Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

The Pittsburgh Press (January 15, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria – (Jan. 14)
Today I’ll try to picture to you the pioneer-like manner in which a field tent hospital operates in wartime.

The Evacuation Hospital is a dark-green sea of tents as you approach it over the mud road leading across a field. It blends so well with the fields and against the low rolling mountains in the distance that you can hardly pick it out half a mile away.

Even the first tent has a “going concern" air about it – there’s a neatly-painted sign on a stake saying “Headquarters," and a little dirt walk lined with whitewashed rocks leads up to it. Inside that tent, men work at crude tables with folding legs. Before them are file cases that fold up into small portable trunks. Field telephones rest in their leather cases. It is the same equipment we saw in all the camps in England and Ireland, and now its quickly movable character is being genuinely put to work.

Back of headquarters the tents spread out and form a city, with streets between the rows. The whole place is laid out just as it was planned on paper in Washington years ago. But the little touches – the street signs, the whitewashed rock borders all over the place – they are additional, and are the volunteer work of the enlisted men.

At the receiving tent, trucks and ambulances arrive with wounded men transferred from other hospitals, with sick men from incoming ships, with ill and injured from our dozens of camps around the countryside, with airmen stricken at high altitudes.

Those able to walk go down a line of desks, where their history is taken for the files. In the next tent they turn in all their belongings. That tent is stacked high with barracks bags. Rifles and mud-covered bayonets stick out of the bags. Attendants gingerly accept hand grenades and give the owner a receipt.

In the next tent the patient turns in his clothes and gets a tag in return. He is given a pair of flannel pajamas and a red corduroy bathrobe. He must keep his own shoes, for the hospital has no house-slippers. Then he goes to whatever ward-tent his type of illness indicates. His belongings are taken by truck to the opposite end of the hospital a quarter mile away, to await his exit.

The surgical and laboratory tents sit in the middle of the big compound. There are three fully-equipped surgeries, and they are astonishingly modern. All equipment is brand-new. It is like the newest hospital in New York, except that the floor is canvas-covered dirt, the walls canvas, and the street outside is a deeply rutted boghole of red clay.

When an operation is going on, a triple flap is pulled over the tent entrance, and a heavy mosquito bar dropped over that. Inside, the air becomes stiflingly hot even now; next summer it will be cruel. Patients are brought up the muddy street on a field stretcher running on bicycle wheels. Surgeons wear white robes, white masks, rubber gloves. All is white, and you are struck with the vast amount of sheeting, swabs, bandages and towels – all white – around a desert operating table.

The light above the surgeons is fiery bright. The hospital taps a nearby high-tension line for its operating-room current. If that fails, there is a whole progression downward for emergency – a generator run by a gas engine, a portable battery set, then powerful flashlights, then lanterns, then candles, and finally just matches if it ever comes to that.

There is an X-ray room, and a fluoroscope. The darkroom was a tent within a tent. All the new equipment shone and sparkled, sitting incongruously on its dirt floor.

One tent is a laboratory, filled with basins and test tubes and burners. Another is a drugstore, where thousands of prescriptions are filled from endless bottles on shelves. And all this, mind you, every bit of it from tents to kitchen stoves to anesthetics, came to Africa on a single boat.

Then there is the dentist’s office, in one end of a surgical tent. The chair is just a hard green metal one, tilted back. There are no arms to hold to when it hurts. The drill is run by the dentist pumping on an old-fashioned treadle. Yet the dentist, Maj. Vaiden Kendrick, says he can do anything he did back home in Charlotte. He offered to make me a plate just to prove it, but I gnashed my original teeth at him and fled.

Then on to the wards. There are more than 40 tents of them. Each tent holds 20 men, on folding cots. The floor is stubble. It sounds makeshift, but the patients are thoroughly comfortable.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 16, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria – (Jan. 15)
The American nurses — and there are lots of them — have turned out just as you would expect: wonderfully. Army doctors, and patients too, are unanimous in their praise for them. Doctors tell me that in that first rush of casualties they were calmer than the men.

One hospital unit had a nurse they were afraid of. She had seemed neurotic and hysterical on the way down. The head doctor detailed another nurse just to watch her all through the hectic first hours of tending the wounded. But he needn’t have. He admits now she was the calmest of the lot.

The head of one hospital, a full colonel who was in the last war, worked in the improvised hospitals set up at Arzew to tend the freshly wounded. He says they worked 36 hours without sleep, with wounded men lying around knee-deep, waiting for attention. He says not a soul in the outfit cracked up or got flustered.

He says:

You’re so busy you didn’t think about it being horrible. You aren’t yourself. Actually you seem to become somebody else. And after it’s over, you’re thrilled by it. Gosh, I hope I’m not stuck in a base hospital. I want to get on to the front.

The Carolina nurses of the Evacuation Hospital about which I have been writing have taken it like soldiers. For the first ten days they had to live like animals, even using open ditches for toilets, but they never complained.

At this tent hospital, one nurse is always on duty in each tentful of 20 men. She has medical orderlies to help her. In bad weather, the nurses wear Army coveralls, but Lt. Col. Rollin Bauchspies, the hospital commandant, wants them to put on dresses once in a while, for he says the effect on the men is astounding. The touch of femininity, the knowledge that a woman is around, gives a wounded man courage and confidence and a feeling of security. And the more feminine she looks, the better.

Only about 100 of the hospital’s 700 patients were wounded men. The others are just sick with ordinary things such as flu, appendicitis, sprains. They’ve got a whole tentful of mumps, and a few cases of malaria and dysentery.

At the far end of the hospital, behind an evil-looking barricade of barbed wire, is what Col. Bauchspies called “Casanova Park.” Back there are 150 soldiers with venereal disease.

I asked:

What’s the barbed wire for? They wouldn’t try to get out anyhow.

The colonel said:

It’s just to make them feel like heels. There’s no damned excuse for a soldier getting caught nowadays unless he just doesn’t care. When he gets a venereal he’s no good to his country and somebody else has to do his work. So I want him to feel ashamed, even though he does get the finest medical treatment at the same time.

The wounded soldiers are now mostly able to be on their feet. On warm days they come out in their bathrobes and sit for hours in the sun, out in the stubblefield. Most of them are getting a good tan. At night they play cards on their bunks, by the light of lanterns hanging from the ridgepoles. The usual bunkhouse profanity is strangely absent from those tents, for there is always a nurse around.

The boys like to talk about their experiences. I’ve spent much time with a tentful of men wounded in the harbor battle at Oran, and they recount the fight by the hour.

The deafened soldier I wrote about the other day – Sgt. Ralph Gower – is in this hospital. I’ve been back to talk to him several times. He grows more remarkable every time you see him. I don’t know what the boys will do without him when he leaves. They call him “the wee sergeant.” They picked up the “wee” when they were training in Scotland, and it has been tagged onto him ever since. The other day he said, with his deadpan Arkansas expression:

I’m glad I’m deaf so I won’t have to listen to that damned “wee sergeant” stuff anymore.

Though wounded veterans by now, and alive only by a miracle, those patients are just the ordinary American boys they always were, friendly and enthusiastic and sensible. Only occasionally do you find one who seems affected by his experiences – one officer broods over having lost so many of his men, another deafened boy stays to himself and refuses to try to learn lip-reading.

But on the whole, they are just as normal as though nothing had happened. They haven’t been paid and they can’t get trace of their friends and they don’t know where they’ll be sent, but still, they don’t complain except just a little, and they say very calmly that they guess it’s enough just to be alive.


The Pittsburgh Press (January 18, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria – (Jan. 17)
There were a lot of things the Charlotte doctors and nurses hadn’t visualized before they set up their big tent hospital here in the field. The natives, for instance. Arabs in their long gowns come wandering across the plains hoping the miraculous Americans could cure their ailments. So, the hospital has had to set up a separate tent for them. They have local people in there wounded by shrapnel in the first battle. They have one 81-year-old woman whose arm was blown off. They have several patients they’ve done normal operations on.

They had one Arab woman shot through the stomach. Her condition was grave, but on the second morning her husband arrived, said he had to go to work and there wasn’t anybody to take care of the kids, and for her to get the hell home where she belonged. So, she got up and walked out. The doctors don’t think she could have lived through the day. But you know how it is with us Arabs – we don’t like our women gadding about when there’s work at home.

While I was there, a ragged Arab with a long stick came in with his 10-year-old boy. The child had a hideous rash over his neck and face. Through the interpreter, the Arab said he had been praying and praying for the Americans to come, so they could do something for his boy. His belief in us was touching, but the doctors fear the scourge is beyond their ken.

The Army’s Arabic interpreters, incidentally, are completely accidental. They weren’t assigned to the hospital unit by design or anything. It just happened.

One is Pvt. Israel Tabi, of 245 Broome St., New York City. He was born in Yemen, and came to America when he was 20. He’s 35 now, and a house painter by profession. So far as he knows, his parents are still in Arabia, and who can tell, he might see them someday. He says the Arabic spoken here is quite similar to what he knew. I mentioned that he was performing a very valuable service. Pvt. Tabi is volubly patriotic. He said:

I will do anything for my country. Whatever they ask me to do, I will do. I will work day and night. I love my country. I will do anything for it.

The other interpreter is an Egyptian – Pvt. Abraham Casper Leon Saide (pronounced Sadie). He lives at 343½ Seneca St., Buffalo, New York. He is a watch repairer by trade. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt, is now 34, and came to America in 1924. He speaks Turkish, Greek, Egyptian and all those exotic languages. It looks as though Pvt. Saide might have a very useful career ahead of him in the Army.

The hospital already has handled more than 1,000 patients and hasn’t lost a one. The doctors run to the nearest stake and knock on wood when they say it. The surgeons have performed more than 125 operations.

There’s no red tape about whether a patient is legally entitled to enter the hospital or not. They take anybody who comes – soldier, civilian, Arab, Frenchman, anybody. The way they ignore formalities when emergency arises is one of the things that have made me feel so warmly toward this battlefront hospital. The other day we were looking at those round-bellied iron stoves half-buried in the ground in each tent.

I asked the commander, Lt. Col. Bauchspies:

What do you burn in them?

He said:


I asked:

Where do you get the wood?

He said:

Steal it.

When you’re saving lives, you don’t requisition and wait; you forage and borrow and even steal if necessary. And nobody stands on rank. Recently, Maj. Gen. Fredendall made an inspection tour through the hospital. Col. Bauchspies croaked hoarsely like a frog.

The general asked:

How did you lose your voice?

The colonel said:

I lost it driving tent pegs.

The general said:

Your guard looks nice. Where did they get those new rifles?

The colonel said:

I daren’t tell you, sir.

The general smiled. And nodded.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 19, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A forward airdrome in French North Africa – (Jan. 18)
While bad weather stymies the ground fighting in Tunisia, the air war on both sides has been daily increasing in intensity until it has reached a really violent tempo.

Not a day passes without heavy bombing of Axis ports, vicious strafing of cities and airdromes, losses on both sides and constant watchful patrolling.

Here, at one of our airdromes, all of us can assure you that being bombed is no fun. Yet these tired, hard-worked Americans jokingly decided to send a telegram to Allied headquarters asking them to arrange for the Jerrys to stop there each evening and pick up our mail.

I am living at this airdrome for a while. It can’t be named, although the Germans obviously know where it is, since they call on us frequently. Furthermore, they announced quite a while ago by radio that they would destroy the place within three days.

I hadn’t been here three hours till the Germans came. They arrived just at dusk. And they came arrogantly, flying low. Some of them must have regretted their audacity, for they never got home. The fireworks that met them were beautiful from the ground, but must have been hideous up where they were.

They dropped bombs on several parts of the field, but their aim was marred at the last minute. There were no direct hits on anything. Not a man was scratched, though the stories of near misses multiplied into the hundreds by the next day.

One soldier who had found a bottle of wine was lying in a pup tent drinking. He never got up during the raid just lay there cussing at the Germans:

You can’t touch me, you blankety-blanks! Go to hell, you so-and-so’s!

When the raid was over, he was untouched, but the tent a foot above him was riddled with shrapnel.

Another soldier made a practice of keeping a canteen hanging just above his head. That night when he went to take a drink, the canteen was empty. Investigation revealed a shrapnel hole, through which the water had run out.

Another soldier had the front sight of his rifle shot off by a German machine-gun bullet.

Some of the soldiers were actually picking tiny bits of shrapnel out of their coats all the next day. Yet, as I said, not a drop of American blood was shed.

When this airdrome was first set up the soldiers dug slit trenches just deep enough to lie down in during a raid, but after each new bombing the trenches get deeper.

Everybody makes fun of himself but keeps on digging. Today some of these trenches are more than eight feet deep. I’ll bet there has been more whole-hearted digging here in two weeks than WPA did in two years.

The officers don’t have to hound their men. They dig with a will of their own, and with a vengeance. If we stay here long enough we’ll probably have to install elevators to get to the bottom of the trenches.

After supper you see officers as well as men out digging. Each little group has its own trench design. Some are just square holes. Some form an L. Some are regulation zigzag.

The ground here is dry, and the trenches don’t fill up with water as they do in the coastal and mountain camps. The earth is as hard as concrete. You have to use an ax as well as a pick and shovel.

You’d love our air-raid alarm system. It consists of a dinner bell hanging from a date palm tree outside headquarters. When the radio watchers give the order the dinner bell is rung. Then the warning is carried to the far ends of the vast airdrome by sentries shooting revolvers and rifles into the air. At night it sounds like a small battle.

When the alarm goes, the soldiers get excited and mad too. When the Germans come over, the anti-aircraft guns throw up a fantastic Fourth of July torrent of red tracer bullets. But to the soldiers on the ground that isn’t enough, so they let loose with everything from Colt .45s up to Tommy guns.

If the Germans don’t kill us, we’ll probably shoot ourselves.

The Pittsburgh Press (January 20, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A forward airdrome in French North Africa – (Jan. 19)
This airdrome is away from the dark and rainy coastal belt of the Mediterranean.

The only way I can picture it for you is to suggest that you try to visualize some flat endless space in the desert of our own Southwest, with purple mountains in the distance and sand everywhere. Out an oasis of date palms down upon it, so big it would take an hour to walk from one end to the other.

Here the sun shines down warmly out of an incredibly blue sky. At night, there are stars by the million, but a dry and piercing chill comes down with the darkness.

Here is Africa as we have pictured it back home. The green fields and European-style cities of the coast have been left behind. Here the villages are sun-caked abode. Arabs, in their rags, dominate the population.

It is a long way between villages. Now and then you see a camel on the road. The wind blows some days, suffocating you with flying sand. It is hard on men and engines both. Little rippled drifts of yellow sand form around shrubs in the desert, and our soldiers wear tinted dust goggles.

It does rain here, but very seldom. Soldiers who have lived knee-deep in the perpetual winter mud of the coastal belt call this the best place in Africa to be.

We are not far from the enemy, as the crow flies. All day our air patrols cover the desert for hundreds of miles, keeping track of enemy movements in our direction. Even camel trains are on patrol, under the French Army. All troops are constantly in readiness for a descent by enemy parachutists.

Infantry and anti-tank units arrive and bivouac around the countryside for our protection. Truck trains come across the mountains bringing new loads of gasoline and bombs. American cargo planes, flying in formation, with fighter escort, arrive daily with airplane parts and other urgent supplies – and sometimes with mail.

Our ground troops – and it takes an unbelievable number to run a great airdrome like this – live in their little pup tents, scattered all over the vast field. Nobody lives in buildings here. Everybody is in tents – the men in little tents, the officers in bigger ones that hold four.

All the tents have dirt piled along their outside edges to keep sand from drifting in and light from leaking out.

In England, and even in Africa, in coastal cities, there is considerable carelessness about blackouts. But believe me, not here! Nobody has to post any official order. Every soldier is his own blackout warden, and a strict one.

The men are tense, and the danger is real. Every dusk brings its possibility of death, and any spot of light in this camp is likely to get a bullet through it.

The soldiers as usual have made their tiny tents touchingly homelike. Many of them have dug big rectangular holes five feet into the ground, with steps leading down, and set their tents over the top. It makes a fine wardroom down there.

One friend of mine, Sgt. Cheedle Caviness, who happens to be a nephew of Senator Hatch of New Mexico, rustled himself a folding cot and then dug holes in the ground for its legs to fit into in order to make it low enough to out inside his tent. He says:

I got tired of sweating out those hard lumps in my back.

The troops are so scattered that there are a dozen separate messes. The food is cooked in tents on portable ranges. The mess lines are outdoors. The men have built high benches where they set their mess kits while they east standing up.

The toilets are nothing more than trenches.

Nobody ever takes a bath, except maybe a quickie from a pan. Once in a while, you can go to the nearest town and indulge in the local Turkish baths, which are a little weird but give you the illusion of being clean.

Personally, I haven’t taken a bath in so long I’m afraid to now for fear of catching another cold.

Life at this airdrome is far from what would be considered normal at home. Yet morale is high. For one thing, it is so much better than the cold and mud of the coast. For another, there is serious work for everybody to do – vital work, for you are working to preserve your life.

The Pittsburgh Press (January 21, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A forward airdrome in French North Africa – (Jan. 20)
Everything is temporary around thus airdrome near the front. It is in violent contrast to the fine airports at home and to the permanent stations we have in England.

Gone are the luxurious English lounges, billiard rooms and bar, and the twice daily custom of tea, which are part of every RAF station. Here there is no bar, no tea, no billiards. A few of the troops throw footballs around in the evening for relaxation.

There is no place for the officers to sit down together during their off hours unless they sit on the ground or on empty gasoline cans. The commanding officer’s desk is merely a board laid across four empty wooden crosses.

The supply rooms for rations and plane parts are just little corrals built up of empty gasoline tins filled with sand and laid like bricks. I think the American Army would collapse all over the world without its empty gasoline tins. They’ve become a truer symbol of America than the eagle.

The briefing room for bomber crews is a large tent with maps of enemy territory tacked on a board that is nailed to two posts set in the ground. In front of the board is a little platform made of gasoline tins sprinkled with sand. The crews just stand there and listen to their instructions.

Somehow, it’s not quite the way we picture it from books and movies. In those picturizations, we see only the actual takeoffs – everything else is blotted out of our minds, and the whole field seems to be devoted solely to starting the bombers on their mission.

Actually, the greater portion of the men at this airdrome know nothing about a mission until they see the planes start forming up in the air above. All work goes on as usual. The start of a mission is only another cog in the immense job of the day.

A cover patrol of fighter planes hovers above just in case. When the mission is finally formed, the local fighter bunch comes in and a new batch takes off to go along with the bombers.

Work is routine while they are away, but everybody is watchful when the time means for them to start coming back. It is true that people watch and count as the planes start appearing on the horizon. But this is a useless pastime, for not half a dozen people on the field know exactly how many really are due back. With the air constantly full of planes, and so many circling and waiting and new ships arriving from other fields, it is almost impossible to count correctly the number of planes starting on a mission. Nevertheless, the ground crews try, and they start counting as the planes come home.

There are other things they look for just as intently when the planes return. They look for feathered propellers, and for planes sort of straggling and limping along. They look for returning fighters to peel off and do a victory roll across the field, showing that they’ve shot down a German. When this happens, you hear cheers all over the field.

If any planes fail to return, the news gets around the field by word of mouth in a few hours. People are sorry, but actual grief never shows.

There is never a moment during daylight when there are no planes in the air. The first patrols take off before dawn and the last ones land after dark. All day there is a ceaseless coming and going. New bunches of replacement planes arrive and depart in workhouse manner. Casuals drop in just a few days out of America, England or India. Actually, the air above seems much like Bolling Field at Washington.

It is hard to believe the whole thing was set up with one purpose only – destruction and death. It is just as hard to believe that destruction and death can likewise come to us out of the same blue sky. But as one officer said:

We’ve got to realize it, for, believe me, everything is for keeps now.

The Pittsburgh Press (January 22, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A forward airdrome in French North Africa – (Jan. 21)
Our airmen over here have been dishing it out to the Germans; on the other hand, they have been taking it too. Our ratio of losses is vastly lower than that of the Germans, yet our boys have had to fly constantly against terrible opposition. It has made quick veterans out of them. They have gone through more here in Africa than they ever did on missions to Europe from English bases.

It is generally agreed among airmen that the bombing runup over Bizerte is one of the hottest spots in the world to fly through. It lasts less than a minute, but you have to fly straight and steady through an absolute cloudburst of noise and black smoke puffs – little black puffs of death everywhere you look – and after a few of those, something begins to jump inside you.

There is no lack of bravery among our bomber and fighter pilots. But also, they are human beings, and I doubt if there’s one among them who wouldn’t like to be sent home. The English have long had a system of resting aircrewmen after a certain number of missions over enemy territory. This consists of transferring such men to non-combatant flying for several months, after which they go back for another tour of combat duty. Rumors are rampant among our fliers that we will soon have such a system.

Many of our pilots have executed as many as 25 missions, and are certainly due for a rest of some kind soon. They rest all their hope in a belief that they would be transferred back to America. Wishfulness becomes almost fact, and you hear pilot gunners say:

I’ve got half enough trips now to go home.


I’ve got two-thirds enough.

The fact is that no permanent system of posting the men for leave or transfer has been worked out yet. But some crews are going home very soon. In fact, they may be there by the time you read this. They are going back for a much-deserved respite from combat, and to train and organize new crews. After several months they will probably return and start a second tour of combat missions. Many British pilots are now on their third tour of combat duty.

It is unlikely that our air crews will ever have a system whereby a certain number of missions will earn a one-way ticket home. It would be wonderful for them to know they could quit the front forever after 30 missions and spend the rest of the war working at home, but airmen will be needed too badly ever to permit that. It is more likely that some crews will be sent home just for a while and that others will take their rest periods over here.

There are discussions of rest camps in the mountains, and recreation centers staffed in such a way as to give the men some American female companionship – that being one of the most important lacks for soldiers on foreign soil. But whatever the system, and whatever the number of missions before posting, there’ll be a wild rush for the planes when the magic last mission comes up. If we are working our men hard, we can take comfort from the fact that the Germans are working theirs hard too.

New bombers and fighters arrive at this field several times a week, in little groups. We hear reports that absolute floods of planes are on the way, that planes are backed up all along the route clear to Miami. I talked to one crew that was ready to go into action here only six days after leaving Connecticut.

Also, specialists from Washington pop in on quick flying trips, stay a few days, and head back across the ocean to give firsthand information on war needs at the front. I am sure that what they see must have made their eyes pop out of their heads. Things are being done over here that just aren’t possible on paper.

The Pittsburgh Press (January 23, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A forward airdrome in French North Africa – (Jan. 22)
You read the official communiqués a few days ago about a devastating raid by our Flying Fortresses on a huge German bomber airdrome near Tripoli. What you didn’t read, at least in any detail, is the story contains in these next three columns.

It was late afternoon at our desert airdrome. The sun was lazy, the air was warm, and a faint haze of propeller dust hung over the field, giving it softness. It was time for the planes to start coming back from their mission, and one by one they did come – big Flying Fortresses and fiery little Lightnings. Nobody paid a great deal of attention, for this returning is a daily routine thing.

Finally, they were all in – all, that is, except one. Operations reported a Fortress missing. Returning pilots said it had lagged behind and lost altitude just after leaving the target. The last report said the Fortress couldn’t stay in the air more than five minutes. Hours had passed since then. So, it was gone.

Ten men were in that plane. The day’s accomplishments had been great, but the thought of 10 lost friends cast a pall over us. We had already seen death that afternoon. One of the returning Fortresses had released a red flare over the field, and I had stood with others beneath the great plane as they handed its dead pilot, head downward, through the escape hatch onto a stretcher.

The faces of his crew were grave, and nobody talked very loud. One man clutched a leather cap with blood on it. The pilot’s hands were very white. Everybody knew the pilot. He was so young, a couple of hours before. The war came inside us then, and we felt it deeply.

Half a dozen of us went to the high control tower. We go there every evening, for two things – to watch the sunset, and to get word on the progress of the German bombers that frequently come just after dusk to blast our airdrome.

The sunsets in the desert are truly things with souls. The violence of their color is incredible. They splatter the sky and the clouds with a surging beauty. The mountains stand dark against the horizon, and palm trees silhouette themselves dramatically against the fiery west.

As we stood on the tower looking down over this powerful scene, the day began folding itself up. Fighter planes, which patrol the field all day, were coming in. All the soldiers in the tent camps had finished supper. That noiseless peace that sometimes comes just before dusk hung over the airdrome. Men talked in low tones about the dead pilot and the lost Fortress. We thought we would wait a few minutes more to see if the Germans were coming over.

And then an electric thing happened. Far off in the dusk, a red flare shot into the sky. It made an arc against the dark background of the mountains and fell to the earth. It couldn’t be anything else. It had to be. The ten dead men were coming home!

An officer yelled:

Where’s the flare gun? Gimme a green flare!

He ran to the edge of the tower, shouted, “Look out below!” and fired a green rocket into the air. Then we saw the plane – just a tiny black speck. It seemed almost on the ground, it was so low, and in the first glance we could sense that it was barely moving, barely staying in the air. Crippled and alone, two hours behind all the rest, it was dragging itself home.

I am a layman, and no longer of the fraternity that flies, but I can feel. And at that moment I felt something close to human love for that faithful, battered machine, that far dark speck struggling toward us with such pathetic slowness.

All of us stood tense, hardly remembering anyone else was there. With our nervous systems, we seemed to pull the plane toward us. I suspect a photograph would have shown us all leaning slightly to the left. Not one of us thought the plane would ever make the field, but on it came – so slowly that it was cruel to watch.

It reached the far end of the airdrome, still holding its pathetic little altitude. It skimmed over the tops of parked planes, and kept on, actually reaching out – it seemed to us – for the runway. A few hundred yards more now. Could it? Would it? Was it truly possible?

They cleared the last plane, and they were over the runway. They settled slowly. The wheels touched softly. And as the plane rolled on down die runway, the thousands of men around that vast field suddenly realized that they were weak and that they could hear their hearts pounding.

The last of the sunset died, and the sky turned into blackness, which would help the Germans if they came on schedule with their bombs. But nobody cared. Our 10 dead men were miraculously back from the grave.

The Pittsburgh Press (January 25, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A forward airdrome in French North Africa – (Jan. 24)
The 10 men who brought their Flying Fortress home from a raid on Tripoli, after they had been given up for lost, will undoubtedly get decorations. Nothing quite like it has happened before in this war. Here is the full story.

The Tripoli Airdrome was heavily defended, by both fighter planes and anti-aircraft guns. Flying into that hailstorm, as one pilot said, was like a mouse attacking a dozen cats.

The Thunderbird – for that was the name of this Fortress – was first hit just as it dropped its bombload. One engine went out. Then a few moments later, the other engine on the same side went. When both engines go out on the same side, it is usually fatal. And therein lies the difference of this feat from other instances of bringing damaged bombers home.

The Thunderbird was forced to drop below the other Fortresses. And the moment a Fortress drops down or lags behind, German fighters are on it like vultures. The boys don’t know how many Germans were in the air, but they think there must have been 30.

Our Lightning fighters, escorting the Fortresses, stuck by the Thunderbird and fought as long as they could, but finally they had to leave or they wouldn’t have had enough fuel to make it home.

The last fighter left the crippled Fortress about 40 miles from Tripoli. Fortunately, the swarm of German fighters started home at the same time, for their gas was low too.

The Thunderbird flew on another 20 miles. Then a single German fighter appeared, and dived at them. Its guns did great damage to the already-crippled plane, but simply couldn’t knock it out of the air.

Finally, the fighter ran out of ammunition, and left. Our boys were alone now with their grave troubles. Two engines were gone, most of the guns were out of commission, and they were still more than 400 miles from home. The radio was out. They were losing altitude, 500 feet a minute, and now they were down to 2,000.

The pilot called up his crew and held a consultation. Did they want to jump? They all said they would ride the plane as long as it was in the air. He decided to keep going.

The ship was completely out of trim, cocked over at a terrible angle. But they gradually got it trimmed so that it stopped losing altitude.

By now, they were down to 900 feet, and a solid wall of mountains ahead barred the way homeward. They flew along parallel to those mountains for a long time, but they were now miraculously gaining some altitude. Finally, they got the thing to 1,500 feet.

The lowest pass is 1,600 feet, but they came across at 1,500. Explain that if you can! Maybe it’s as the pilot said:

We didn’t come over the mountains, we came through them.

The copilot said:

I was blowing on the windshield trying to push her along. Once I almost wanted to reach a foot down and sort of walk us along over the pass.

And the navigator said:

If I had been on the wingtip, I could have touched the ground with my hand when we went through the pass.

The air currents were bad. One wing was cocked way down. It was hard to hold. The pilots had a horrible fear that the low wing would drop clear down and they roll over and go into a spin. But they didn’t.

The navigator came into the cockpit, and he and the pilots navigated the plane home. Never for a second could they feel any real assurance of making it. They were practically rigid, but they talked a blue streak all the time, and cussed, as airmen do.

Everything seemed against them. The gas consumption doubled, squandering their precious supply. To top off their misery, they had a bad headwind. The gas gauge went down and down.

At last, the navigator said they were only 40 miles from home, but those 40 miles passed as though they were driving a horse and buggy. Dusk, coming down on the sandy haze, made the vast flat desert an indefinite thing. One oasis looks exactly like another. But they knew when they were near home. Then they shot their red flare and waited for the green flare from our control tower. A minute later, it came – the most beautiful sight that crew has ever seen.

When the plane touched the ground, they cut the switches and let it roll. For it had no brakes. At the end of the roll, the big Fortress veered off the side of the runway. And then it climaxed its historic homecoming by spinning madly around five times and then running backwards for 50 yards before it stopped. When they checked the gas gauges, they found one tank dry and the other down to 20 gallons.

Deep dusk enveloped the field. Five more minutes and they never would have found it. This weary, crippled Fortress had flown for the incredible time of four and a half hours on one pair of motors. Any pilot will tell you it’s impossible.

That night, I was with the pilot and some of the crew and we drank a toast. One visitor raised his glass and said:

Here’s to your safe return.

But the pilot raised his own glass and said instead:

Here’s to a goddamned good airplane!

And the others of the crew raised their glasses and repeated:

Here’s to a goddamned good airplane!

And here is the climax. During the agonizing homeward crawl, this one crippled plane shot down the fantastic total of six German fighters. These were officially confirmed.

The Pittsburgh Press (January 26, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A forward airdrome in French North Africa – (Jan. 26, by wireless)
The Flying Fortress crew that made air history this month by flying 500 miles from Tripoli with its left engines out, after shooting down six enemy planes, was composed of men who were already veterans of the war in the air. They had been decorated for missions over Europe. They already had two official kills and several probables to their credit. The Tripoli mission, which only by a miracle was not their last, was their 22nd.

The skipper of the prize crew is Lt. John L. Cronkhite, of St. Petersburg, Florida. They called him Cronk. He is short, with a faint blond mustache and a very wide mouth, from which the words came in a slow drawl. His shoulders are broad, his arms husky. Usually, he doesn’t wear a tie. He says he isn’t married because nobody would have him. He’s 23.

Cronk’s father is a St. Petersburg florist. He has three pictures of his mother and father in his room. I spent the evening with Cronk and his co-pilot and navigator after their return from the dead. When he walked into the room, Cronk picked up something from the bed.

He said:

Hell, I can’t be dead. Here’s my dog tag. I forgot to take it with me. I can’t be dead, for they wouldn’t know who I was.

He and his co-pilot are bound by an unbreakable tie now, for together they pulled themselves away from death.

The co-pilot is Lt. Dana F. Dudley, of Mapleton, Maine. That is a little town of 800, and Dud says he is the only pilot who ever came from there. He is a tall and friendly fellow, who got married just before coming overseas. His wife is in Sarasota, Florida. Dud says one of the German fighters dived toward his side of the plane, and came on with bullets streaming until it was only 100 feet away. At that moment, what might have been his last thought passed through Dud’s head:

Gee, I’m glad I sent my wife that $225 this morning.

The navigator is Lt. Davey Williams, 3305 Miller St., Fort Worth, Texas. He too was recently married. The pilots give Davey all the credit for getting them home. He was about the busiest man on the trip, navigating with one hand and managing two machine guns with the other. When they thought they were done for, Davey said to the pilots:

I’ll bet those guys back home have got our stuff divided up already.

He said he mainly thought about how he was going to get word to his family that he was a German prisoner, and he felt sore that friends of his would soon get to go home to America while he’d have to spend the rest of the war in a prison camp.

I didn’t get to talk to the other members of the crew, but their stories are just the same. They all played their parts in coaxing the broken Fortress home.

They are Lt. Joe Dodson (bombardier) of Houston, Texas, and Sgts. Carl Olson of Chicago; John King of Hartford City, Indiana; Thomas Klimaszewski of Alpena, Michigan; Robert Jackman of Cleveland; Fred Littlewolf, a Chippewa Indian from Bagley, Minnesota, and Ted Nastel of Detroit.

One of those freakish little things happened to Lt. Dodson. He had hung his sunglasses on a hook in the nose compartment. A machine-gun bullet knocked out both lenses, but he didn’t touch the frame. If he hadn’t moved just a second before, the bullet, which grazed him, would have killed him.

When the Fortress finally reached home, Cronkhite decided to go through the co-pilot’s window onto the wing. As he stepped onto the wing his feet hit some oil and flew out from under him, and he went plummeting off the high wing onto the hard ground. The doctors thought he had been wounded, and picked him up and put him into an ambulance.

It sounds funny now, but as Cronkhite says:

I wouldn’t have given a damn if I had broken a leg when I fell off the wing, I was so glad to be on the ground again. I just felt like lying there forever.

The Pittsburgh Press (January 27, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A forward airdrome in French North Africa – (Jan. 26)
This airdrome is full of stories about freakish escapes from death, as all airdromes are. But the strangest story I know is that of an airplane and its whole crew that disappeared in mid-air.

This was a veteran Flying Fortress crew. Its members had been heroes on many missions over Europe. They were leading a flight of three on their bombing run over a Tunisian port. The two wing planes were flying close on either side, the pilots following the lead plane, and suddenly it disappeared right before their eyes.

What happened is a matter of conjecture. But it seems very likely that an anti-aircraft shell made a direct hit on the plane’s bombload, setting off its own bombs, and that the whole plane blew to tiny bits instantly and just vanished. Nothing was ever seen except a little cloud of black smoke where the plane had been. Then the two other ships were flying on alone. One airman happened to be taking a picture at the very moment of the disappearance. The film showed two planes and a puff of smoke between.

A direct hit setting off a plane’s bomb load has never happened before in the American or British forces. I think it must have happened to the Germans, however, for I remember a British artillery officer telling me two years ago of a high-flying German bomber disappearing in a flash while he was looking at it through field glasses.

Fellow fliers of this ill-fated American crew were naturally pretty blue over the accident. But, as they say, when anything as freakish as that gets you, your number is just up regardless. And they go on with the war as usual.

When the boys tell you about it, they say:

Well, at least they never knew what happened to them, it was so quick.

The dearth of women, especially American women, is one of the greatest trials our soldiers overseas have to go through. There are thousands of men here, but only one woman has ever set foot on this vast airdrome. That was Margaret Bourke-White.

A sergeant who is a cook in one of the kitchens here was telling me:

You know how we’re always cussing and carrying on with each other. Well, the other day Miss Bourke-White walked through the kitchen all of a sudden. I guess we weren’t saying anything bad at the time, but we just hadn’t seen an American girl in so long that we all blushed.

I’ve met her, incidentally, for the first time, here in this remote desert spot. She is pleasant and good-looking, with prematurely graying hair. She makes quite a sight in Army trousers and wool-lined leather flying jacket.

The commanding general here is an exceptionally nice guy. We eat breakfast at his table, although usually we take out other meals out at some field mess, eating out of mess kits.

At any rate, we have marmalade for breakfast, and when the general doesn’t eat with us, I take his marmalade off his plate and eat it myself. The morning I met Miss Bourke-White, she up and asked the general if she could have his marmalade. I told her I’d been in the habit of eating it. And she said:

Your work and mine are so different nobody could ever imagine us as competitors, but from now on we’ll be better rivals for the general’s marmalade.

The eating isn’t as good here as back around Algiers and Oran. The farther east you go the more regimented the food becomes. That’s because it’s harder to buy fresh stuff from the country, and our food comes mostly out of ration cans. Not that it’s at all bad. A person could live very healthfully on it forever. But after you’ve eaten the same thing for weeks on end you get rather bored with it, to understate the case.

We are blessed with plenty of oranges, tangerines, figs and dates – especially dates. They are served at every meal here, huge platefuls of them. You can buy them in the stores or from boys in the streets of the villages.

Some of our Christmas boxes from back home were full of stuffed dates. If somebody will just send me a little sackful of sand for Easter, everything will be wonderful.

The Pittsburgh Press (January 28, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A forward airdrome in North Africa – (Jan. 27)
Nine American boys have just had a unique baptism of war. They left America very recently on a bomber, bound for the African front. They arrived here a little later, by camelback, after a series of incredible adventures, including a battle with German fighter planes. Here is the story.

A Flying Fortress, commanded by Lt. Harry Devers of Martinsburg, West Virginia, took off from America during the holidays and flew without incident across the Atlantic and to the coast of Africa. Devers’ crew of eight was composed of Lt. Richard Banning, of Britt, Louisiana, co-pilot; Lt. Charles Watt of Jacobsburg, Ohio, navigator; Lt. Victor Coveno of 11002 Woodland Ave., Cleveland, Ohio, and five sergeant-gunners – W. K. Thames of Fayetteville, North Carolina; Joseph Obradovich of Lacrosse, Wisconsin; Richard Hasbrough of Brooklyn, New York; Harry Alsaker of Montana, and Robert Oheron of Cresline, Ohio.

After landing in Africa, they took off one recent morning and formed up with two other Fortresses for the last lap of their journey to war. They headed for the designated airdrome at the front where they were to report for action. They flew all day, and when they arrived where they thought the field should be, they couldn’t find it. So, they flew on and kept hunting. The afternoon wore on and dusk grew near.

Suddenly, out of a blank sky, two fighters dived on them. Bullets began to spatter. That was how those youngsters, fresh from America, discovered that they had wandered into enemy territory. What a fine way to start their war!

Devers’ crew began shooting back, but the fighters switched to one of the other Forts, which soon circled downward and disappeared, apparently shot down. It has not been heard from since.

The two remaining planes lost the Germans in the dusk. One made a crash landing. Devers circled over it and was given a signal not to land. Several days later, American reconnaissance planes discovered this Fortress being towed along the road, headed for Italian territory. They dived at it, guns going and set it afire.

That account for two of the Forts and gets us down to our friends mentioned above.

They were alone in the air now and they headed back west to get away from the enemy. It was dark, and they still couldn’t find the airdrome to which they were being sent, so they flew far south to make sure of getting away from the mountains. They went up to 11,000 feet, flew until their gas was gone, and then jumped.

Devers gave them all instructions before they jumped. They were flying south and he would be the last man out, so he would start walking north and all the others were to head south. The plan worked. Eight of the nine found each other within half an hour. Lt. Coveno landed in a gully half a mile away from the meeting place and spent the night there, rejoining the others next morning.

That first night they all slept on the ground, wrapped in their parachutes. They didn’t know whether they were in enemy territory or not.

At dawn an old Arab came wandering past. He was a nomadic shepherd, and he spoke neither English nor French. But he was wonderful to these boys. He led them northward, and they walked all day, covering 20 miles. Again that night they slept in their ‘chutes, and they almost froze.

The second morning they came across a caravan of 15 camels. In charge of them was an Arabian enlisted man in the French Army. He was touring the desert buying camels for the French. This Arab took the boys along with him. They learned later that he thought they were Italian parachutists and that he was capturing them.

They rode camels for two days – and they never wanted to see another camel. They had to ride bareback, and they said a camel’s back would make an excellent razor blade. They rode till they couldn’t bear it any longer, and then got off and walked. But the sand was so deep they couldn’t walk either, so they had to get back on their desert chariots.

For two days and nights they traveled by camelback across the bare sands. There were no trails, no roads. On the morning of the fourth day, they came upon a French desert garrison and there they were able to identify themselves for the first time, as Devers speaks some French.

The French officers put them to bed and arranged for a truck to take them to a meeting place with an American truck. So, finally, at the end of the fifth day, they arrived at the airdrome they had hunted so desperately five nights before.

They were tired, but not in bad shape. They were still animated, and willingly told the story over and over. We finally had to make them go to bed, at 10 o’clock.

A good sleep was too much for them. The next morning, they felt washed out and weary. Some of them were even sick at their stomachs. But in a day or two they will be normal again, when their excitement over being alive quiets down a bit.

The Pittsburgh Press (January 29, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A forward airdrome in French North Africa – (Jan. 28)
This is a continuation of the story of nine American boys who got lost, accidentally ran into German fighter planes, and had to jump from their Fortress on their very first day in the war zone.

The bombardier, Lt. Victor Coveno of Cleveland, is the gay one of the outfit. It was all marvelous to him. He recalls all the funny little things that happened. For instance, about the German fighter who surprised them, Coveno says:

You know what I said? I said, “Let’s shoot them tin cans down.”

But the tin cans kept out of Coveno’s range.

Finally, late that night, they ran out of gas and had to jump. They had a box of vitamin pills aboard, and they each ate a handful of pills just before jumping. Coveno grabbed a .45 automatic in one hand and a flashlight in the other, and jumped that way, carrying them all the way down.

One of the sergeants tucked an orange under his right arm. And then while plunging through space he had to reach up and get the orange in his hand so he could free that arm for pulling the ripcord. He saved the orange then, but later he let it drop somewhere. He’s still cussing about it.

Coveno sang all the way down. He doesn’t remember what he sang, but he just sang because he was so damned happy about that parachute. However, it oscillated so badly he got seasick.

Parachutes in the war zone are packed with chocolate rations, and the boys stuffed a few additional rations in their pockets before jumping. On the ground, Lt. Devers ordered them to cut their rations to half portions, in case they should be in the desert a long time. As it turned out, their parachute rations were still untouched when they finally reached an American airdrome. They ate goat meat all the time with the Arabs. They don’t care much for goat meat.

Arabs are naturally wizards at finding water holes, and the boys would fill their canteens regularly. They always remembered to put in purifying pills too, which we all carry.

They slept in their parachutes all five of their nights in the desert. They didn’t sleep much, for it was too cold. Devers appointed guards each night, for they still weren’t sure where they were.

During the day, when riding razorback camels in utmost agony, they all sang that Bing Crosby-Bob Hope song, “The Road to Morocco.” They were a long way from Morocco but they felt that the song sort of fitted into their background.

The old Arab who first picked them up was a spectacular character, a true nomad moving from day to day with his family and his herd of goats. He was 80 years old, had only one eye and no teeth.

They talked to him in sign language. He told them he had heard their plane the night before. The boys tried to give him money when they parted. He wouldn’t take it, but he did accept some knives. The boys forgot to find out his name, but the Arab will be taken care of anyhow when the French find him, for the American Army will reward him.

Coveno says:

Boy, I’ve seen one beautiful Arab girl. She’s this old fellow’s granddaughter, and she’s really beautiful.

But the lieutenant heard how the Arabs feel about their women, so he didn’t make eyes at her.

Lt. Watt was the only one in the bunch who saved his ripcord. Several of the crew arrived carrying specimens of a peculiar rock, picked up from the sands. It’s called desert rose, and is a hard sandstone. It really looks like a rose. It’s a precious souvenir they’ll always keep.

All of them lost everything they had on the plane. When they arrived, they naïvely said:

We want to go to the quartermaster in the morning and get some new outfits.

Everybody laughed loudly. You don’t get new outfits here. You wear just what you’ve got on, and keep on wearing it for months and months.

These boys feel miserable about bungling their trip and losing a brand-new ship. They are humble about it. And they are almost worshipful in the presence of the veterans here who have seen so much action. But they will get a new ship, and in a few months, they will be able to talk like veterans to other new arrivals.

One of my favorite Bing Crosby songs: :slight_smile:

The Pittsburgh Press (January 30, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A forward airdrome in French North Africa – (Jan. 29)
There is nothing lighthearted about the imminence of death at the moment it is upon a man, but the next morning it can be very funny. It is worth a small fortune to be around an American camp on the morning after an aerial attack. Soldier comics have fertile ground then, and they go to work in the old vaudeville fashion of getting a laugh by making fun of yourself.

The other morning, I sat in a tent with a dozen airplane mechanics and heard Sgt. Claude Coggey of Richmond, Virginia, speak. The sergeant said:

I hear there’s one man who says he was not scared last night. I want to meet that man and shake his hand. Then I’ll knock him down for being a damned liar.

Me, I was never so scared in my life. As soon as those bombs started dropping, I started hunting a chaplain. Boy, I needed some morale-building. A big one came whistling down. I dived into the nearest trench and landed right on top of a chaplain. Pretty soon I had an idea. I said, “Chaplain, are you with me?” He said, “Brother, I’m ahead of you.” So, we went whisht out of the ditch and took off for the mountains.

Anybody who says a scared man can’t make 50 miles an hour uphill doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Me and the chaplain can prove it. Now and then we’d slow down to about 30 miles an hour and listen for a plane, and then speed up again. But in the moonlight the Jerries picked us out and came down shooting. I dived into an irrigation ditch full of water and went right to the bottom. After a while I said “Chaplain, you still with me?” And he said, “With you, hell, I’m under you.”

It never occurred to me till this morning what damned fools we were to get out of that ditch and run in the moonlight. It won’t happen again. After this, from 6 p.m. on, my address will be the top of that farthest mountain peak.

The reactions of the American soldiers to their first bad bombings have been exactly what you would expect of them. They take it in a way to make you proud. The following figures aren’t literal for any certain camp or particular bombing, but just my own generalization, which I believe a real survey would authenticate. Say you’ve got a camp of 5,000 men, and they go through a dive-bombing and machine-gun strafing. One man out of that 5,000 will break completely and go berserk. He may never recover. Perhaps 25 will momentarily lose their heads and start dashing around foolishly. A couple of hundred will decide to change trenches when the bombs seem too close, forgetting that the safest place is the hole where you are. The 4,774 others will stay right in their trenches, thoroughly scared, but in full possession of themselves. They’ll do exactly the right thing. The moment it’s over they’ll be out with shovels and tools helping to put out fires, working just as calmly as they would in the safety of broad daylight.

Our bombings here have proved that deep trenches are fully satisfactory as shelters. I’ve just seen a crater you could put a Ford car in, within 40 feet of an open trench full of men. An uprooted palm tree fell across the trench, and the men were covered with flying dirt, but not one was scratched. Their tents were mangled. One boy had just received a two-pound tin box of candy from his girl. Shrapnel slashed it wide open.

During the melee some running soldiers found one guy dead drunk in a ditch. He was sound asleep and snoring away. It was so funny they paused in their flight to laugh and envy him. Some men didn’t hear the alert and had to dive into trenches in their underwear and bare feet. One boy showed me his steel helmet with bullet holes front and back. I foolishly asked:

Did you have it on?

Obviously, he hadn’t.

Where German machine-gun bullets hit the ground around their tents, soldiers described the result as looking like snake holes. At first the boys would search for pieces of shrapnel as souvenirs to take home, but within a few days, shrapnel was so common they didn’t bother to pick it up.

To top it all off, every morning at sunrise you can see the dirt flying and the trenches going a little deeper.

The Pittsburgh Press (February 1, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A forward airdrome in French North Africa – (Jan. 31)
The American soldier is a born housewife, I’ve become convinced. I’ll bet there’s not another army in the world that fixes itself a “home away from home” as quickly as ours does. I’ve seen the little home touches created by our soldiers in their barns and castles and barracks and tents all over America, Ireland, England and Africa. But nowhere has this sort of thing given such a play as here at one of our desert airdromes.

The reason is twofold: First, the climate here is so dry you can fix up something with a fair certainty that it won’t be washed away in the morning. Second, because of the constant danger of a German bashing, the boys have dug into the ground to make their homes, and the things they can do with a cave were endless, as every farm boy knows.

The basic shelter here is a pup tent, but the soldiers have dug holes and set their tents over these. And the accessories inside provide one of the greatest shows on earth. Wandering among them is better than going to a state fair. The variations are infinite.

There are a few fantastically elaborate two- and three-room apartments underground. One officer has dug his deep slit trench right inside his tent, at the foot of his bed. He has even lined the trench with blankets so he can lie six feet below ground under canvas and sleep during a raid. The finest homes are made by those who are lucky enough to get or borrow the covered-wagon ribs and canvas from a truck. They dug a hole and plant the canopy over the top.

Some of them have places fixed like sheiks’ palaces. On the dirt floors are mats bought from Arabs in a nearby village. Some have electric lights hooked to batteries. One man bought a two-burner gasoline stove from some Frenchman for $3.20. On it he and his buddies heat water for washing and fry an occasional egg. Furthermore, they have rigged up a shield from a gasoline tin and fitted it over the stove so that it channels the heat sideways and warms the tent at night.

An officer whose bedroll lies flat on the ground dug a hole two feet deep beside this ‘‘bed” so he can let his legs hang over the side normally when he sits on the bed. Many dugouts have pictures of girls back home hanging on the walls. A few boys have papered their bare walls with Arab straw mats.

One evening I stuck my nose into the dugout of Sgt. Ray Aalto, 4732 Oakton Street, Skokie, Illinois. He is an ordnance man now, caring for the guns on airplanes, but before the war he was a steam-boiler man. Aalto has one thing nobody else in camp has. He has built a fireplace inside his dugout. He has tunneled into one end of the dugout, lined the hole with gasoline tins, and made a double-jointed chimney so that no sparks nor light can show. He wishes his wife could see him now.

The deepest and most comfortable dugout I’ve seen was built by four boys in the ground crew of a fighter squadron. It is five feet deep, and on each side, they left a ledge wide enough for two bedding rolls, making two double beds. You enter by a long L-shaped trench, with steps leading down the first part of the L. At the door is a double set of blackout curtains. Inside they have rigged up candles and flashlights with blackout hoods.

Most of the soldiers go to bed an hour or so after dark, because the camp is blacked out and there’s nothing else to do. Only those with blackout lights in their dugouts can stay up and read or play cards or talk. These four boys have dug a square hole in the wall of their dugout and fitted into it a gasoline tin with a door lock, making a perfect wall safe for cigarettes, chocolates, etc. Their dugout is so deep they can stay in it during a raid. In fact, they don’t even get out of bed.

It took the four of them three days, working every minute of their spare time, to dig their hole and fix it up. The four are Pvt. Neil Chamblee of Zebulon, North Carolina, Pvt. W. T. Minges of Gastonia, North Carolina, Sgt. Robert Cook of Montpelier, Indiana, and Sgt. Richard Hughes of Weiner, Arkansas. Sgt. Hughes was especially pleased that I came around, because his mother had written him that I was in Africa and that she hoped our paths would cross, but he never supposed they would.

I believe a character analyst could walk around this camp and learn more than you could by having the boys fill out a thousand questionnaires. Hundreds of boys have done nothing at all to their tents, but I believe at least half of them have added some home touch. A fellow doesn’t think of these things and work his head off on his own time creating them unless he’s got a real lively ingenuity in him.

The Pittsburgh Press (February 2, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. forces in Algeria – (Feb. 1)
I don’t know whether much has been written at home about or African booklet or not. It’s on the same principle as the booklet about England that was issued to our troops there.

The African booklet is a neat little blue-backed affair of 16 pages. It was written before we came here, and consequently is prefaced by the admission that “our welcome by the inhabitants is not known at this time.” I might add that after several months of studying the situation I still don’t know what our welcome is.

The booklet describes briefly the history and geology of the North African countries. Since it always makes a good impression for a writer to pick out flaws, I’ll take the liberty of pointing out a few small errors in our booklet. For instance, it says “little rainfall is experienced along the coast.” Some Californian must have written that. If that stuff that comes down day after day along the Algerian coast in a piercing, chill, England-like downpour isn’t rain, then I must be shell-shocked.

When you’re wet to the skin for three days at a time and shivering with cold in mud halfway to their knees. I’m afraid you’ll have a hard time convincing several hundred thousand soldiers that it hasn’t been raining.

The booklet also says that:

Mirage is of fairly frequent occurrence. It generally occurs early in the morning.

It may be there are mirages in summertime, I don’t know. But the only mirage anybody has seen around here this winter would be one induced by approximately four bottles of cheap wine.

The booklet explains the new issue of American money given us. It adds that there will be little to buy over here (and they are right) and advises soldiers to allot at least 75% of their pay home. There is so little to spend money on over here that everybody has more than he knows what to do with. Officer-friends of mine say they have never saved so much money in their lives. As for me, I’m spending a total of about $5 a week (My employers will probably try to keep me here forever when they read this).

Being a financial ignoramus from way back, it’s all Greek to me why we issued this American money to begin with. For the French money still exists – both currencies are acceptable – and now that the newness has worn off, the Army is paying off in francs anyhow. The British issued a special money for their troops too. It’s all too deep for me.

The most interesting part of the book is its “Do’s and Don’ts." It warns us never to enter mosques, and never to loiter, smoke, or spit in front of a mosque.

It says that bread is holy to the Moslems, and never to cut it but always break it with the fingers, and not to let any drop on the ground. It says further that you must always eat with your right hand, even if you are a southpaw. I asked a French Algerian about this, and he says he never heard of it before. So, I’ve continued to eat left-handed and nothing has happened.

The booklet warns us not to give Moslems alcoholic drinks, not to take dogs into a house, and not to kill snakes or birds, since the Arabs believe that the souls of departed chieftains reside in them.

Finally, the book says:

Talk Arabic if you can to the people. No matter how badly you do it, they like it.

This is good advice but how any American is to go about trying to talk Arabic is more than I know. Most of us can’t even learn enough French to get by, and Arabic is an almost impossible language to learn.

The Army has put out a few little booklets giving some Arabic words and phrases. I’ll give you a few examples of how easy it is to speak Arabic. For instance, if an Arab asks you what that thing is hanging from your belt, you reply “bundikeeya sughayzara” – which means pistol. After you’d talked an hour or two along that line and were ready to call it a day, you’d say to the Arab:

Lailtak syeeda ataimsik behair.

…which means “good night.”

The book ends by saying that some Arabic sounds are almost impossible for Americans to learn. For example, it says that “kh” resembles the sound made when clearing the throat, and that “gh” is a deep gurgling noise.

If you were to sneeze, cough, whistle, choke and hiccup all at once, that would mean:

I love you, baby, meet me in front of Walgreens right after supper, and leave your veil at home.

The Pittsburgh Press (February 3, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Another forward airdrome in French North Africa – (Feb. 2)
It happens that my best flying friends in this war have been bomber men, but I wish somebody would sing a song, and a glorious one, for our fighter pilots. They are the forgotten men of our aerial war.

Not until I came up close to the African front did I realize what our fighter pilots have been through and what they are doing. Somehow or other you don’t hear much about them, but they are the sponge that is absorbing the fury of the Luftwaffe over here. They are taking it and taking it and taking it. An everlasting credit should be theirs.

In England, the fighters of the RAF got the glory because of the great Battle of Britain in 1940. But in America, our attention has been centered on the bombers. The spectacular success of the Flying Fortresses when they went into action made the public more bomber-conscious.

There is still rivalry between the fighters and the bombers, as there always has been. That in itself is probably a good thing. But of late, it has sort of slipped out of the category of rivalry – it has developed into a feeling on the part of the fighter pilots that they are neglected and unappreciated and taking a little more than their share on the nose. Their ratio of losses is higher than that of the bombers, and their ratio of credit is lower.

There have been exaggerations in the claims that the Fortresses can take care of themselves without fighter escort. Almost any bomber pilot will tell you that he is deeply grateful for the fighter cover he has in Africa, and that if he had to go without it, he would feel like a very naked man on his way to work.

Our heavy bombers now are always escorted by Lockheed Lightnings (P-38s). It is their job to keep off German fighters and to absorb whatever deadliness the Nazis deal out. It means longer trips than fighters ever made before. Sometimes they have to carry extra gas tanks, which they drop when the fight starts. They mix it with the enemy when they are already tired from long flying at high altitudes. And then if they get crippled, they have to navigate alone all the way home.

The P-38 is a marvelous airplane, and every pilot who flies it loves it. But the very thing that makes the Lightning capable of these long trips – its size – unfits it for the type of combat it faces when it gets there.

If two Lightnings and two Messerschmitt 109s got into a fight, the Americans are almost bound to come out the little end of the horn, because the Lightnings are heavier and less maneuverable.

The ideal work of the P-38 is as an interceptor, ground strafer, or light hit-and-run bomber. It would be a perfect weapon in the hands of the Germans to knock down our daylight bombers. Thank goodness they haven’t got it.

Convoying bombers is monotonous work for the fighter pilot who lives on dash and vim. These boys sometimes have to sit cramped in their little seat for six hours. In a bomber you can move around, but not in a fighter. The bomber has a big crew to do different things, but the fighter pilot is everything in one. He is his own navigator, his own radio operator, his own gunner. When you hear the pilots tell of all the things they have to do during a flight, it is amazing that they ever have the time to keep a danger eye out for Germans.

Although our fighters in North Africa have accounted for many more German planes than we have lost, still our fighter losses are high. I have been chumming with a roomful of five fighter pilots for the past week. Tonight, two of those five are gone.

The Pittsburgh Press (February 4, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Algeria – (Feb. 3, delayed)
Some people collect stamps for a hobby. Some people carve battleships out of matchsticks. Some send themselves postcards from all the foreign cities they visit. But I have a hobby that is much more interesting and ambitious than any of these.

It took shape in my mind many years ago when I was lying, wretched and miserable, with dengue fever in Mexico. Since I was a traveler anyhow, my new hobby fitted right in with my work. Great goal that formed in my head was to be sick in every country on the face of the earth, before finally cashing in my checks on home soil.

I’ve made gratifying progress in the past half-dozen years. I’ve been sick in Panama, Peru, Chile, French Guiana and the Bahama Islands.

I damn near died once in Alaska, Hawaii and Guatemala have heard my moans of anguish. Portugal contributed its aches and pains. Ireland blessed me with a high fever and violent chills. Even dear old England made me sick at times.

And then I came to Africa. For a while, it looked as though things might bog down here. I felt perfectly fine. I felt alarmingly good. It began to worry me. What would people say?

But my worries are all over now. Africa is under my belt. I’m just arising from ten days of the African flu. I burned, chilled, coughed, ached and cried out in agony. It was first-rate, grade-A, all-wool misery. In fact, one of the most satisfactory illnesses I’ve ever had. Vive l’Afrique!

My illness was what is known colloquially among us boys as the “african pip.” It is really nothing more than old-fashioned Chicago influenza. But upon this is superimposed a special type of some throat native to these parts – a sore throat so outstanding in its violence that it was awarded the Medaille Sorum Throatus d’honneur at the Paris Exposition of 1896, against sore throats from all over the world.

If the Army never does anything else for me, I’ll always contend that the Army saved my neck. They gave me better than I’d have got if I’d been paying for it. In fact, among all my touring illnesses I’ve never had better treatment than here in darkest Africa.

I lay in a perfectly good bed in a perfectly nice room in an old hotel taken over by the Army. The Army doctor who attended me happened to live in adjoining room, as all I had to do to call him was throw a glass or an ashtray against the opposite wall and he would come dashing in with stethoscope swinging.

My meals were served at bedside by white-coated Army waiters right from the general’s own mess. Several times a day, Medical Corpsmen from the Army dispensary came with little pens and hoods and alcohol burners, and gave me inhalation treatments from their boiling fumes. Army friends were continually dropping in to bring me three-month-old mail that had just arrived, or to bring me tangerines, or my cigarette rations, or the latest news or rumors of news.

It was a sulfa drug that put me on the road to health again. I wish they’d start selling sulfa drugs in grocery-store packages. So, I could write a testimonial about them. For I’m becoming quite an exhibit of the benefits of sulfa-this and sulfa-that.

In previous foreign countries, I’ve had sulfanilamide and sulfathiazole. This time, they gave me sulfadiazine. The doctor said it would probably make me sick at the stomach, but it didn’t it merely made me keenly aware of the most remarkable people all around the room, saying the most remarkable things. After a day or two, these people all packed their bags and left, and then I was a well man once more, albeit a weak one.

General weakness, general laziness, and the general’s fine food kept me glued to my room for five days after I wasn’t sick at all any longer. Finally, the colonel said if I didn’t get up and walk out for me meals, he was going to exercise the Army regulations which provide for the court-martial of correspondents.

So, I’m in circulation, the vacation is over, the record is complete, and now I might as well pick up my bedroll and move on to India or someplace, for there’s no use hanging around here and maybe being sick twice in the same place. That would be known as wasted effort.

The Pittsburgh Press (February 5, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Algeria – (Feb. 4)
I’ve dwelt all I intend to upon my recent bout with the African flu, and I must tell you
about the aggregation of plumbers, professors, horse doctors, and traveling salesmen who were delegated by the Army to pull me back to life.

First there was Pvt. Henry R. Riley, who walked in one day with his arms full of laboratory apparatus, and said he was ready to give me the inhalation treatments necessary to clear my throat and chest of its awful load. Pvt. Riley is a jockey by trade! Pvt. Riley is one of those good old boys from Oklahoma, good-natured and slow-talking. He was born in Pawhuska, and has been riding horses ever since he could remember.

His nickname is “Beans.” He says he was Leading Rider of America in 1930, booting home 187 winners that year. He rode for Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney’s Greentree Stables. Beans had to give up racing in 1933 when his weight got up to 132 pounds and he couldn’t do anything with it. He weighs 145 pounds now, is 30 years old, and feels wonderful.

After he quit riding, Beans went into the medical end of racehorse training. He says he worked under the finest veterinarians in the business. He was still making the racetrack circuits with the training stables right up to wartime. He has a wife and stepson.

I thought it necessary to make a little joke about a horse doctor being put into the Army Medical Corps and set to doctoring people, but Beans saw no inconsistency in it at all. He’s as happy as a bug in his work, and says he’d rather be in the Medical Corps than any other branch of the Army, even the cavalry.

Beans says very seriously:

Doctoring people and doctoring horses is exactly the same except you give a horse from 12 to 16 times as much. There’s a difference of opinion. Some say 12, some say 16. I always hold to 12 myself, to be on the safe side.”

Beans’ treatment worked all right with me. But from this day onward I shall never be able to look upon myself as anything more than one-twelfth of a horse.

Next on my list is the young man who brought my meals – a redheaded, nice-looking fellow perpetually ready to break out into a grin. He is Pvt. Thomas Doyle, 1422 Woodward Ave., Lakewood, Ohio. He goes either by Tom or Red, so I called him Red to remind me of the days when I had hair and it was red.

On the second meal Red came beaming in behind his tray and said:

I know now. I thought at noon I ought to know your face and I’ve been thinking ever since and finally I’ve got it. We read your column all the time at home in Cleveland.

From then on Red would bring my meals and then sit down and light a cigarette and hold conversation throughout the time I was eating. Red used to be an asbestos worker. He said:

What on earth is an asbestos worker? We put asbestos around pipes.

Red belongs to a union – Local No. 3 of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers. He laughs at the name, as he does at nearly everything else. But he sure likes his union.

Every year they give away Christmas turkeys to the members. This year, they obviously couldn’t ship turkeys all over the world, so they sent a money order for $10 to each member serving overseas.

Red grins:

Wonder what Westbrook Pegler would think of that?

Red got his $10 just a few days before Christmas. He’s trying to find something especially Algerian to buy and send home to his wife.

Yes, he got married a couple of months before going into the Army, even though he’s just a kid. His wife is a secretary at Thompson Aircraft. He married a schooldays sweetheart. He says:

I didn’t make any mistake either. I’m sure glad I did it.

Like the other boys, Red doesn’t mind being in the Army. At first, he was an infantryman, and then in England they made a fireman out of him, on the grounds that he was so asbestos-like, I suppose. And then when he got to Africa, they converted him into a waiter on tables. Red’s colonel is a pretty tough egg, not much given to compliments. But on the third day of Red’s dining-room career, the colonel complimented him on his prowess.

Red said:

That was pretty nice, but I had to laugh at getting complimented on being a waiter when I don’t want to be a waiter. Oh, it’s all right, but I’m going to try to get transferred, because I’d hate to have to say I fought the whole war with a serving tray.

One of the saddest parts about getting well was the end of the nice mealtime conversations with Red Doyle, the Asbestos Kid. But I’ve still got some more of the Army to tell you about tomorrow.