The Pittsburgh Press (August 13, 1943)
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.
Have they got beds in the hospital? Lord, how I want to go to bed.
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.
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.