Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

Ernie often describes the gambling by soldiers but was it really that rampant or is it the type of units he was observing? Maybe it’s a generational thing.


The Pittsburgh Press (December 21, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
Every morning a medical-aid man makes the rounds on all the gun pits in our battery. He carries a little satchel of bandages and has some instruments hooked to his belt. When he arrived at our pit one day, he said:

Any sick, lame or lazy in this crew today?

Nobody was sick but they all admitted to being lazy.

The only business the medic could drum up was to dole out some cotton for their ears and to paint the cracked fingers of one boy. He carefully spread the vivid purple ointment around the cracked cuticle, and then with a big grin proceeded to pain the entire nail on all 10 fingers, as though he were a manicurist.

Despite the dampness the boys’ fingers are cracking open from the dirt and from washing always in cold water. One of the crew said his fingers had hurt so the night before that he couldn’t sleep.

The medic, incidentally, eats razor blades. He is a farmer from Statesville, North Carolina, named Pvt. Clarence C. Upright. He says for $25 he’ll eat a double-edged razor blade, wash it down with a glass of water, and let you examine his mouth afterwards.

He says he used to do it for less, but since the Italians have raised the price on everything, he decided he would also. He tried to get me to buy a performance, but I told him I’d wait till I got home again and see it in a carnival for two bits.

War, friend, is silly

One night about eight of our crew were lying or kneeling around a blanket in a big tent playing poker by the light of two candles. Our battery wasn’t firing, but the valley and the mountains all around us were full of the dreadful noise of cannon.

There was a lull in the talk among the players, and then out of the clear sky, one of the boys, almost as though taking in his sleep, said:

World war, my friends, is a silly business. War is the craziest thing I ever heard of.

And another one said also, mainly to himself:

I wish there wasn’t so blankety blank war no more at all.

Then complete silence, as though nobody had heard. And when words were spoken it was something about the game and no one talked about war. Weird little snatches like that stand out in your mind for a long time.

We were sitting in the gun pit one dark morning when word came over the field telephone that a delegation of Russian officers might be around that day on an inspection trip. Whereupon one of the cannoneers said:

Boys, if they show up in a fighting mood I’m taking out of here. They’re fighters.

And another one said:

If Uncle Sam ever told me to fight the Russians, I’d just put down my gun and go home. I never could fight people who have done what they have.

Those poor war workers

The powder charges for our guns come in white sacks about the size of two-pound sugar sacks. Three of them tied together make one charge, and that is the way they arrive in their cases. The type and number of each charge are printed on the bag.

One day the sergeant in calling out his instructions asked for a charge of a certain size. When the powderman brought it, it was only half as big as it should be.

The whole crew gathered around and studied it. They read the printing, and there it was in black and white just as it should be, and yet it was obviously a short charge. So, the boys just threw it aside and got another, and that started a long run of conversation and wisecracks along this line:

They’d say:

Some defense worker who had to work on Sunday made that one. He was just too tired to fill it up, the poor fellow.

If we’d shot that little one the shell would have landed on the battery just ahead.

Guess somebody had worked eight hours already that day and made 20 or 30 dollars for it and had to work overtime at time-and-a-half and was just worn out.

Or somebody who had to drive all of three or four miles after work to a cocktail bar and he was in too big a hurry to finish this one. It sure is tough on the poor defense workers.

The boys were more taken with their own humor than by any bitterness. It’s as “Peewee” Graham says:

You can’t stand around all day with your trap hanging open, so you got to talk about something. And practically anything new for a subject is mighty welcome.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 22, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
Late one dark night we were all in the gun pit on a firing mission, and during one of those startling silences that sometimes come in the midst of bedlam, you could hear ever so faintly a few lovely, gentle strains of music.

One of the cannoneers said:

Hey, listen! That’s music! It can’t be we’re all going crazy.

And another one said:

Sure, it’s music. Don’t you know – it’s one of those musical shells the Germans send over one in a while.

None of us really believed we had heard music, but a little nosing around next morning disclosed that an anti-aircraft gun crew high up the hillside had a portable radio and we had heard it playing.

One night in the tent a soldier brought out a box from home and passed around some pecans that had been sent from his own farm.

He said:

Just think. Three years ago, I had my hands on the very trees these nuts came from.

Another one said:

If you’re lucky, you can have your hands on them again in another three years – maybe.

That’s the way conversation at the front goes all the time. Ten minutes hardly ever go by without some nostalgic reference to home, how long you’ve been away, how long before you get back, what you’ll do first when you hit the states, what your chances are for returning before the war is over.

Round peg in square hole

In one gun crew I ran onto there is a cannoneer who used to be a photographer for Harris & Ewing in Washington, back in the days when I worked in Washington. He is Pvt. Francis J. Hoffman. He has just been in the Army since March, and overseas only two months. He is a perfect example of the queer things the Army can do.

Hoffman had 18 years’ experience as a photographer, yet they listed him as a cook at first and then changed their minds and made him a cannoneer. He doesn’t think he’s a very good cannoneer, but if they want him to be a round peg in a square hole, he’ll do the best he can at it.

If you wanted to be romantic you could drum up in your imagination as artillery crew absolutely falling in love with its gun. You could imagine a gunner who wouldn’t sleep anywhere but in the gun pit.

I think I’ve seen it that way in the movies, and of course it has undoubtedly happened, but I don’t think very often. Certainly not with my crew.

One of our boys said one day during a lull:

That damn gun is driving me crazy.

And another one said:

I even dream about the damn thing at night.

At least half of the gun crews, I’d say, would like to get transferred to some other kind of work in the battery, such as cooking, running the switchboard, or driving.

Pfc. Frank Helms from Newburg, West Virginia, is one of the more articulate members of our crew. He is 28 and married and has a two-year-old baby at home. He is a coalminer.

Has ideas on everything

Frank has ideas on everything, and comment to make. He calls this Italian campaign a “mudaneering” campaign. He carries a four-leaf clover inside the plastic disk about the size of a watch. Somebody from home sent it to him.

Frank thinks the government ought to take over the coalmines and end the strike trouble. He says he’d like working in a government-operated mine.

He says he has the damnedest quirk – he doesn’t smoke a great deal, but the moment the crew is called to the guns and gets just about ready to put the shell in he goes crazy for a cigarette. It is all right to smoke in the gun pit, and everybody does, but when that urge hits him, he can’t always take time to light one right away.

Helms is one of the boys who say the gun is driving them crazy, but if that’s true he’s mighty good-natured about it.

The one who dreams about the gun is Pfc. Raymond Wilson of 29 E General Robinson St., North Side, Pittsburgh. He is the No. 1 cannoneer, the one who closes the breech and pulls the lanyard. He is about the only one of the crew who doesn’t play poker. He says he’d rather waste his money some other way. He is only 20.

It’s an odd thing about the both these boys hating the gun, for they seem to be almost the two most conscientious ones in the crew.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 23, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
Our artillerymen in the frontlines don’t try to keep themselves looking very pretty. As they say:

There ain’t nobody going to see you that amounts to a damn unless the colonel should happen to come around.

Their clothes are muddy and greasy and often torn. Some of them wear coveralls, but most of them wear regular o.d. pants, jackets and leggings.

It’s funny to see them when they’re routed out just before dawn on a firing mission. They jerk on their shoes and wade through the mud to their guns. Naturally they don’t take time to put on their leggings. Then when it gets light and the firing mission is over, they sit around scraping the mud off their shoes and putting on their leggings.

It is a very strict military regulation in the combat zones that everybody must wear leggings, but the average soldier, just like myself, is careless about it. Along this line, one of the boys said the worst trouble they had was with new officers.

He said:

One morning we were firing and one of them asked over the telephone if we had our leggings on. It made me so mad that I just called the gun out of commission while we all sat down and put on our leggings.

Baths are few

The artillerymen are also indifferent about wearing their corporal’s and sergeant’s stripes. Everybody knows everybody else in the battery so it seems a waste of time to put stripes on your ordinary work clothes.

One day while I was with them, an order came around that everybody had to get his stripes on, so all that day during the lulls, the men would be sitting around on piles of shells or water cans sewing at their shirts and jackets like a bunch of old women.

The men don’t get a chance to take a bath very often. Once in a while, the Army gets some portable showers set up in the woods a few miles away and the gunners can go a few at a time in a truck and get a bath. But most of them haven’t had a bath in more than two months now.

The other night, the battery commander, Capt. Robert Perrin of Union, South Carolina, got to arguing with one of his officers, Lt. Heath Stewart of Columbia, South Carolina, about how the home front should be conducted.

What of civilization?

Lt. Stewart said he thought labor should be drafted for the defense plants and Capt. Perrin said:

Why, that’s just what we’re fighting for, the freedom not to be drafted for labor. That’s slavery the way Germany does it. If you feel that way about it, there’s no use fighting at all.

He saw he had Lt. Stewart whipped, so then they changed to the subject of civilization.

Capt. Perrin said:

I don’t know whether we’ve advanced so much or not. Take baths, for instance. We think we’re civilized because we take so many baths at home. Well, I’ve just had my first bath today in two months and I can’t see a bit of difference in the way I feel.

Next day all the argument was relayed, as such things usually are, down to the gun pit, and the soldiers themselves got into the same discussion.

Soldiers divided 50-50

They were divided about 50-50 on whether we should draft labor or not. On the bathing question, I think they must agree with the captain, because I noticed that when the call came for the men to go on the truck to take showers nobody went.

Then I told them about my bath experience back in America. For months I had dreamed about how wonderful it would be to take a hot bath every day in a real bathtub in a warm bathroom. Yet when I got there, I found myself almost allergic to baths. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I don’t think I averaged more than one bath a week all the time I was home.

Pvt. Frank Helms said:

Taking baths is just a habit. If our mothers hadn’t started giving us baths when we were babies, we would never have known the difference.

So maybe what we’re fighting for is the right to be as dirty as we please. It suits me.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 24, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
Some of you may remember my writing in the fall of 1942, from England, about the Tennessee twins Arlie and Charlie Pass.

Well, they’re in Italy, still going strong, both still driving for colonels, both still looking exactly alike. But one very special thing has happened: Arlie captured himself a German prisoner.

It seems Arlie was driving a couple of colonels up in the frontlines one day when they came to a 20mm gun sitting in the middle of the road, and beyond it was a bridge which was obviously mined.

So, the officers left Arlie in the jeep while they went ahead on foot. While they were gone, a German soldier came out of the nearby woods with his hands up. Arlie just pointed his gun at him and kept it pointed till the officers got back.

Ordinarily Charlie might be expected to feel bad about this extraordinary distinction that has come to Arlie, but I don’t think he need worry, since practically nobody can tell the boys apart. At least half of the people they meet will think Charlie was the one who captured the German. Charlie’s cue is just to keep his mouth shut and blush modestly at the proper time.

Souvenir expeditionary force

The commanding officer of this artillery regiment did what seems to me a pretty smart thing. Since most of the boys can’t get to a city to buy souvenirs, he had a Special Service officer go to Capri and buy souvenirs for anybody who wanted them.

Lt. Don H. Poston of Logan, Ohio, who used to be a theater manager in Columbus, is the Special Service officer. He was helped out by Pvt. Joe Pacucci of South Philadelphia. He lived for seven years in Naples and didn’t go to America until he was 20, so he knows all the ins and outs over here.

They made two trips to Capri, and they spent more than $3,000. They bought 700 ladies’ cigarette boxes, 500 cameo brooches, nearly 100 vivid little paintings on wood, and scores of rings, bracelets, necklaces and other gadgets. These will be wrapped individually and shipped home at the direction of the individual soldier.

Prices went up more than 100% between their first and second trips. This was partly due to inflation induced by the American soldiers’ willingness to pay practically any amount for practically anything.

As one of our gun crew remarked:

The Germans fight for glory, their cities, and their homes, and the Americans fight for souvenirs.

Lottery going strong

This regiment right now has a lottery on. The grand prize is one bottle of Coca-Cola.

It seems that a few weeks ago Sgt. Woodrow Daniel of Jacksonville, Florida, got a bottle of coke in a package from home. He toyed with the bottle a while and then decided he had a better idea than the obvious one of drinking it. He’d rattle it off and give the proceeds to some worthy cause. So, he started selling chances at two bits apiece.

From there on the thing got big. They decided to adopt an orphan with the money; the orphan to be called the child of some man in this regiment killed in combat. The recipient hasn’t been picked yet, but the money is still rolling in.

The receipts have already passed $1,000. Some soldiers are giving as high as $10 for a two-bit chance, and practically everybody throws in more than the necessary quarter.

The raffle comes off Jan. 1, and the boys hope the Coca-Cola Company will match whatever amount they raise over here. I have no doubt it will. You’ll probably be hearing about it in January.

In the meantime, I tried to find out what they had done with the one bottle of coke. All I could gather was that it’s a military secret.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 27, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
Shells and big guns cost money, but it’s better to spend money than lives.

Along that line, a bunch of us were sitting around conjecturing, the other day, on how much it costs to kill one German with our artillery.

When you count the great cost of the big modern guns, training the men, all the shipping to get everything over here, and the shells at $50 each, it surely would cost $25,000 for every German we kill with our shelling.

One fellow said:

Why wouldn’t it be better just to offer the Germans $25,000 apiece to surrender, and save all the in-between process and the killing? I bet they’d accept it too.

It’s a novel theory, but personally I bet they wouldn’t.

One forenoon a nice-looking soldier walked up and sat down on the earthen bench behind our gun pit. He was Cpl. Bubble Perritt of Peedee, South Carolina, and his jib is stringing telephone wires.

He ‘ain’t fard a gun’

The other boys were kidding him about having a soft job and he was saying he walked more in one day then they did in a month. Finally, he said in a soft Southern accent.

Say, I’ve been in the Army three years and ain’t fard a gun yet.

Sgt. Jack McCray said:

All right, come on. You can shoot the next one.

So, Bubble came over, pulled the lanyard, and sent the big shell on its way. He dusted off his hands and said, surprised-like:

Ho, I always thought you boys had something to do.

They chased him out of the gun pit.

When the battery moves, each gun is pulled by a huge Diamond-T truck. It’s no picnic moving these guns over the mountains and through deep mud. On a recent move, our gun turned over twice in one night when it skidded off the road.

When they arrive at a new position, the whole crew turn to with shovels and dig a pit for the gun and bring up logs to keep the gun from kicking itself out of position. I imagined it would take hours to lay in the gun mathematically, get it all braced and everything, but the boys say that on extreme occasions they can fire in eight minutes after reaching a new position.

Among those present

There are several of my gun crew whose names I haven’t had a chancer to mention, so I’ll put them down in order that their folks may know how they are living and that they are all right. The remainder of the crew are Cpl. James Smith of Dogwood, Tennessee; Pvt. Roy Christmas and Pvt. Oscar Smith of Marion, South Carolina; Pvt. Wayne Hedden of Hawarden, Iowa; Pvt. John Borrego and Pvt. Charles Hook of St. Joseph, Missouri.

Ordinarily powdered eggs are fairly hard to get. I think the worst I ever ate were those in England, and the best were the work of Mess Sgt. Clifton Rogers of Mullins, South Carolina, who cooks for our artillery battery. Sgt. Rogers cooks with imagination. Here’s his recipe for powdered eggs for approximately 100 men:

He takes two one-gallon cans of egg powder, pours in 16 cans of condensed milk and four quarts of water, mixes it up into a batter, then dips it out with a ladle and fries it in bacon grease.

The result looks like a small yellow pancake. It’s frizzled and done around the edges like a well-fried egg, and although it tastes only vaguely like an egg it still tastes good. And that’s all that counts.

Speaking of powdered eggs and all the other forms of dehydrated stuff we get, one of the soldiers said the other day we were now sending over dehydrated water from America.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 28, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
The little towns of Italy that have been in the path of this war from Salerno northward are nothing more than great rubble heaps. There is hardly enough left of most of them to form a framework for rebuilding.

When the Germans occupied the towns, we rained artillery on them for days and weeks at a time. Then after we captured a town, the Germans would shell it heavily. They got it from both sides.

Along the road for 20 or 30 miles behind the fighting front, you pass through one demolished town after another. Most of the inhabitants take to the hills after the first shelling. Some got to live in caves, some go to relatives in the country. A few in every town refuse to leave no matter what happens, and many of them have been killed.

A countryside is harder to disfigure than a town. You have to look closely and study in detail, to find the carnage wrought upon the green fields and the rocky hillside. It is there, but it is temporary – like a skinned finger – and time and the rains will heal it. Another year and the countryside will cover its own scars.

Land in the wake of war

If you wander on foot and look closely, you will see the signs – the limb of an olive tree broken off, six swollen dead horses in the corner of a field, a straw stack burned down, a chestnut tree blown clear out with its roots by a German bomb, little gray patches of powder burns on the hillside, snatches of broken and abandoned rifles and grenades on the bushes, grain fields patterned with a million crisscrossing ruts from the great trucks crawling frame-deep through the mud, empty gun pits, and countless foxholes and rubbish-heap stacks of empty C-ration cans and now and then a lone grave.

The apple season is on now, and in the cities and those towns that still exist, there are hundreds of little curbside stands selling apples, oranges, and hazelnuts. The apples are to us here what the tangerines were in North Africa a year ago, and the tomatoes and grapes in Sicily last summer.

I haven’t been in Italy long enough really to know much about the people, but I do know that the average soldier likes Italy a great deal better than he did Africa. As one soldier said:

They seem more civilized.

Our soldiers are a little contemptuous of the Italians and don’t fully trust them, and yet with the typical American tenderheartedness they feel sorry for them, and little by little they are becoming sort of fond of them. They seem to us a pathetic people, not very strong in character, but fundamentally kindhearted and friendly.

Some opinions on Italians

A lot of our Italian-American soldiers are taking to the land of their fathers like ducks to water, but not all of them. The other night I was riding in a jeep with an officer and an enlisted man of Italian extraction, both from New York. The officer was talking about the plentitude of girls in Naples, and he said most of the soldiers there had girls.

The driver said:

Not me. I won’t have anything to do with them. The minute they find out I speak Italian, they start giving me a sob story about how poor and starved they are and why don’t the Americans feed them faster.

I look at it this way – they’ve been poor for a long time and it wasn’t us that made them poor. They started this war and they’ve killed plenty of our soldiers. And now that they’re whipped, they expect us to take care of them. That kind of talk gives me a pain. I tell them to go to hell. I don’t like them.

But our average soldier can’t seem to hold an animosity very long. And you can’t help liking a lot of the Italians. For instance, when I pull back to write for a few days, I stay in a bare, cold room of a huge empty house out in the country. My roommates are Reynolds Packard of the United Press and Clark Lee of the International News Service.

We have an Italian boy 24 years old who takes care of the room. I don’t know whether the Army hired him or whether he just walked in and went to work. At any rate, he’s there all day and he can’t do enough for us. He sweeps the room six times and mops it twice every day.

He boards up blown-out windows, does our washing, and even picks up the scraps of wood and builds a little fire to take the chill off. When he runs out of anything to do, he just sits around, always in sight awaiting our pleasure.

His name is Angelo. He smiles every time you look at him. We talk to each other all the time without knowing what we’re saying. He admires my two-fingered speed on the typewriter. He comes and looks over my shoulder while I’m writing, which drives me crazy, but he’s so eager and kind I can’t tell him to go away. It’s hard to hate a guy like that.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 29, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
On the way back from the front the other day I stopped in an evacuation tent hospital to see Dick Tregaskis, the war correspondent for International News Service, who was so badly wounded a few weeks ago.

Dick got a shell fragment through his helmet and it ripped his skull open. He is alive at all only by a seeming miracle. Even after he was wounded, other shells exploded within arm’s length of him, yet he escaped further injury.

He still has his battered steel helmet. It has a gash two inches long in the front and a smaller one at the left rear where the fragment came out. The blow knocked off his glasses but didn’t break them.

Even with such a ghastly wound, Dick walked half a mile down the mountain by himself until he found help. Late that night he arrived at the hospital, was put to sleep on morphine, and Maj. William Pitts performed the brain operation.

It was Maj. Pitts’ fourth head operation that night. He took more than a dozen pieces of bone and steel out of Dick’s brain, along with some of the brain itself. He and the other doctors are proud of pulling Dick through – as well they might be.

At first, Dick had little use of his right arm, he couldn’t read his letters, and he couldn’t write. Also, he couldn’t control his speech. He would try to say something like “boat” and a completely different yet related word like “water” would come out.

But his progress has been rapid. During my visits he made only a couple of small mistakes such as saying “flavor” when he meant “favorite.” But he always keeps trying until the word he wants comes forth.

He works at recovery

The doctors say he is a marvel. While other patients usually lie and wait for time to do the healing, Dick works at it. He constantly uses his arm to get it back into action, and he reads and talks as much as he can, making his mind practice.

While I was visiting him the second time, a corporal in the Medical Corps came in with a copy of Guadalcanal Diary, which Dick wrote, and asked if he would autograph it. Dick said he’d be glad to except he wasn’t sure he could sign his name.

He worked at it several minutes, and when he got through, he said:

Why, that looks better than the way I used to sign it.

And after the boy left, he said:

I always like to be asked to sign a book. It makes me feel important.

Dick Tregaskis is a quiet and scholarly type of newspaperman. His personal gear is in the same room I’m living in back at the base camp, and I notice his books are the Shakespeare type. He wears tortoise-shell glasses and talks slowly and with distinctive words. He is genuine and modest.

His manner belies the spirit that must drive him, because he has by choice seen a staggering amount of war. He has been through four invasion assaults in the Pacific and the Mediterranean. He wrote the famous Guadalcanal Diary, which sold half a million copies in America and has been made into a movie. He is a very thoughtful person and was as eager to know about my book as if it had been his own.

Mark Clark looks up

Dick is married and his home is in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He is the tallest correspondent over here, being 6’5”. Gen. Mark Clark, who is 6’2”, always says he’s glad to see Tregaskis because he’s one of the few men he can look up to.

One of the surgeons laughingly remarked that if Dick had been short like me, he might never have been wounded, but Dick said no, that where they were that day, with no cover anywhere, even “the tallest midget in the world would have got it.” He meant the shortest midget, but we understood.

Dick wears a size 14 shoe and once had to travel all the way from Guadalcanal to New Caledonia to find a new pair. He is strong and muscular but really thin, and his health is not too rugged. The last thing he did before going to sleep with morphine the night he was wounded was to warn the doctors against using any drugs that would stimulate his diabetes.

The hospital where he spent the first three weeks was only a few miles behind the lines. It was swathed in mud, and Dick lay on a cot in the middle of a dirt-floored ward tent crammed with other patients.

A few days ago, they moved him to a general hospital farther in the rear, and in a short time the Army will send him back to America for final recuperation. They’ve now taken a big patch of skin off his leg and grafted it onto his head to cover the wound. They predict he will be ready for the front again within six months.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 30, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
As far as we can observe, the Italian people have more to eat, and more goods, than the French did when we hit North Africa.

There is more in the shops to buy, and the better-off people seem to have a greater variety of food. Of course, the poorest people of both countries are pretty close to starvation, but that’s not a new experience for them.

The first American troops to hit Naples could buy fine watches and sweaters and carpenter’s tools and real silk stockings – I know of one officer who bought 50 pairs for $1.50 a pair. Good liquor is now almost exhausted and there is considerable bootlegging of very dangerous booze in the cities. But as time goes on, other types of merchandise come out of hiding and go on sale.

It seems the Italians hid a great deal of stuff while the Germans were here. Not that the Germans would steal it, but the German Army regulates prices strictly and the German price standard was below what the Italians wanted. So, they waited until we came.

Strange things in strange places

They say the Germans didn’t go in much for buying souvenirs and jewelry, as we do, but instead bought clothing and food to send home to their families.

Out of their fear of the Germans, these people hid strange things in strange places. The other day I talked with a soldier who said he had helped clean out the sewing machine an Italian family had buried in the bottom of the manure pile in their barnyard.

Some of our frontline troops, for the first time in many months, are not getting enough cigarettes.

In the middle and latter days of Tunisia we were issued up to five or seven packs a week. One outfit I’ve been with recently said that since hitting Italy they’ve been averaging only 3½ packs per man per week. Another unit not five miles away was getting more than a carton a week. Nobody seems to know the reason for it.

And speaking of cigarettes, the boys wonder why after all these months they must still be cursed with those three obscure brands that nobody likes. Washington could do several million soldiers a favor by either cutting them out entirely or else explaining why they have to be in.

One night before coming to the front I went to a USO show in one of the rest areas and was put in the bald-headed row up front, sitting next to a two-star general.

As part of the program, a girl came out and sang “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” The applause was scattered, and you could tell the tune was not too familiar.

The general turned and said:

That’s a new one on me; I never heard that before.

‘You’re a fortunate man’

To which I replied:

You’re a fortunate man. I never heard it either until I went home last fall, and then I had to listen to it 30 times a day. It was coming out of trees and water faucets. Even my dog was howling it at night.

So, you see there’s one advantage in being overseas and out of touch with things.

One night recently when I was with the artillery, we were rotted out of our blankets an hour before dawn to out down a barrage preceding an infantry attack.

Every battery for miles around was firing. Batteries were dug in close together and you could get the blasts and concussions from other guns as well as your own. Every gun threw up a fiendish flame when it went off, and the black night was pierced like a sieve with the flashes of hundreds of big guns.

Standing there in the midst of it all, it seemed the most violent and terrifying thing I’d ever been through. Just being on the sending end of it was staggering. I don’t know how human sanity could survive the receiving end.

When it was all over and daylight came with a calm and unnatural quiet, a rainbow formed over the mountain ahead of us. It stood out spectacularly against the moist green hillsides and drifting whitish-gray clouds. One end of it was anchored on the mountain slope on our side of the valley, while the other disappeared behind a hill on the German side.

And, as we watched, that latter end of the rainbow became gradually framed by a rising plume of white smoke – set by the shells we had just sent over. The smoke didn’t obscure the rainbow. Rather it seemed to rise enfoldingly around it, like honeysuckle climbing a porch column.

Men newly dead lay at the foot of that smoke. We couldn’t help thinking what a strange pot of gold such a beautiful window was pointing to.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 31, 1943)


The Pittsburgh Press (January 3, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
The cannoneers of an artillery battery lead a life that is deadly with monotony and devoid of any comfort or diversity or hope of diversity.

Ordinarily, they are firing only a small part of any one day. The rest of the time they either play poker, do their washing, sew buttons, write letter on their knees, or just sit around doing absolutely nothing and talking the same kind of small talk day after day after day.

If they had a comfortable place to loaf in, it wouldn’t be so bad, but there’s never anything but a water can or a sandbag to sit on, and a little straw on the ground to lie on. There’s no place to put anything, and the cramped confines of your pup tent are your castle.

And yet the average cannoneer that I was with was in good spirits and seemingly resigned without bitterness to going on and on that way indefinitely.

The regiment recently began a rotation system of letting a few men in each battery off on leave to go to Naples for five days. Naples is a nice city and the boys can get a bath and a good bed, go sightseeing, drink some wine, and maybe even have a date.

Little Cpl. Peewee Graham recently got back from Naples and he still has to undergo constant kidding about the hell he possibly raised in the big city.

The rotation plan of sending 1% per month of each outfit back to America also comes in for a lot of discussion. It isn’t working very well so far, and the quota has been cut to half of 1%. It’s an optimist indeed who figures the quota will ever get around to him personally.

Chances all figured out

Sgt. Jack McCray has his own chances all figured out. He says the way things are going now, he will get his five days in Naples around next July and will get to go back to America 17 years from now.

The boys, incidentally, cut cards to see who goes on the Naples junkets.

The shell they fire from these 155mm howitzers has a single metal band around it. Two or three times a day in every battery one of these bands will fly off as a shell leaves the gun, and the band will go careening and screaming through the air on its own. These are called “rotating bands.” They’re liable to go in any direction, and they make a variety of noises, one of which sounds like a whipped dog yowling in terror.

I was standing one morning with a bunch of cannoneers when a rotating band of the whipped-dog type cut loose from another battery, whereupon one of the soldiers said:

We’ve run out of ammunition, so we’re shootin’ dogs at ‘em now.

Dogs also figure in the conversation about food. Every day or so, somebody jokingly brings up the suggestion that the cook is putting Italian dogs in the chow. One of the boys said:

As soon as I don’t see no more dogs around, I’m gonna quit eatin’.

One day an ammunition truck drove past and it had a little black-and-white dog standing on top of the hood with his ears up and tail up, looking so damned important you almost had to laugh. When the truck came back the little dog was running ahead of it, nosing around into everything, still acting awfully important. When he saw us, he came bounding into the gun pit, walked right across a row of shells lying there, and continued busily on his way.

Big guns scare dogs

I don’t know why that struck the soldiers as so odd, but they kept talking about the dog walking right across those shells, as though there might have been some danger of his setting them off, which of course there wasn’t. In fact, the men themselves walk and sit on them all the time.

Lots of soldiers have picked up local dogs as pets. The dogs here are better and healthier looking than those in Africa.

Some dogs are absolutely indifferent to a blast from the heavy guns, while it scares others to death. At night, after a salvo, you can hear the farmers’ dogs all around yelling in fright as though they had been kicked. And the cannoneers say that sometimes a dog will just stand and shake all over with fright after a big gun has gone off.

In that respect, there is a lot of similarity between a dog and me.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 4, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
The other day I dropped into one of our prisoners-of-war collecting points and picked up a little lore on the super race.

German prisoners these days are on the whole a fairly crummy-looking lot. Most of them are very young. A great many are still in summer uniform and wearing light underwear, although I believe they all have winter overcoats by now.

The German winter uniform is grayish green, similar to the Italian and not nearly as military and snappy looking as their khaki summer clothes.

The prisoners are much more talkative now than they used to be. It’s only the dyed-in-the-wool Nazis who get on their high horse and refuse to talk. The others seem so relieved to be out of the war that they just open their traps and let it run.

Lots of the prisoners are Poles and Austrians, and many who aren’t Poles insist they are. They figure they’ll get better treatment if we think they are Poles. But they can’t fool the examiners, because most of our Army men who examine prisoners can speak German like a native and can tell an accent a mile away.

The German officers know we treat prisoners well, but apparently they feed their troops some horror stories to discourage desertion. Many prisoners come in obviously fearful about what we may do to them.

Many confident of victory

It may interest our optimists at home to know that a great many German soldiers captured in Italy still feel that Germany will win the war. That is, they thought so up until the time they were captured. But as they are brought to rear areas, they are astounded at the amount of Allied equipment and supplies that they see along the roads and in the fields.

Some of the more sensitive ones have actually been crying when brought to collecting points – overwhelmed by the sudden realization that we’ve got enough stuff to beat them.

The examiners say that by the time the prisoners reach the rear areas, 75% of them are doubtful of Germany winning. But that percentage has grown by leaps and bounds on the way back. While they are still in the German lines, they are confident.

The examiners often ask prisoners what makes them think they are going to win. Some of them say they’ll win because the Allies will collapse. Some think Germany will soon sweep back over Russia. Some talk wishfully about a new secret weapon, due out in the spring, which will bring quick victory.

Others hope for miracle

Others, almost in desperation, say some miracle will happen – they say Germany just can’t, just doesn’t dare lose the war, and so they won’t let themselves think of defeat.

As far as I could gather, the German soldiers in Italy are aware of what is happening in Russia and on the bombing front at home. I was surprised that the German censors allowed so much gloom to seep through in soldiers’ letters from home. I have heard of a good many letters found on German soldiers from their families in Germany. Some had fright in them, some bitterness. All of them carried an air of war weariness and of devout hope for quick victory.

But I can’t honestly say that on the whole the letters showed any general tendency to give up. Some of them rang with the same wordy confidence in victory that our own family letters and editorials carry.

In other words, the Germans don’t admit yet that they are whipped.

Our prisoner-collecting points are staffed, of course, with American soldiers who speak perfect German. Mostly these are men born in Germany who emigrated and became American citizens. They say that often when a prisoner is brought in and hears nothing but good old German flying around the place, he is utterly bewildered, and can hardly be made to believe he is in American hands.

I had a talk with two of these examiners of enemy personnel, as they are called. Both had worked all through the previous day and all night too, examining a steady flow of prisoners. It was then 3:00 in the afternoon and they hadn’t slept since the morning before.

One of them, a sergeant, was a short, slight man of scholarly appearance who seemed out of place in uniform. He had been a student most of his life. He went to America nine years ago because he sensed that he would likely get into trouble with the Nazis. He lived in America by tutoring.

Still has German accent

The other, also a sergeant, was a real-estate man in private life. He was born near Hamburg and went to America when he was 21, which was 17 years ago. He still talks English with a slight accent – says “v” for “w.” He has just passed his 38th birthday, and says he doesn’t know whether to apply for a discharge or not, but guesses he won’t, since his work is pretty important.

He says it’s almost impossible for a German prisoner to lie to him, because he knows so much about the German Army from having examined thousands of prisoners. He knows every unit, where it is, and who commands it. If a prisoner lies and tells him his company commander is So-and-so, the sergeant says, “Oh no he isn’t,” and then gives the right name. Which is disconcerting to the prisoner, to say the least.

He says:

Actually, I know a great deal more about the German Army than I do about the American Army, for all I do all day long is sit here behind this desk in this battered old building, talking to Germans, and I never get out to see the American Army.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 5, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
You have been reading on the papers for weeks about the mountain fighting in Italy, and how some of the troops are so high and remote that they have to be supplied by pack mule.

Well, for the last few days, I have been hanging around with one of these mule outfits.

There is an average of one mule packing outfit for every infantry battalion in the mountains. Some are run by Americans, some by Italian soldiers.

The pack outfit I was with supplied a battalion that was fighting on a bald rocky ridge nearly 4,000 feet high. It fought constantly for 10 days and nights, and when it finally came down, less than a third of the original men were left.

All through those butter days, every ounce of their supplies had to go up to them on the backs of mules and men. Mules took it the first third of the way. Men took it the last bitter two-thirds because the trail was too steep even for mules.

The mule skinners of my outfit were Italian soldiers. The human packers were mostly American soldiers.

The Italian mule skinners were from Sardinia. They belonged to a mountain artillery regiment, and thus were experienced in climbing and in handling mules. They were bivouacked in an olive grove alongside a highway at the foot of the mountain.

Shells scare Italians away

They made no trips in the daytime, except in emergencies, because most of the trail was exposed to artillery fire. Supplies were brought into the olive grove by truck during the day, and stacked under trees. Just before dusk, they would start loading the stuff onto mules.

The Americans who actually managed the supply chain liked to get the mules loaded by dark, because if there was any shelling, the Italians instantly disappeared and you never could find them.

On an average night, the supplies would run something like this – 85 cans of water, 100 cases of K ration, 20 cases of D ration, 10 miles of telephone wire, 25 cases of grenades and rifles and machine-gun ammunition, about 100 rounds of heavy mortar shells, one radio, two telephones, and four cases of first-aid packets and sulfa drugs.

In addition, the packers would load their pockets with cigarettes for the boys on top; also cans of Sterno, so they could heat some coffee once in a while.

Also, during that period, they took up more than 500 of the heavy combat suits we are issuing to the troops to help keep them warm. They carried up cellophane gas capes for some of the men to use as sleeping bags, and took extra socks for the boys too.

Mail most tragic cargo

Mail was their most tragic cargo. Every night they would take up sacks of mail, and every night bring a large portion of it back down – the recipients would have been killed or wounded the day their letters came.

On the long man-killing climb above the end of the mule trail, they used anywhere from 20 to 300 men a night. They rang in cooks, truck drivers, clerks, and anybody else they could lay their hands on.

A lot of stuff was packed up by the fighting soldiers themselves. On the biggest night, when they were building up supplies for an attack, another battalion which was in reserve sent 300 first-line combat troops to do the packing.

Back to the mules again – they would leave the olive grove in bunches of 20, starting just after dark. American soldiers were posted within shouting distance of each other all along the trail, to keep the Italians from getting lost in the dark.

Those guides form a little sidelight that I wish everybody in America who thinks he’s having a tough time in this war could know about.

The guides were men who had fought all through a long and bitter battle at the top of the mountain. For more than a week, they had been far up there, perched behind rocks in the rain and cold, eating cold K rations, sleeping without blankets, scourged constantly with artillery and mortar shells, fighting and ducking and growing more and more weary, seeing their comrades wounded one by one and taken down the mountain.

Finally, sickness and exhaustion overtook many of those who were left, so they were sent back down the mountain under their own power to report to the medics at the bottom and be sent back to a rest camp. It took most of them the better part of a day to get two-thirds of the way down, so sore were their feet and so weary their muscles.

And then – when actually in sight of their haven of rest and peace – they were stopped and pressed into this guide service, because there just wasn’t anybody else to do it.

So, there they stayed, right on the mountainside, for at least three additional days and nights that I know of, just lying miserably alongside the trail to shout in the darkness and guide the mules.

They still had no blankets to keep them warm, no beds but the rocks. And they did it without complaining. The human spirit is an astounding thing.

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Again, Ernie puts us in the middle of the battlefield. His words are few but powerful.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 6, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
The Italian mules we’ve been using to pack supplies to our troops fighting in the mountains are smaller and weaker than the average American mule. Also, they have been taken around in trucks from one place to another until a lot of them are sick from it.

At first, we misjudged them and put too heavy a load on them. In fact, we put on more than an American mule could carry over such a trail. We lashed on four cans of water and two cases of rations, making a load of around 240 pounds. The mules just couldn’t take it. They’d all be sick next day. So now we load them with only two cans of water and one of rations, cutting the weight to 120 pounds.

They say the Italians are cruel to their mules on the trail but take good care of them when they’re not working.

The Italian method of saving “giddyap” to a mule is to go “brrrrr,” the way we do when we are cold. If you stand along the pack trail at night and listen to the skinners’ “brr-ing” their miles upward, it sounds as if the whole population is freezing to death.

At first, there were some white mules in the pack train, but they were too easy to see by moonlight, so we stopped using them. A few hours are used in some of the outfits, and several were discovered with the brand of the Italian royal family.

Mule shoe shortage

When the mules arrived from Sardinia, the most pressing problem was to get them shod. It took days to scour the country and jig up shoes for them. Then horseshoe nails became the problem. They finally found enough racetrack nails to do the job.

Horseshoe nails are so scarce and so precious in Italy that the nails had to be counted out to the civilian blacksmiths to keep them from stealing them. If a smith broke a nail, he had to bring the pieces back before he could get another one.

Some of the pack trains are run exclusively by Americans. I’ve been told the Americans are better mule skinners than the Italians and I’ve also been told the opposite, so I don’t know which is right. But as one soldier said about the Americans:

Them old city boys hadn’t never fooled around with mules before, so they didn’t go so good at first.

In emergencies, some pack trains were sent up the mountains in the daytime, but it was dangerous business, for the Germans kept the trail pretty well plastered with shells.

Luckily there have been no casualties on the trail in my outfit, but seven Italian soldiers were wounded in the mule pack in a dive-bombing.

The Italians are very nervous about bombs and shells. Any night the shells stary dropping too close to the mule pack, the Italians disappear into their foxholes as if by magic, and you can never find them in the dark to rout them out again.

The men have fared much better than the mules, for unfortunately a mule doesn’t know about foxholes. My outfit alone has lost 50 mules to shellfire and bombing, and another 100 are sick from overwork and too much riding around in trucks.

Interpreters for the asking

The Italian mule outfit is under two Italian lieutenants who wear plumed Tyrolean caps and look sort of romantic. Neither of them speaks English, but in the American Army you only have to tell twice a find a soldier who speaks Italian, so the little group has an interpreter. Everybody has to depend so heavily upon him that he practically runs the show.

He is Cpl. Anthony Savino of Newark, New Jersey. His job would drive anybody crazy. The Italians are not as quick as efficient as we are, and about the time Savino gets a pack train all ready, everything collapses and chaos takes place. Then he catches it from both sides.

The officer in charge of this mule pack is Lt. Harmon W. Williams of Flint, Michigan. He was named after Gen. Harmon, who won fame in the last war. Some nights Lt. Williams is up till 3:00 a.m. seeing that all the skinners get back down the mountain. Other nights he gets to bed as early as 7:00 p.m. he sleeps whenever he can. For it’s an unusual night when he isn’t routed out to get some emergency supplies to the top.

He sleeps in a stone cowshed along with a dozen of his enlisted men. He was an undertaker in civil life, and is an anti-tank man in the Army, but a mule expert for the moment.

Cpl. Savino takes his interpreting job so seriously that he even talks about it in his sleep. I slept in the same cowshed with the boys, and one night when I happened to wake up about 3:00 a.m., I heard Savino saying:

Well, if we can’t use them as interpreters, let’s make guides out of them.

He thought that was pretty funny when I told him about it. He had never known before that he talked in his sleep.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 7, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
The human packers of supplies to our group high in the Italian mountains interested me much more than the mule trains, partly because their job was much harder and partly because thy talk instead of heehawing.

You can get an idea of the magnitude of this human freight service when you realize that in one 10-day period Americans soldiers packed up this one mountain nearly 100,000 pounds of supplies for their battalion. That was just one outfit. The same thing was being duplicated in a dozen or more places during the same time.

More than half the trail was out in the open, across bare rocks, all under German artillery fire. The top part of the trail was so steep th9ey anchored weights alongside the path for the men to pull themselves upward with.

We tried to hire Italians to do the packing, but after the first day they were never seen again. I heard a report that on one mountain Italian women had volunteered and were carrying up five-gallon cans balanced on their heads, but I was never able to verify this story. I think it’s a myth.

Some of the soldiers carry the water cans on their shoulders while others lash them onto pack boards. At first some of the packers would cheat a little and pour out some of the precious water when the can became too heavy. But the laws of physics soon stopped this, for with the can only partly filled the water would slosh around inside and throw the packers off balance and make it doubly hard to walk.

Miniature Paul Bunyan

From the bottom of the mountain to the top, a good walker carrying nothing whatever could make it in three hours. Carrying a heavy load, it took longer than that, and yet there were some fantastic exhibitions of human strength on that mountain.

The champion packer in our outfit was Pvt. Lester Scarborough, but he had left the area when I was there and I never did get to see him. He was from somewhere in West Virginia, and he was a miniature Paul Bunyan.

He had been sick and was supposed to be convalescing, yet he could take a full can of water to the top and be clear back down again in 2½ hours, where others took three hours and longer just to get up.

He didn’t do this just once, but day after day. He reached the climax of his carrying career when he made four roundtrips in one day – the fourth one being an emergency dash to the mountaintop to help beat off a German mortar attack.

Pvt. Scarborough is no giant. He is 18 years old, stands only 5 feet 7½, and weighs only 135 pounds. I have never heard of so much strength in such a small package.

Bewhiskered and begrimed

When I went up the trail my guard was Pvt. Fred Ford of East St. Louis. He is a tall, rugged fellow, and he had two weeks of whiskers and grime on his face. He looked sort of ferocious but turned out to be pleasant and friendly.

Like practically all the regular packers, Pvt. Ford was a line soldier who had fought for weeks on top and was supposed to be down for a rest. He was a Browning automatic rifleman in an infantry company. And there’s a funny thing about that.

Pvt. Ford said:

I threw dozens of hand grenades, and even rocks, and I guess I killed plenty of Germans. But I never had a single chance to shoot that automatic rifle.

On the back of his jacket Pvt. Ford has printed in purple ink his serial number, the name “Betty,” and underneath that “East St. Louis, Illinois.” Betty is his wife, and she is a chemist in a defense plant.

Pvt. Ford’s feet were all taped up because of blisters, and he walked on his toes to save his heels from rubbing. He said:

Sometimes going up the mountain you get to the point where you know you can’t make it, but somehow you always do.

Actually, some of them don’t. I saw packer after packer report back in at the bottom of the trail saying he “couldn’t make her.” He’d dumped his load and come back down.

A few of these may have been malingerers, but most of them were genuine. The men were exhausted, and their feet were broken out, and infirmities such as arthritis, hernia or heart weakness would leap to the fore on those man-killing climbs.

Mountain aeronautics

When we started back down, German shells began dropping quite a way behind us.

Pvt. Ford said:

If I get to going too fast for you, just yell. When they start shelling, we practically fly down the mountain. We don’t stop for nothing.

But I didn’t have any pressing business engagements along the way to detain us, so Pvt. Ford and I flew down the mountainside together, going so fast the rocks we kicked loose couldn’t even keep up with us.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 8, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
You’ve heard of trench mouth and athlete’s foot, but now another occupational disease of warfare has sprung up on both sides here in the Italian war. It isa called “trench foot.” The Germans as well as the Americans have it. It was well known in the last war.

Trench foot comes from a man’s feet being wet and cold for long periods and from his not taking off his shoes often enough. In the mountains, the soldiers sometimes go for two weeks and longer without ever having their shows off and without ever being dry.

With trench foot, the tissues gradually seem to go dead, and sores break out. It is almost the same as the circulation being stopped and the flesh dying. In extreme cases gangrene occurs. We have had cases where amputation was necessary. And in other cases, the soldier won’t be able to walk again for six months.

In a way it’s much like frostbite, and as in frostbite, it is the wrong thing to put your feet in hot water when you get an opportunity.

Sometimes they’ve let their trench foot go so long without complaining that they have finally been unable to walk and have had to be taken down the mountain in litters.

Others get down under their own power, agonizingly. Recently one boy was a day and half getting down the mountain on what would normally be a two-hour descent. He arrived at the bottom barefooted, carrying his shoes in his hand, and with his feet bleeding. He was in a sort of daze from the pain.

One battalion has been experimenting by having its soldiers wrap part of a cellophane gas cap around their feet between their shocks and their shoes, in order to keep their feet dry. The battalion surgeon doesn’t yet know whether the experiment will work, because right in the middle of it we had a week of dry weather.

Cavemen in the Stone Age

The fighting on the mountaintop sometimes almost reaches the caveman stage. The Americans and Germans are frequently so close that they actually throe rocks at each other.

They use up many times as many hand grenades as we have had in any other phase of the Mediterranean war. And you have to be pretty close when you throw hand grenades.

Rocks play a big part in the mountain wat. You hide behind rocks, you throw rocks, you sleep in rock crevices, and you even get killed by flying rocks.

When an artillery shell bursts on the loose rock surface, rock fragments are thrown for many yards. In one battalion, 15% of the casualties are from flying rocks.

Also, now and then an artillery burst from a steep hillside will loosen big boulders which go leaping and bounding down the mountainside for thousands of yards. The boys say such a rock sounds like a windstorm coming down the mountainside.

Comin’ round the mountain

When soldiers come down the mountain out of battle, they are dirty, grimy, unshaven and weary. They look 10 years older than they are. They don’t smile much.

But the human body and mind recover rapidly. A couple of days down below and they begin to pick up. It’s funny to see a bunch of combat soldiers after they’ve shaved and washed up. As one said:

We all look sick after we’ve cleaned up, we’re so white.

It’s funny to hear them talk. One night in our cowshed, I heard one of them say how he was going to keep his son out of the next war.

He said:

As soon as I get home, I’m going to put 10-pound weights in his hands and make him jump off the garage roof, to break down his arches. I’m going to feed him a little ground glass to give him a bad stomach, and I’m going to make him read by candlelight all the time to ruin his eyes. When I get through with him, he’ll be double-4 double-F.

Another favorite expression of soldiers just out of combat runs like this:

Well, let’s go down to Naples and start a second draft.

Meaning let’s conscript all the clerks, drivers, waiters, MPs, office workers and so on that flood any big city near a fighting area, and send them up in the mountains to fight.

The funny thing is they wouldn’t have to draft many soldiers down there. A simple call for volunteers would be enough, I really believe. One of the paradoxes of war is that those in the rear want to get up into the fight, while those in the lines want to get out.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 10, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle has written many, many moving columns, but none more stirring than his description of the touching farewells to a young Army captain, killed in Italy. It is beautiful writing, about a heartbreaking scene. Ernie will never forget it, and we doubt if you will.

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.

Capt. Waskow was a company commander in the 36th Division. He had been in this company since long before he left the States. He was very young, only is his middle twenties, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.

A sergeant told me:

After my own father, he comes next.

A soldier said:

He always looked after us. He’d go to bat for us every time.

Another said:

I’ve never known him to do anything unkind.

I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow down. The moon was nearly full and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley. Soldiers made shadows as they walked.

Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed onto the backs of mules. They came belly down across the wooden packsaddle, their heads hanging down on the left side of the mule, their stiffened legs sticking awkwardly from the other side, bobbing up and down as the mule walked.

Makes you feel small

The Italian mule skinners were afraid to walk beside dead men, so Americans had to lead the mules down that night. Even the Americans were reluctant to unlash and lift off the bodies, when they got to the bottom, so an officer had to do it himself and ask others to help.

The first one came early in the morning. They slid him down from the mule, and stood him on his feet for a moment. In the half-light he might have been merely a sick man standing there leaning on the other. Then they laid him on the ground in the shadow of the stone wall alongside the road.

I don’t know who that first one was. You feel small in the presence of dead men, and you don’t ask silly questions…

We left him there beside the road, that first one, and we all went back into the cowshed and sat on water cans or lay on the straw, waiting for the next batch of mules.

Somebody said the dead soldier had been dead for four days, and then nobody said anything more about him. We talked for an hour or more; the dead man lay all alone, outside in the shadow of the wall.

It’s Capt. Waskow

Then a soldier came into the cowshed and said there were some more bodies outside. We went out into the road. Four mules stood there in the moonlight in the road where the trail came down off the mountain. The soldiers who led them stood there waiting.

One of them said quickly:

This one is Capt. Waskow.

Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow beside the stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally, there were five lying end to end in a long row. You don’t cover up dead men in combat zones. They just lie there in the shadows until somebody else comes after them.

The uncertain mules moved off to their olive groves. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually I could sense them moving, one by one, close to Capt. Waskow’s body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear.

One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud:

God damn it!

That’s all he said, and then he walked away.

Another one came, and he said, “God damn it to hell anyway!” He looked down for a few last moments and then turned and left.

Holds dead captain’s hand

Another man came. I think it was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the dim light, for everybody was grimy and dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain’s face and then spoke directly to him, as though he were alive:

I’m sorry, old man.

Then a solder came and stood beside the officer and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tender, and he said:

I sure am sorry, sir.

Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the Captain’s hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face. And he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.

Finally he put the hand down. He reached up and gently straightened the points of the Captain’s shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound, and then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.

The rest of us went back into the cowshed, leaving the dead men lying in a line, end to end, in the shadow of the low stone wall. We lay down on the straw in the cowshed, and pretty soon we were all asleep.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 11, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
There is an old stone building sitting on the bare mountainside at the top of the mule trail. It is used as a medical-aid station, but even so the Germans put a few score shells around it every day.

While I was there one day back during the holiday season, we were standing around outside – a dozen or more medics, telephone linemen, packers and slightly injured men – when all of a sudden came that familiar and rapid whine and we all ducked.

The shell exploded with a terrific blast about a hundred yards away, and for 20 seconds afterwards we had a very weird Christmas atmosphere indeed as big and little pieces of shrapnel tinkled and clattered down upon the rocks around us with a ringing metallic sound.

No package for him

Practically everybody I’ve run into in the Army got Christmas packages. I know of one captain – Frank Knebel of Pottsville, Pennsylvania – who got 24 boxes from home.

Nearly every soldier’s package had at least one ironic item in it, such as brushless shaving cream or lifesavers which we’re saturated with. But most of them were pretty nice collections.

It sounds like a burlesque joke, but there were boys who actually got cans of Spam from home. Others got fancy straw house slippers, and some got black silk socks as though they were going to a nightclub this evening in full dress. But the finniest gift I saw was a beautiful blue polka-dot necktie.

I didn’t get any Christmas packages, but then I came from America very recently; now that I think of it, maybe that is the reason. But I didn’t get any last year either, and last Christmas I had already been out of America for seven months.

Cleanliness stands out

One day, when I was on the mountain trail, a wounded paratrooper captain walked into the aid station in the old stone building. He was Francis Sheehan of Indianapolis.

Capt. Sheehan is a man with a finely sensitive face, who almost seemed out of place in such a rugged outfit as the paratroops. He stood out among the other wounded because he was cleanly shaven, and although his face was dirty it was recent dirt, and not the basic grime that comes of not having washed for weeks and weeks.

The reason was that he had gone up the mountain only the day before, to relieve a battalion medical officer who had been wounded. Capt. Sheehan was on the mountain only a few hours when he, too, was wounded.

His family will have received notice from the War Department before they read this, and they may be relieved to know that the wound was not serious. He got a machine-gun bullet in his right shoulder, but it apparently missed the bones.

An old reader

Capt. Sheehan graduated from Indiana University Medical School in 1938, and had a residency at City Hospital in Indianapolis before he went into the paratroops. We happened to get together because he used to read this column in The Indianapolis Times.

The captain walked on down the mountain without help, and said that actually the wound didn’t even hurt much.

There is an Army hospital where I go occasionally to see another wounded friend, and I have got acquainted with several of the patients. One of those is Walter Jentzen of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Jentzen, of course, was in hospital pajamas, and I though all the time he was a private, he seemed so quiet and humble. When I went to write down his name, it turned out he was a lieutenant. He has a two-month-old baby in Carlsbad that he would sure like to see.

Tortures himself, too

This is the second time he has been wounded. In Sicily, he was shot when a German tank let loose on him. And here, very early in the Italian campaign, he got a shell fragment in his chest. A notebook which he always carries in his left shirt pocket was all that saved him. He’s been in the hospital more than a month now and is just about ready to go back to duty.

Jentzen used to manage creamery plants in Albuquerque Portales and Las Cruces. So, having come from Albuquerque so recently, I tortured him by telling him what the New Mexico sun felt like, how the air smelled, and how beautiful the Sandias were at present.

The only trouble with torturing a guy that way is that you torture yourself at the same time.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 12, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
In one frontline outfit I was with recently, I noticed the boys always used the word “Uncle” when they meant the powers that be. They said, “You do whatever Uncle tells you,” or “I wish Uncle would hurry up with those overshoes.”

Another slang term is “eyeballing,” which means viewing and gendering around, such as “eyeballing into Naples.”

At the front one morning, I heard another expression which may be old, but which sounded funny at the time. About a dozen soldiers and I were sleeping in a goat shed. The soldiers hadn’t shaved for weeks, or washed either. And they always slept with their clothes on. When they first came out of their blankets on a cold morning, they were enough to frighten children.

It was at that early-morning moment when one soldier looked for a long time at another one and then said:

Cripes, you look like a tree full of owls.

Mess sergeant gains 46 pounds

Imagine my surprise and delight one day when, after several days of C and K rations, we wandered into a division command post and sat down to a luncheon of fresh, crisp, American-style fried chicken, the kind we have in Indiana. Texas’ now famous 36th Division was the provider.

One of the jovial mess sergeants in the 36th Division is Charles Morgan of Gladewater, Texas. His wife is in Mexia, Texas, and she’s hardly going to know him when he gets back. When the sergeant went into the Army, he weighed 189 pounds. Now he weighs 235.

The soldiers who fight on top of the mountains, who don’t dare build a fire even in daytime because the smoke would attract attention, have discovered that the paraffin-scaled pasteboard box the K ration comes in will burn without smoke, and will burn just long enough to heat one canteen cup of coffee.

The other day I was on a mountain trail and met three German prisoners coming down, with one dogface trailing behind them with a Tommy gun.

Some Signal Corps movie photographers were on the trail and they stopped the little cavalcade for pictures. They asked the soldier to take the Germans back up the trail about 50 feet, then march them down again past the cameras.

At first, the Germans were puzzled, but when they sensed what was happening, they began their overcoat collars snugly and straightened their pants, and came marching past with big grins on their faces, as vain as children.

Christmas brightens Nazi prisoner

Speaking of vanity, one regiment of the 36th Division had some fine photographs of me taken at their outdoor box toilet on the hillside. They think it’s a great joke, and no doubt plan to blackmail me into buying the film from them.

But I’ve got them whipped. I’ve lived the war life so long, where everything is public, that I just don’t care. In fact, I might even pay them to publish the picture.

A strange little incident happened a few weeks ago at one of the prisoner-collecting points, where German prisoners were being interviewed.

One of the German kids who came through seemed terribly depressed. When the examiners get a case like that, they try to find out what the trouble is, other than the normal depression over being captured. But they couldn’t seem to get at this boy.

Finally, just to make light conversation, one of them said:

Well, cheer up, at least you’ll be able to spend Christmas with us.

Thereupon the boy sat up and said eagerly:

Do you celebrate Christmas, too?

He didn’t know that we knew about Christmas, and apparently had been brooding over the prospect of spending it with a heathen people.

After that, he was bright and chipper.

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