The Pittsburgh Press (August 2, 1943)
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.