. I was in one of five small tents in which they were deposited on litters while waiting for ambulances, so I lay right among them for four days and nights. It couldn’t help but be a moving and depressing experience, and yet there was something good about it too.

Ward-boys always attentive

The two main impressions I got out of it were (1) the thoughtful and attentive attitude of the doctors and ward-boys toward the wounded men, and (2) the grand spirit of the wounded men themselves. I’ll write tomorrow about the second of these two.

As pitiful as wounded men are, it is easy to become hardened and cross with so many passing through your hands. You could eventually get to look upon them all as just so many nuisances who came deliberately to cause you more work. Yet the ward-boys treated their wounded as though they were members of their own family.

I paid particular attention as I lay there, and no wounded man ever made a request that a ward-boy didn’t go jumping to fulfill.

This was especially true of the ward-masters, who are responsible for whole tents. There were three that impressed me greatly.

One was Cpl. Herman Whitt, of Enid, Oklahoma. Before the war he was a salesman for a biscuit company. He married a beautiful Indian girl back home. Cpl. Whitt is tall, nice-looking, and talked very slowly and softly. He says he feels better about the war, doing this job of caring for the wounded than if he were up there killing people himself.

Our night ward-master was Cpl. Woodrow Cox of Milo, Oklahoma. He too is tall than six feet, and he was a ranch hand back home, yet his voice is almost like a musical instrument, and he talks with that snaillike Oklahoma drawl that is so soothing in times of excitement.

The third was Cpl. Rodney Benton, of 8030 West 5th St., Oklahoma City. You could see the difference between city and country in these boys. Rodney was all git-up-and-git. He talked faster and moved faster than the others. But all three had the same deep conscientiousness in their work and their feeling for the wounded.

Rodney is one of twins, and his identical brother Robert is a corporal in this division’s other clearing station. They are 23. Both had two years of premedical work at the University of Oklahoma, and they intend to be doctors. So you see they were in their glory here. In fact, they almost drove the doctors nuts asking questions all the time.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 13, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
It was flabbergasting to lie among a tentful or wounded soldiers recently and hear them cuss and beg to be sent right back into the fight.

Of course, not all of them do. It depends on the severity of their wounds, and on their individual personalities, just as it would in peacetime. But I will say that at least a third of the moderately wounded men ask if they can’t be returned to duty immediately.

When I took sick, I was with the 45th Division, made up largely of men from Oklahoma and West Texas. You don’t realize how different certain parts of our country are from others until you see their men set off in a frame, as it were, in some strange, faraway place like this.

The men of Oklahoma are drawling and soft-spoken. They are not smart-alecks. Something of the purity of the soil seems to be in them. Even their cussing is simpler and more profound than the torrential obscenities of Eastern city men. An Oklahoman of the plains is straight and direct. He is slow to criticize and hard to anger, but once he is convinced of the wrong of something, brother, watch out.

They’re real fighters too

These wounded me of Oklahoma have got madder about the war than anybody I have seen on this side of the ocean. They weren’t so mad before they got into action, but now!

And these men of the 45th, the newest division over here, have already fought so well they have drawn the high praise of the commanding general of the corps of which the division is a part.

It was these quiet men from the farms, ranches and small towns of Oklahoma who poured through my tent with their wounds. I lay there and listened for what each one would say first.

One fellow, seeing a friend, called out:

I think I’m gonna make her.

Meaning he was going to pull through.

Another said:

Have they got beds in the hospital? Lord, how I want to go to bed.

Another said:

I’m hungry, but I can’t eat anything. I keep getting sick at my stomach.

Another said, as he winced from their probing for a deeply buried piece of shrapnel in his leg:

Go ahead, you’re the doc. I can stand it.

Another said:

I’ll have to write the old lady tonight and tell her she missed out on that $10,000 again.

Another, who was put down beside me, said:

Hi, pop, how you getting along? I call you pop because you’re gray-headed. You don’t mind, do you?

I told him I didn’t care what he called me. He was friendly, but you could tell from his forward attitude that he was not from Oklahoma. When I asked him, it turned out he was from New Jersey.

One big blond Oklahoman had slight flesh wounds in the face and the back of his neck. He had a patch on his upper lip which prevented his moving it, and made him talk in a grave, straight-faced manner that was comical. I’ve never seen anybody so mad in my life. He went from one doctor to another trying to get somebody to sign his card returning him to duty.

Dying men brought in

The doctors explained patiently that if he returned to the front his wounds would get infected and he would be a burden to his company instead of a help. They tried to entice him by telling him there would be nurses back in the hospital. But he said:

To hell with the nurses, I want to get back to fightin’.

Dying men were brought into our tent, men whose death rattle silenced the conversation and made all the rest of us grave.

When a man was almost gone, the surgeons would put a piece of gauze over his face. He could breathe through it but we couldn’t see his face well.

Twice within five minutes chaplains came running. One of these occasions haunted me for hours.

The man was still semi-conscious. The chaplain knelt down beside him and two ward-boys squatted nearby. The chaplain said:

John, I’m going to say a prayer for you.

Somehow this stark announcement hit me like a hammer. He didn’t say, “I’m going to pray for you to get well,” he just said he was going to say a prayer, and it was obvious to me that he meant the final prayer. It was as though he had said:

Brother, you may not know it, but your goose is cooked.

Then he died all alone

He said a short prayer, and the weak, gasping man tried in vain to repeat the words after him. When he had finished, the chaplain added:

John, you’re doing fine, you’re doing fine.

Then he rose and dashed off on some other business, and the ward-boys went about their duties.

The dying man was left utterly alone, just lying there on his litter on the ground, lying in an aisle, because the tent was full. Of course, it couldn’t be otherwise, but the awful aloneness of that man as he went through the last few minutes of his life was what tormented me. I felt like going over and at least holding his hand while he died, but it would have been out of order and I didn’t do it. I wish now I had.


Although no human was with the dying soldier, he was not alone. However, Ernie’s statement that he should have gone to the dying soldier highlights his humanity and compassion. I suspect he became somewhat accustomed to death while on the battlefield and his hospital stay sensitized him to the cost of war.