Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

The Pittsburgh Press (July 24, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Normandy, France – (by wireless)
The cook of LST 392, on which I came to France, was a beefy, good-natured fellow named Edward Strucker of Barberton, Ohio, which is near Akron.

Cooking on these transport ships is a terrible job, for you suddenly have to turn out twice as much food as normally. But Eddie is not the worrying type, and he takes it all in his stride.

Eddie has a brother named Charles in the Army Engineers, and in the past year has been lucky enough to run into him four times – once in Africa, once in Sicily, and twice in Italy.

One of those small-world experiences happened to me, too, while on that ship. We lay at anchor in a certain harbor a couple of days before sailing for France. On the second day I was in the washroom shaving when a sailor came in and said there was a Cdr. Greene who wanted to see me in the captain’s cabin.

The only Greene I could think of who might be a commander in the Navy was Lt. Terry Greene, whom I had known in my Greenwich Village days. You didn’t know I ever had any Greenwich Village days? Well, don’t get excited, because they weren’t very lurid anyhow.

The same Terry Greene

At any rate I went to the captain’s cabin, and sure enough it was the same Terry Greene all right. By some strange coincidence, we had both got 17 years older in the meantime.

Greene held a very important position in the convoy. He was tickled to death with his assignment, for he had been in the States almost the whole war and was about to go nuts for some action.

I haven’t seen him on this side of the Channel to discuss it, but I’m afraid our trip over wasn’t as exciting as he would have liked. But you can’t please everybody, and it was just tame enough to suit me fine.

In your travels around the world, if you ever happen to be sailing on LST 392, you might climb a ladder to a high platform astern which holds a big gun, and look at the breech of the gun.

There, written on each side of the barrel, you’ll find my name. the boys in the gun crew asked if I would come up and write my name as big as I could on the gun, and then they would trace it over in red paint. Which they did. I’ll be very much embarrassed now if the gun blows up on them. To say nothing of how they’ll feel.

One of the gun crew is Seaman John Lepperd of Hershey, Pennsylvania. He is about the oldest man in the crew. He is 34, and has three daughters – 17, 15 and 13 – and yet he got drafted last November and here he is sailing across the English Channel and helping shoot down German planes. It still seems a little odd to him. It is quite a contrast to the building game, which he had been in.

Ernie meets a hometowner

Also on this ship I ran into one of my hometowners from Albuquerque, Electrician’s Mate Harold Lampton. His home is actually in Farmington, New Mexico, but he worked for the telephone company at Albuquerque, installing new phones. Now he is the electrician for this ship. He has been in the Navy for two years and overseas for more than a year.

He is a tall, dark, quiet fellow who knows a great deal more about the Southwest than I do. he said he has driven past our house many times, and we had long nostalgic talks about the desert and Indian jewelry and sunsets. We are both tired of being where we are and we wish we were back on the Rio Grande.

Every LST in our convoy carried two or three barrage balloons. With each balloon was a soldier.

Among the soldiers I talked to on the LST were Cpl. Loyce Gilbert of Spring Hill, Louisiana; Pvt. Oscar Davis of Troy, North Carolina, and Pvt. Floyd Woodville of Baltimore. They didn’t seem especially apprehensive going to war. I talked to them quite a while but never got much out of them except yes and no. Which was all right with me. I feel that way myself sometimes. Especially right now.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 25, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Normandy, France – (by wireless)
One of the things the layman doesn’t hear much about is the Ordnance Department. In fact, it is one of the branches that even the average soldier is little aware of except in a vague way.

And yet the war couldn’t keep going without it. For Ordnance repairs all the vehicles of an army and furnishes all the ammunition for its guns.

Today there are more vehicles in the American sector of our beachhead than in the average-sized American city. And our big guns on an average heavy day are shooting up more than $10 million worth of ammunition. You see Ordnance has a man-sized job.

Ordnance personnel is usually about six or seven percent of the total men of an army. That means we have many thousands of ordnance men in Normandy. Their insignia is a flame coming out of a retort – nicknamed in the Army “The Flaming Onion.”

Ordnance operates the ammunition dumps we have scattered about the beachhead. But much bigger than its ammunition mission is Ordnance’s job of repair. Ordnance has 275,000 items in its catalog of parts, and the mere catalog itself covers a 20-foot shelf.

In a central headquarters here on the beachhead, a modern filing system housed in big tents keeps records on the number and condition of 500 major items in actual use on the beachhead, from tanks to pistols.

Able to repair anything

We have scores and scores of separate Ordnance companies at work on the beachhead – each of them a complete firm within itself, able to repair anything the Army uses.

Ordnance can lift a 30-ton tank as easily as it can a bicycle. It can repair a blown-up jeep or the intricate breech of a mammoth gun.

Some of its highly specialized repair companies are made up largely of men who were craftsmen in the same line in civil life. In these companies you will find the average age is much above the Army average. You will find craftsmen in their late 40s, you’ll find men with their own established businesses who were making $30,000 to $40,000 a year back home and who are now wearing sergeant’s stripes. You’ll find great soberness and sincerity, plus the normal satisfaction that comes from making things whole again instead of destroying them.

You will find an IQ far above the average for the Army. It has to be that way or the work would not get done.

You’ll find mechanical work being done under a tree that would be housed in a $50,000 shop back in America. You’ll find men working 16 hours a day, then sleeping on the ground, who because of their age, don’t even have to be here at all.

Ordnance is one of the undramatic branches of the Army. They are the mechanics and the craftsmen, the fixers and the suppliers. But their job is vital. Ordinarily they are not in a great deal of danger. there are times on newly won and congested beachheads when their casualty rate is high, but once the war settles down and there is room for movement and dispersal it is not necessary or desirable for them to do their basic work within gun range.

Ordnance casualties light

Our Ordnance branch in Normandy has had casualties. It has two small branches which will continue to have casualties – its bomb-disposal squads and its retriever companies that go up to pull out crippled tanks under fire.

But outside of those two sections, if your son or husband is in Ordnance in France you can feel fairly easy about his returning to you. I don’t say that to belittle Ordnance in any way but to ease your worries if you have someone in this branch of the service overseas.

Ordnance is set up in a vast structure of organization the same as any other Army command. The farther back you go, the bigger become the outfits and the more elaborately equipped and more capable of doing heavy, long-term work.

Every infantry or armored division has an Ordnance Company with it all the time. This company does quick repair jobs. What it hasn’t time or facilities for doing it hands on back to the next echelon in the rear.

The division Ordnance companies hit the beach on D-Day. The next echelon back began coming on D+4. The great heavy outfits arrived somewhat later.

Today wreckage of seven weeks of war is all in hand. And in one great depot after another it is being worked out – repair or rebuilt or sent back for salvage until everything possible is made available again to our men who do the fighting. In later columns, I’ll take you along to some of these repair companies that do the vital work.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 26, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Normandy, France – (by wireless)
Let’s go to what the Ordnance branch calls one of its “mobile maintenance companies.”

This type company repairs jeeps, light trucks, small arms and light artillery. It does not take tanks, heavy trucks or big guns.

The company is bivouacked around the hedgerows of a large, grassy L-shaped pasture. There are no trees in the pasture. There is nothing in the center except some grazing horses. No man or vehicle walks or drives across the pasture. Always they stick to the tree-high hedgerows.

It is hard to conceive that here in the thin, invisible line around the edges of this empty pasture there is a great machine shop with nearly 200 men working with wrenches and welding torches, that six teams of auto mechanics are busy, that the buzz of urgent labor goes on through all the daylight hours.

Actually, there is little need for such perfect camouflages for this company is perhaps 10 miles behind the lines, and German planes never appear in the daytime. But it’s a good policy to keep in practice on camouflage.

This is a proud company. It was the first one to land in France – first, that is, behind the companies actually attached to divisions. It landed on D+2 and lost three men killed and seven wounded when a shell hit their ship as they were unloading.

Proud record in two years

For five days it was the only Ordnance company of its type ashore. Its small complement whose job in theory is to back up only one division in medium repair work carried all repair work for four divisions until help arrived.

The company had a proud record in the last war, being in nine major engagements. And it has a sentimental little coincidence in its history, too. In 1917 and in 1943, it left America for France on the same date, Dec. 12.

In one corner of the pasture is the command post tent where two sergeants and two officers work at folding tables and keep the records so necessary in ordnance.

A first lieutenant is in command of the company, assisted by five other lieutenants. Their standby is Warrant Officer Ernest Pike of Savoy, Texas, who has been in the Army 15 years, 13 of them with this very company. What he doesn’t know about practical ordnance you could put in a dead German’s eye.

In another corner of the pasture is a mess truck with its field kitchens under some trees. Here the men of the company line up for meals with mess kits, officers as well as men, and eat sitting on the grass.

The officers lounge on the grass in a little group apart and when they finish eating, they light cigarettes and play a while with some cute little French puppies they found in German strongpoints, or traded soap and cigarettes for. The officers know the men intimately and if they are in a hurry and have left their mess kits behind, they just borrow one from some soldier who has finished eating.

Unit is highly mobile

A company of this kind is highly mobile. It can pack up and be underway in probably less than an hour.

Yet ordnance figures as a basic policy that its companies must not move oftener than every six days if they are to work successfully. They figure one day for moving, one for settling down and four days of fulltime work, then move forward again.

If at any time the fighting army ahead of them gets rolling faster than this rate, the Ordnance companies begin leapfrogging each other, one working while another of the same type moves around it and sets up.

Once set up the men sleep on the ground in pup tents along the hedge with foxholes dug deep and handy. But usually, their greatest enemy is the hordes of mosquitoes that infest the hedgerows at night.

The more skilled men work at their benches and instruments inside the shop trucks. The bulk of the work outside is done under dark green canvas canopies stretched outward from the hedgerows and held taut on upright poles, their walls formed of camouflage nets.

Nothing but a vague blur is visible from a couple of hundred yards away. you have to make a long tour clear around the big pasture, nosing in under the hedge and camouflage nets to realize anything is going on at all.

In the far distance, you can hear a faint rumble of big guns, and overhead all day our own planes roar comfortingly.

But outside those fringes of war, it is as peaceful in this Normandy field as it would be in a pasture in Ohio. Why even the three liberated horses graze contentedly on the ankle-high grass, quite indifferent to the fact that this peaceful field is a part of a great war machine that will destroy their recent masters.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 27, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Normandy, France – (by wireless)
At the edge of a pasture, sitting cross-legged on the grass or on low boxes as though they were at a picnic, are 13 men in greasy soldiers’ coveralls.

Near them on one side is a shop truck with a canvas canopy stretched out from it, making a sort of patio alongside the truck. And under this canopy and all over the ground are rifles – rusty and muddy and broken rifles.

This is the small arms section of our medium ordnance company. To this company comes daily in trucks the picked up, rusting rifles of men killed or wounded, and rifles broken in ordinary service. There are dozens of such companies.

This company turns back around a hundred rifles a day to its division, all shiny and oily and ready to shoot again.

They work on the simple salvage system of taking good parts off one gun and placing them on another. To do this, they work like a small assembly plant.

The first few hours of the morning are given to taking broken rifles apart. They don’t try to keep the parts of each gun together. All parts are alike and transferable, hence they throe each type into a big steel pan full of similar parts. At the end of the job, they have a dozen or so pans, each filled with the same kind of part.

Scrub parts in gasoline

Then the whole gang shifts over and scrubs the parts. They scrub in gasoline, using sandpaper for guns in bad condition after lying out in the rain and mud.

When everything is clean, they take the good parts and start putting them back together and making guns out of them again.

When all the pans are empty, they have a stack of rifles – good rifles, all ready to be taken back to the front.

Of the parts left over some are thrown away, quite beyond repair. But others are repairable and go into the section’s shop truck for working on with lathes and welding torches. Thus, the division gets 100 reclaimed rifles a day, in addition to the brand-new ones issued to it.

And believe me, during the first few days of our invasion, men at the front needed these rifles with desperation. Repairmen tell you how our paratroopers and infantrymen would straggle back, dirty and hazy-eyed with fatigue, and plead like a child for a new rifle immediately so they could get back to the front and “get at them so-and-sos.”

Sergeant invents gadget

I sat around on the grass and talked to these rifle repairmen most of one afternoon. They weren’t working so frenziedly then for the urgency was not so dire. But they kept steadily at it as we talked.

The head of the section is Sgt. Edward Welch of Watts, Oklahoma, who used to work in the oil fields. Just since the invasion he’s invented a gadget that cleans rust out of a rifle barrel in a few seconds whereas it used to take a man about 20 minutes.

Sgt. Welch did it merely by rigging up a swivel shaft on the end of an electric drill and attaching a cylindrical wire brush to the end. So now you just stick the brush in the gun barrel and press the button on the drill. It whirls and, in a few seconds, all rust is ground out. The idea has been turned over to other ordnance companies.

The soldiers do a lot of kidding as they sit around taking rusted guns apart. Like soldiers everywhere, they razz each other constantly about their home states. A couple were from Arkansas, and of course they took a lot of hillbilly razzing about not wearing shoes till they got in the Army and so on.

One of them was Cpl. Herschel Grimsley of Springdale, Arkansas. He jokingly asked if I’d put his name in the paper. So, I took a chance and joked back. “Sure,” I said, “except I didn’t know anybody in Arkansas could read.”

Everybody laughed loudly at this scintillating wit, most of all Cpl. Grimsley who can stand anything.

Later Grimsley was telling me how paratroopers used to come in and just beg for another rifle. And he expressed the sincere feeling of the men throughout ordnance, the balance weighing in favor of their own fairly safe job, when he said:

Them old boys at the front have sure got my sympathy. Least we can do is work our fingers off to give them the stuff.

Rifles are touching sight

The original stack of muddy, rusted rifles is a touching pile. As gun after gun comes off the stack, you look to see what is the matter with it–

Rifle butt split by fragments; barrel dented by bullet; trigger knocked off; whole barrel splattered with shrapnel marks; guns gray from the slime of weeks in swamp mud; faint dark splotches of blood still showing.

You wonder what became of each owner; you pretty well know.

Infantrymen, like soldiers everywhere, like to put names on their equipment. Just as a driver paints a name on his truck so does a doughboy carve his name or initials on his rifle butt.

The boys said the most heartbreaking rifle they’d found was one of a soldier who had carved a hole about silver dollar size and put his wife’s or girl’s picture in it, and sealed it over with a crystal of Plexiglas.

They don’t, of course, know who he was or what happened to him. They only know the rifle was repaired and somebody else is carrying it now, picture and all.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 28, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Normandy, France – (by wireless)
Then I moved over to an ordnance evacuation company.

These men handle the gigantic trucks, the long low trailers and the heavy wreckers that go out to haul back crippled tanks and wrecked anti-tank guns from the battlefield.

The ordnance branch’s policy on these wrecking companies is that if they don’t have a casualty now and then, or collect a few shrapnel marks on their vehicles, then they’re not doing their job efficiently.

The job of an ordnance evacuation company is often frightening, although this company’s casualties have been amazingly low. In fact, they’ve had only four and it’s still a mystery what happened to them.

The four left one day in a jeep, just on a normal trip. They didn’t come back. No trace could be found. Three weeks later, two of them came in – just discharged from a hospital. On the same day a letter came from the third – from a hospital in England. Nothing yet has been heard from the fourth.

Can’t remember what happened

And the strange part is that neither the two who returned nor the one who write from England can remember a thing about it. They were just riding along in their jeep and the next thing they woke up in a hospital. All three were wounded, but how they didn’t know. Friends suppose it was a shell hit.

At any rate, a sergeant in charge of one section of the mammoth movers, known as M19s, took me around to see some of his crewmen. They all go by the name of “the Diesel Boys.”

Their vehicle is simply a gigantic truck with a long, skeletonized trailer behind.

Like all our Army over here they were strung out around the hedgerows of the field under camouflage nets, with the middle grassy fields completely empty.

My friend was Sgt. Milton Radcliff of Newark, Ohio. He used to be a furnace operator for the Owen Corning Fiberglass Company there. He and all the other former employees still get a letter every two weeks from the company, assuring them their jobs will still be there when they return. And Radcliff, for one, is going to take his when he gets back.

Sgt. Vann Jones of Birmingham, Alabama, crawled out of his tent and sat Indian fashion on the ground with us. On the other side of our pasture lay the silver remains of a transport plane that had come to a mangled despair on the morning of D-Day.

A funny country, France

It was a peaceful and sunny evening, quite in contrast to most of our days, and we sat on the grass and watched the sun go down in the east, which we all agreed was a hell of a place for the sun to be going down. Either we were turned around or France is a funny country.

The other boys told me later that Sgt. Jones used to be the company cook, but he wanted to see more action so he transferred to the big wreckers and is now in command of one.

There are long lulls when the retriever boys don’t have anything to do besides work on their vehicles. They hate these periods and get restless. Some of them spend their time fixing up their tents homelike, even though they may have to move the next day.

One driver even had a feather bed he had picked up from a French family. The average soldier can’t carry a feather bed around with him, but the driver of an M19 could carry 10,000 feather beds and never know the difference.

Proud of their company

The boys are all pretty proud of their company. They said they did such good work in the early days of the invasion that they were about to be put up for a presidential citation. But one day they got in a bomb crater and started shooting captured German guns at the opposite bank just for fun, which is against the rules, so the proposal was torn up. They just laugh about it – which is about all a fellow can do.

Cpl. Grover Anderson of Anniston, Alabama, is one of the drivers. He swears by his colossal machine but cusses it, too. You see the French roads are narrow for heavy two-way military traffic and an M19 is big and awkward and slow.

Anderson says:

You get so damn mad at it because convoys piled up behind you and can’t get around and you know everybody’s hating you and that makes you madder. They’re aggravating, but if you let me leave the trailer off, I can pull anything out of anywhere with it.

Cpl. Anderson has grown a red goatee which he is not going to shave off till the war is won. He used to be a taxi driver; that’s another reason he finds an M19 so “aggravating.”

“Because it hasn’t got a meter on it?” I asked.

“Or maybe because you don’t have any female passengers,” another driver said.

To which Brother Anderson had a wholly satisfactory G.I. reply. He said, … [REMAINDER OF COLUMN VOLUNTARILY CENSORED]

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 29, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Normandy – (by wireless)
It was just beginning dusk when the order came. A soldier came running up the pasture and said there was a call for our ordnance evacuation company to pull out some crippled tanks.

We had been sitting on the grass and we jumped up and ran down the slope. Waiting at the gate stood an M19 truck and behind it a big wrecker with a crane.

The day had been warm but dusk was bringing a chill, as always. One of the soldiers loaned me his mackinaw.

Soldiers stood atop their big machine with a stance of impatience, like firemen waiting to start. We pulled out through the hedgerow gate onto the main macadam highway. It was about 10 miles to the frontlines.

“We should make it before full darkness,” one of the officers said.

We went through shattered Carentan and on beyond for miles. Then we turned off at an angle in the road. “This is Purple Heart Corner,” the officer said.

With an increasing tempo, the big guns crashed around us. Hedges began to make weird shadows. You peered closely at sentries in every open hedge gate just out of nervous alertness.

No dignity in death

The smell of death washed past us in waves as we drove on. There is nothing worse in war than the foul odor of death. There is no last vestige of dignity in it.

We turned up a gravel lane, and drove slowly. The dusk was deepening. A gray stone farmhouse sat dimly off the road. A little yard and driveway semicircled in front of it. Against the front of the house stood five German soldiers, facing inward, their hands above their heads. An American doughboy stood in the driveway with a Tommy gun pointed at them. We drove on for about 50 yards and stopped. The drivers shut off their Diesel motors.

One officer went into an orchard to try to find where the tanks were. In wartime, nobody ever knows where anything is. The rest of us waited along the road beside an old stone barn. The dusk was deeper now.

Out of the orchards around us roared and thundered our own artillery. An officer hit a cigarette. A sergeant with a rifle slung on his shoulder walked up and said, “You better put that out, sir. There’s snipers all around and they’ll shoot at a cigarette.”

The officer crushed the cigarette in his fingers, not waiting to drop it on the ground, and said, “Thanks.”

“It’s for your own good,” the sergeant said, apologetically.

Somehow as darkness comes down in a land of great danger you want things hushed. People begin to talk in low voices and feet on jeep throttles tread less heavily.

An early German plane droned overhead, passed, turned, dived – and his white tracers came slanting down out of the sky. We crouched behind a stone wall. He was half a mile away, but the night is big and bullets can go anywhere and you are nervous.

On ahead there were single rifle shots and the give and take of machine gun rattles – one fast and one slow, one German and one American. You wondered after each blast if somebody who was whole a moment ago, some utter stranger, was now lying in sudden new anguish up there ahead in the illimitable darkness.

That old familiar wail

A shell whined that old familiar wail and hit in the orchard ahead with a crash. I moved quickly around behind the barn.

“You don’t like that?” inquired a soldier out of the dusk.

I said, “No, do you?”

And he replied as honestly, “I sure as hell don’t.”

A sergeant came up the road and said:

You can stay here if you want to, but they shell this barn every hour on the hour. They’re zeroed in on it.

We looked at our watches. It was five minutes till midnight. Some of our soldiers stood boldly out in the middle of the road talking. But you could sense some of us, who were less composed, being close to the stone wall, even close to the motherhood of the big silent trucks. Then an officer came out of the orchard. He had the directions. We all gathered around and listened. We had to back up, cross two pastures, turn down another lane and go forward from there.

We were to drag back two German tanks for fear the Germans might retrieve them during the night. We backed ponderously up the road, our powerful exhaust blowing up dust as we moved.

As we passed the gray stone farmhouse we could see five silhouettes, very faintly through the now almost complete night – five Germans still facing the gray farmhouse.

We came to a lane, and pulled forward into the orchard very slowly for you could barely see now. Even in the lightning flashes of the big guns, you could barely see.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 31, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Normandy, France – (by wireless)
We drove slowly across the two pastures in the big M19 retriever truck with which our ordnance evacuation company was to pick up two crippled German tanks. The wrecker truck followed us. It was just after midnight.

We came to a lane at the far side of the pasture. Nobody was there to direct us. The officers had gone on ahead. We asked a sentry if he knew where the German tanks were, he had never heard of them. We shut off the motors and waited.

I think everybody was a little on edge. We certainly had American troops ahead of us, but we didn’t know how far. When things are tense like that, you get impatient of monkeying around. You want to get the job done and get the hell out of there.

We waited about 10 minutes, and finally a sergeant came back and said for us to drive on up the road about half a mile. He climbed on to direct us. Finally, we came to a barnyard and then very slowly backed on up the road toward the enemy lines. I stood on the steel platform behind the driver so I could see.

It was very dark and you could only make out vague shapes. Finally, one huge black shape took form at one side of the road. It was the first of the German tanks.

Anxious to get finished

Being tense and anxious to get finished, I hope our trick would take the first tank. But no. We passed by, of course, and went backing on up the road.

When you’re nervous you feel even 12 inches closer to the front is too much and the noise of your motor sounds like all the clanging of Hell, directing the Germans to you.

I knew it was foolish to be nervous. I knew there was plenty of protection ahead. And yet there are times when you don’t feel good to start with, you’re uncomposed and the framework of your character is off balance, and you are weak inside. That’s the way I was that night. Fortunately, I’m not always that way.

Finally, the dark shape of the second tank loomed up. Our officers and some men were standing in the road beside it.

A laymen would think all you have to do is to hook a chain to the tank and pull it out of the ditch. But we were there half an hour. It seemed like all night to me.

First it had to be gone over for booby traps. I couldn’t help but admire our mechanics. They knew these foreign tanks as well as our own.

One of them climbed down the hatch into the driver’s seat and there in the dark, completely by feel, investigated the intricate gadgets of the cockpit and found just what shape it was in and told us the trouble. It seemed that two levers at the driver’s seat had been left in gear and they were so bent there was not room to shift them out of gear. After some delay a crowbar finally did the trick.

Meanwhile, we stood in a group around the tank, about a dozen of us, just talking. Shells still roamed the dark sky but they weren’t coming as near as before.

Loud noises bother Ernie

There would be lulls of many minutes when there was hardly a sound but our own voices. Most everybody talked in low tones, yet in any group there’s always somebody who can’t bear to speak in anything less than foghorn proportions.

And now and then when they’d have to hammer on the tank it sounded as though a boiler factory had collapsed. I tried to counteract this by not talking at all. Finally, we started.

Slowly we ground back down the road in low gear with our great, black, massive load rolling behind us. We’d planned to pull it a long way back. Actually, we pulled it only about half a mile, then decided to put it in a field for the night.

When we pulled into a likely pasture the sentry at the hedgerow gate wanted to know what we were doing and we told him, “Leaving a German tank for the night.”

And the sentry, in a horrified voice, said, “Good God, don’t leave it here. They might come after it.” But leave it there we did, and damn glad to get rid of it, I assure you.

We drove home in the blackout, watching the tall hedgerows against the lighter sky for guidance. For miles the roads were as empty and silent as the farthest corner of a desert. The crash of the guns grew welcomely dimmer and dimmer until finally everything was nearly silent and it seemed there could be only peace in Normandy.

At last, we came to our own hedgerow gate. As we drove in the sentry said, “Coffee’s waiting at the mess tent.” They feed 24 hours a day in these outfits that work like firemen.

But my sleeping bag lay unrolled and waiting on the ground in a nearby tent. It was 3:00 a.m. With an almost childish gratitude at being there at all, I went right to bed.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 1, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Normandy, France – (by wireless)
I know of nothing in civilian life at home by which you can even remotely compare the contribution to his country made by the infantry soldier with his life of bestiality, suffering and death.

But I’ve just been with an outfit whose war work is similar enough to yours that I believe you can see the difference between life overseas and in America.

This is the heavy ordnance company which repairs shot-up tanks, wrecked artillery, and heavy trucks.

These men are not in much danger. They work at shop benches with tools. Compared with the infantry, their life is velvet and they know it and appreciate it. But compared with them your life is velvet. That’s what I’d like for you to appreciate.

These men are mostly skilled craftsmen. Many are about military age. Back home, they made big money. Their jobs here are fundamentally the same as those of you at home who work in war plants. It’s only the environment that is different.

These men don’t work seven, eight, or nine hours a day. They work from 7:00 in the morning until darkness comes at night. They work from 12 to 16 hours a day.

Haven’t sat in chair in weeks

You have beds and bathrooms. These men sleep on the ground, and dig a trench for their toilets.

You have meals at the table. These men eat from mess kits, sitting on the grass. You have pajamas, and places to go on Sunday. These men sleep in their underwear, and they don’t even know when Sunday comes. They have not sat in a chair for weeks. They live always outdoors, rain and shine.

In the World War, their life is not bad. By peacetime standards, it is outrageous. But they don’t complain – because they are close enough to the front to see and appreciate the desperate need of the men they are trying to help. They work with an eagerness and an intensity that is thrilling to see.

This company works under a half-acre grove of trees and along the hedgerows of a couple of adjoining pastures. Their shops are in the trucks, or out in the open under camouflage nets.

Most of their work seems unspectacular to describe. It just consists of welding steel plates in the sides of tanks, of changing the front end of a truck blown up by a mine, or repairing the barrel of a big gun hit by a bazooka, of rewinding the coils of a radio, of welding new teeth in a gear.

It’s the sincere way they go at it, and their appreciation of its need that impressed me.

Cpl. Richard Kelso is in this company. His home is in Chicago.

He is an Irishman from the old sod. He apprenticed in Belfast as a machinist nearly 30 years ago. He went to America when he was 25, and now he is 45.

Improvisation wins wars

He still has folks in Ireland, but he didn’t have a chance to get over there when he was stationed in England. He is thin and a little stooped, and the others call him Pop. He is quiet and intent and very courteous. He never did get married.

Kelso operates the milling machine in a shop truck. His truck is covered deep with extra strips of steel, for these boys pick up and hoard steel as some people might hoard money.

When I stopped to chat, Kelso had his machine grinding away on the rough tooth of the gearwheel of a tank.

The part that did the cutting was one he had improvised himself. In this business of war, so much is unforeseen, so much is missing at the right moment that were it not for improvisation, wars would be lost.

Take these gearwheels, for instance. Suppose a tank strips three teeth off a fear. The entire tank is helpless and out of action. They have no replacement wheels in stock. They have to repair the broken one.

So, they take it to their outdoor foundry, make a form, heat up some steel till it is molten, pour it into the form and mold a rough gear tooth which is then welded onto the stub of the broken-off tooth.

Now this rough tooth has to be ground down to the fine dimensions of the other teeth and that is an exacting job. At first, they didn’t have the tools to do it with.

But that didn’t stop them. They hacked those teeth down with cold chisels and hand files. They put back into action 20 tanks by this primitive method. Then Kelso and Warrant Officer Henry Moser of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, created a part for their milling machine that would do the job faster and better.

That one little improvisation may have saved 50 Americans’ lives, may have cost the Germans a hundred men, may even have turned the tide of a battle.

10 miles away, they’re real

And it’s being done by a man 45 years old, wearing corporal stripes who doesn’t have to be over here at all, and who could be making big money back home.

He too sleeps on the ground and works 16 hours a day, and is happy to do it – for boys who are dying are not 3,000 miles away and abstract; they are 10 miles away and very, very real.

He sees them when they come back, pleading like children for another tank, another gun. He knows how terribly they need the things that are within his power to give.

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Ernie again puts us in their boots to experience their lives from the comfort of our homes. Well done Ernie.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 2, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Normandy, France – (by wireless)
An ordnance tank repair company gets some freakish jobs, indeed.

The other day the company I was with had a tank destroyer roll in. There was nothing wrong whatever with it except – the end of the gun barrel was corked tight with 2½ feet of wood.

What happened was they had been running along a hedgerow and as the turret operator swung his gun in a forward arc, they ran the end of the barrel smack into a big tree.

You would think the vehicle had to be going 100 miles an hour to plug the end of the barrel for 2½ feet simply by running into a tree. But it doesn’t. This one was going 20 miles an hour.

It took the ordnance boys four hours to dig the wood out with chisels and reamers. The inside of the barrel wasn’t hurt a bit and it went right back into action.

A three-inch anti-tank gun was brought in with a hole in the barrel about six inches back from the muzzle. The hole came from the inside! What happened was this: A German bazooka gunner fired a rocket at the anti-tank gun. It made one of those freakish hole-in-one hits – went right smack into the muzzle of the big gun.

About six inches inside it went off and burned its way clear through the barrel. Nobody got hurt but the barrel was unrepairable, and was sent back to England for salvage.

Another freak hit

A tank was brought in that had been hit twice on the same side within a few seconds. The entrance holes were about two feet apart. But on opposite side of the tank where the shells came out, there was only one hole. The angle of fire had been such that the second shell went right through the hole made by the first one.

In another case an 88 shell struck the thick steel apron that shields the breech of one of a tank’s guns. The shell didn’t go through. It hit at an angle and just scooped out a big chunk of steel about a foot long and six inches wide.

It’s very improbable that in the whole war this same shield would get hit again in the same place. Yet they can’t afford to take that chance, so the weakened armor had to be made strong again.

They took acetylene torches and cut out a plug around the weakened part with slanting sides the same as you’d plug a watermelon. Then they fashioned a steel plate the same size and shape as the hole, and welded it in.

The result is that the plug fits into the hole like a wedge and it would be impossible for a shell to drive it in. It’s really stronger now than it used to be.

One of the most surprising things I ran onto touring around scores of outdoor ordnance shops in Normandy was a mobile tire repair unit.

There already are half a dozen of these units here and more coming in. They fix anything from a motorcycle to truck tires. They don’t bother with ordinary holes such as nail holes. Practically all their work is on tires damaged by shrapnel or bullets.

Men especially trained

Each repair outfit consists of one officer and 15 men. They’ve been especially trained and their leaders usually were tiremen back in civil life.

They move in three trucks. When they set up, the three are backed to each other to form a T, thus making a shop with three wings, you get up to it on a portable staircase.

Outside on the ground tires are stacked all around. One set of soldiers works all day with knives carving out the rubber around the damaged places. Then they take the tire inside, and a machine roughens the edges of the holes so the filling will stick.

Then they mold in fresh rubber and put the tire in one of three baking machines. It’s hotter than blazes in there. It takes an hour and 45 minutes to bake each patch so you see they can’t turn them out very fast.

They’ll repair a tire that has up to six holes, but if it has more than that they send it back to England. A six-hole tire takes 10½ hours of baking. One unit can run off a maximum of about 65 tires daily. The unit I saw was set up in a former orchard and was so thoroughly camouflaged with nets you could hardly see it. The officer in charge was Lt. George Schuchardt, who has “The Hawkinson Tread Service” in Nashville, Tennessee. His partner is running it while he’s away.

His first sergeant is Stephen Hudak of Akron, of all places. He used to work for Firestone. I’ve been finding more damned square pegs in square holes in this Army lately. Something must be wrong.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 3, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Normandy, France – (by wireless)
Mosquitoes are pretty bad in the swampy parts of Normandy. Especially along the hedgerows at night, they are ferocious.

Here in Normandy, they have something I’ve never seen before even in Alaska, the mosquito capital of the world.

When you drive along a Normandy road just before dusk, you’ll see dark columns extending 200 and 300 feet straight up into the air above a treetop. These are columns of mosquitoes swarming like bees, each column composed of millions of them.

At first, I thought they were gnats, but old mosquito people assure me they are genuine, all-wool mosquitoes. In a half-mile drive just before dusk you’ll see 20 of these columns. This is no cock and bull story; it’s the truth.

Our troops are not equipped with mosquito nets, so they just have to scratch and scratch. The mosquitoes, fortunately, don’t you give malaria, they merely drive you crazy.

One day at an ordnance company, I was talking with a soldier scrubbing rusted rifle barrels in a washtub of gasoline. His sleeves were relied up and his arms were covered with great red bumps. They were mosquito bites.

As we talked this man said, “Look at them mosquitoes hit that gasoline.”

Mosquitoes die beautifully

And sure enough, the mosquitoes were diving just like dive bombers, but once they hit the gasoline they just folded up and died beautifully and floated on the surface.

In one small-arms repair section that I visited, the only man who knew or cared anything about guns before the war was a professional gun collector.

He was Sgt. Joseph Toth of Mansfield, Ohio. He was stripped down to bit undershirt as the day was warm for a change. He was washing the walnut stocks of damaged rifles in a tub of water with a sponge. Toth used to work at the Westinghouse Electric plant in Mansfield and he spent all his extra money collecting guns. He belongs to the Ohio Gun Collectors Association. He says each one of the gun collectors back in Ohio has a different specialty. Some collect pistols; some muzzleloaders. His own hobby was machine pistols. He has 35 in his collection, some of them very expensive ones.

Ironically enough, he has not collected any guns over here at all, even though he’s in a world of machine pistols and many pass through his hands.

He says:

It isn’t so much the collecting. I just like to take them down. When I monkey with a gun, I like to take it clear down and put it back together again.

Toth also likes to talk. He’ll talk all day. As the other boys say, if he could always have a new type machine pistol to take down and somebody to listen to him at the same time, he’d constantly be the happiest man on earth.

Eggs are not plentiful enough in Normandy to supply the whole army, but a good scavenger can dig up a few each day. We buy them from farmers’ wives for six and eight cents apiece. We’re hoping someday to buy some from a farmer’s daughter.

These Normandy eggs are fine eggs, and about every fourth one is as big as a duck egg. The five men in our tent are all egg conscious, so we make it a practice to shop for eggs as we go about the country.

Ernie slaves over hot stove

We pass up regular breakfast in the Army mess and have our breakfast in our own tent every morning. By some inexplicable evolution of cruel fate, I have become the chef or this four-man crew of breakfast gargantuans.

Those four plutocrats lie in their cots and snore while I get out at the crack of dawn and slave over two Coleman stoves, cooking their oeufs in real Normandy butter – fried, scrambled, boiled or poached, as suits the whims of their respective majesties.

Except when I’m away with troops, I’ve been at this despicable occupation now for two months. And although my clients are, smart enough to keep me always graciously flattered about my culinary genius, I’m getting damn sick of the job.

So someday I’m going to carry out the most diabolical scheme. I’ll prepare, with the greatest of care, the most delicious breakfast ever known in France – I’ll have shirred hummingbird eggs and crisp French-fried potatoes and corn-fed bacon, done to a turn, and grape jelly and autumn-brown toast and gallons and gallons of thick, luscious coffee.

Then I’ll wake them up and I’ll serve it to all four of them on a red platter. I’ll serve it with a bow to Mr. Whitehead, and a curtesy to Mr. Liebling, and a “Good morning to you, sir,” to Mr. Brandt, and a long salute to Mr. Gorrell. And after I’ve served it, I’ll walk out casually as though I’m going up the hedgerow a little ways.

But instead, I’ll go on away and I’ll never come back again as long as I live, never, not even if they put an ad in the paper, and they will all wither away to nothing from lack of sustenance, and eventually they will starve plumb to death in this faraway and strangely beautiful land. Ha, ha.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 4, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Normandy, France – (by wireless)
One afternoon a couple of soldiers came around our camp to tell me about the strange, experience that had just happened to them. They were brothers, and the night before they had run onto each other for the first time in more than two years.

They are Cpl. John and Pvt. Edward O’Donnell of East Milton, Massachusetts. John is an artilleryman and has been overseas more than two years, all through Africa and Sicily. Edward has been overseas only a couple of months. John is 22 and Edward, 19.

The first Edward knew his brother was in the vicinity was when he saw some soldiers, wearing the patch of John’s division, getting ready to take a bath at an outdoor shower the Army had set up.

He asked them where the division was and then began a several hour hunt for his brother. John was attending an Army movie set up in a barn when Edward finally tracked him down. They sent in word for John to come out. When he got about half way out and saw who was waiting he practically knocked everybody out of their chairs getting to the back.

Their commanding officers gave them the next day off and they just roamed around with their tongues wagging – talking mostly about home.

*Ernie meets Pvt. Pyle

That same afternoon another soldier came by to say hello because his name is the same as mine. He is Pvt. Stewart Pyle of Orange, New Jersey. He is the driver in a car company, and now and then he gets an assignment to drive some very high officers. At least that will give him something to talk about to his grandchildren.

Pvt. Pyle is married and has been overseas nine months. Try as we might, we couldn’t establish any relationship. That might have been due to the fact that my name isn’t Pyle at all, but Count Sforzo Chef DuPont D’Artagnan.

Our family sprang from a long line of Norman milkmaids. We took the name Pyle after the Jones murder cases in 1739 – January, I think it was. My great grandfather built the Empire State Building. Why am I telling you all this?

Department of Wartime Distorted Values – The other day a soldier offered to trade a French farmer three horses for three eggs. The soldier had captured the horses from the Germans. The trade didn’t come off – the farmer already had three horses.

And – at one of our evacuation hospitals the other day, a wounded soldier turned over 90,000 francs, equivalent to $1,800. He’d picked them up in a captured German headquarters. The Army is now in the process or looking up regulations to see whether the soldier can keep the money.

Paratrooper chaplains first

In the very early days of the invasion, I said in this column that Capt. Ralph L. Haga of Prospect, Virginia, claimed to be the first chaplain ashore on D-Day.

Well, I got into trouble over that, because he wasn’t. If I’d had any sense, I would have known better myself. The first chaplains on the beachhead were those who jumped with the paratroopers and there were a batch of them – I believe 17, altogether. They were in Normandy hours before Chaplain Haga touched the beach.

As one bunch of paratroopers wrote me, “Our chaplains had already rendered their first consolation service in France before Capt. Haga got his feet wet.” So all credit where credit is due.

One afternoon several weeks ago, I went into Cherbourg with an infantry company and one of the doughboys gave me two cans of French sardines they’d captured from the Germans.

Right in the midst of battle is a funny place to be giving a man sardines, but this is a funny war. At any rate, I was grateful and I put them in my musette bag when I got back to my tent that night. I forgot all about them.

The reason I mention it now is that last night I got a hungry spell, and was rummaging around in the bag for candy or something and ran onto these sardines. They tasted mighty good.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 5, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Normandy, France – (by wireless)
A few days after D-Day, you may remember we spoke in this column of five early phases of the continental invasion that would have to take place.

Phase No. 5 was to be the break out from our beachhead after we’d held it secure long enough to build up vast quantities of troops and supplies behind us. And once we’d broken out of the ring of Germans trying to hold us in and completed Phase 5, the real war in Western Europe would begin.

Well, we’re in Phase 5 now. At least we are while I’m writing this. Things are moving swiftly. You realize that several days elapse between the writing and the publication of this column. By the time you read this we may be out in the open and pushing into France.

Surely history will give a name to the battle that sent us boiling out of Normandy – some name comparable to Saint-Mihiel, or Meuse-Argonne of the last war. But to us here on the spot at the time it was known simply as “the breakthrough.”

We correspondents could sense that a big drive was coming. There are many little ways you can tell without actually being told, if you are experienced in war.

And then one evening Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley, commanding all American troops in France, came to our camp and briefed us on the coming operation. It would start, he said, on the first day we had three hours good living weather in the forenoon.

Glad of news

We were all glad to hear the news. There isn’t a correspondent over here, or soldier, or officer I ever heard of who hasn’t complete and utter faith in Gen. Bradley. If he felt we were ready for the push, that was good enough for us.

The general told us the attack would cover a segment of the German line west of Saint-Lô, about five miles wide In that narrow segment we would have three infantry divisions, side by side. Right behind them would be another infantry and two armored divisions.

Once a hole was broken, the armored divisions would slam through several miles beyond, then turn right toward the sea behind the Germans in that sector in the hope of cutting them off and trapping them.

Keep pressure on

The remainder of our line on both sides of the attack would keep the pressure on to hold the Germans in front of them so they couldn’t send reinforcements against our big attack.

The attack was to open with a gigantic two-hour air bombardment by 1,800 planes – the biggest. I’m sure, ever attempted by air in direct support of ground troops.

It would start with dive bombers, then great four-motored heavies would come, and then mediums, then dive bombers again, and then the ground troops would kick off, with air fighters continuing to work ahead of them.

It was a thrilling plan to listen to. Gen. Bradley didn’t tell us the big thing – that this was Phase 5. But other officers gave us the word. They said, “This is no limited objective drive. This is it. This is the big breakthrough.”

In war, everybody contributes something, no matter how small or how far removed he may be. But on the frontline, this breakthrough was accomplished by four fighting branches of the services and I don’t see truly how one could be given credit above another.

None of the four could have done the job without the other three. The way they worked together was beautiful and precision-like, showering credit upon themselves and Gen. Bradley’s planning.

Goes with infantry

I went with the infantry because it is my love, and because I suspected the tanks, being spectacular, might smother the credit, due the infantry. I teamed up with the 4th Infantry Division since it was in the middle of the forward three and spearheading the attack.

The first night behind the frontlines I slept comfortably on a cot in a tent at the division command post, and met for the first time the Fourth’s commander – Maj. Gen. Raymond O. Barton, a fatherly kindly, thoughtful, good soldier.

The second night I spent on the dirty floor of a rickety French farmhouse, far up in the lines, with the nauseating odor of dead cows keeping me awake half the night.

The third night I slept on the ground in an orchard even farther up. snugly dug in behind a hedgerow so the 88s couldn’t get at me so easily. And on the next day the weather cleared, and the attack was on. It was July 25.

If you don’t have July 25 pasted in your hat, I would advise you to do so immediately. At least paste it in your mind. For I have a hunch that July 25 of the year 1944 will be one of the great historic pinnacles of this war.

It was the day we began a mighty surge out of our confined Normandy spaces, the day we stopped calling our area the beachhead, and knew we were fighting a war across the whole expanse of Europe.

On final victory move

From that day onward all dread possibilities and fears for disaster to our invasion were behind us. No longer was there any possibility of our getting kicked off. No longer could it be possible for fate, or weather, or enemy to wound us fatally; from that day onward, the future could hold nothing for us but growing strength and eventual victory.

For five days and nights during that historic period I stayed at the front with our troops. And now, though it’s slightly delayed, I want to tell you about it in detail from day to day, if you will be that patient.


The Pittsburgh Press (August 7, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Normandy, France – (by wireless)
The great attack, when we broke out of the Normandy beachhead, began in the bright light of midday, not at the zero hour of a bleak and mysterious dawn as attacks are supposed to start in books.

The attack had been delayed from day to day because of poor flying weather, and on the final day we hadn’t known for sure till after breakfast whether it was on or off again.

When the word came that it was on, the various battalion staffs of our regiment were called in from their command posts for a final review of the battle plan.

Each one was given a mimeographed sketch of the frontline area, showing exactly where and when each type bomber was to hammer the German lines ahead of them. Another mimeographed page was filled with specific orders for the grand attack to follow.

Officers stood or squatted in a circle in a little apple orchard behind a ramshackle stone farmhouse of a poor French family who had left before us. The stonewall in the front yard had been knocked down by shelling, and through the orchards there were shell craters and tree limbs knocked off and trunks sliced by bullets. Some enlisted men sleeping the night before in the attic of the house get the shock of their lives when the thin floor collapsed and they fell down into the cowshed below.

Chickens and tame rabbits still scampered around the farmyard. Dead cows lay all around in the fields.

The regimental colonel stood in the center of the officers and went over the orders in detail. Battalion commanders took down notes in little books.

The colonel said, “Ernie Pyle is with the regiment for this attack and will be with one of the battalions, so you’ll be seeing him.” The officers looked at me and smiled and I felt embarrassed.

Then Maj. Gen. Raymond O. Barton, 4th Division commander, arrived. The colonel called, “Attention-” and everybody stood rigid until the general gave them, “Carry on.”

An enlisted man ran to the mess truck and got a folding canvas stool for the general to sit on. He sat listening intently while the colonel wound up his instructions.

Then the general stepped into the center of the circle. He stood at a slouch on one foot with the other leg far up like a brace. He looked all around him as he talked. He didn’t talk long. He said something like this:

This is one of the finest regiments in the American Army. It was the last regiment out of France in the last war. It was the first regiment into France in this war. It has spearheaded every one of the division’s attacks in Normandy. It will spearhead this one. For many years this was my regiment and I feel very close to you, and very proud.

The general’s lined face was a study in emotion. Sincerity and deep sentiment were in every contour and they shone from his eyes. Gen. Barton is a man of deep affections. The tragedy of war, both personal and impersonal, hurts him. At the end, his voice almost broke, and I for one had a lump in my throat. He ended: “That’s all. God bless you and good luck.”

Then we broke up and I went with one of the battalion commanders. Word was passed down by field phone, radio and liaison men to the very smallest unit of troops that the attack was on.

There was still an hour before the bombers, and three houses before the infantry were to move. There was nothing for the infantry to do but dig a little deeper and wait. A cessation of motion seemed to come over the countryside and all its brown-clad inhabitants sense of last-minute sitting in silence before the holocaust.

The first planes of the mass onslaught came over a little before 10:00 a.m. They were the fighters and dive bombers. The main road running crosswise in front of us was their bomb line. They were to bomb only on the far side of that road.

Our kickoff infantry had been pulled back a few hundred yards this side of the road. Everyone in the area had been given the strictest orders to be in foxholes, for high-level bombers can, and do quite excusably, make mistakes.

We were still in country so level and with hedgerows so tall there simply was no high spot – either hill or building – from where you could get a grandstand view of the bombing as we used to in Sicily and Italy. So, one place was as good as another unless you went right up and sat on the bomb line.

Having been caught too close to these things before, I compromised and picked a farmyard about 800 yards back of the kickoff line.

And before the next two hours had passed, I would have given every penny, every desire, every hope I’ve ever had to have been just another 800 yards further back.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 8, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Normandy, France – (by wireless)
Our frontlines were marked by long strips of colored cloth laid on the ground, and with colored smoke to guide our airmen during the mass bombing that preceded our breakout from the German ring that held us to the Normandy beachhead.

Dive bombers hit it just right. We stood in the barnyard of a French farm and watched them barrel nearly straight down out of the sky. They were bombing about a half a mile ahead of where we stood.

They came in groups, diving from every direction, perfectly timed, one right after another. Everywhere you looked separate groups of planes were on the way down, or on the way back up, or slanting over for a dive, or circling, circling, circling over our heads, waiting for their turn.

The air was full of sharp and distinct sounds of cracking bombs and the heavy rips of the planes’ machine guns and the splitting screams of diving wings. It was all fast and furious, but yet distinct as in a musical show in which you could distinguish throaty tunes and words.

And then a new sound gradually droned into our ears, a sound deep and all-encompassing with not noes in it – just a gigantic faraway surge of doom-like sound. It was the heavies. They came from directly behind us. At first, they were the merest dots in the sky. You could see clots of them against the far heavens, too tiny to count individually. They came on with a terrible slowness.

They came in flights of 12, three flights to a group and in groups stretched out across the sky. They came in “families” of about 70 planes each.

Maybe these gigantic waves were two miles apart, maybe they were 10 miles, I don’t know. But I do know they came in a constant procession and I thought it would never end. What the Germans must have thought is beyond comprehension.

Their march across the sky was slow and studied. I’ve never known a storm, or a machine, or any resolve of man that had about it the aura of such a ghastly relentlessness. You had the feeling that even had God appeared beseechingly before them in the sky with palms outward to persuade them back they would not have had within them the power to turn from their irresistible course.

I stood with a little group of men ranging from colonels to privates, back of the stone farmhouse. Slit trenches were all around the edges of the farmyard and a dugout with a tin roof was nearby. But we were so fascinated by the spectacle overhead that it never occurred to us that we might need the foxholes

The first huge flight passed directly over our farmyard and others followed. We spread our feel and leaned far back trying to look straight up, until our steel helmets fell off. We’d cup our fingers around our eyes like field glasses for a clearer view.

And then the bombs came. They began ahead of us as the crackle of popcorn and almost instantly swelled into a monstrous fury of noise that seemed surely to destroy all the world ahead of us, From then on for an hour and a half that had in it the agonies of centuries, the bombs came down, A wall of smoke and dust erected by them grew high in the sky. It filtered along the ground back through our own orchards. It sifted around us and into our noses. The bright day grew slowly dark from it.

By now everything was an indescribable cauldron of sounds. Individual noises did not exist. The thundering of the motors in the sky and the roar of bombs ahead filled all the space for noise on earth. Our own heavy artillery was crashing all around us, yet we could hardly hear it.

The Germans began to shoot heavy, high ack-ack. Great black puffs of it by the score speckled the sky until it was hard to distinguish smoke puffs from planes. And then someone shouted that one of the planes was smoking. Yes, we could all see it. A long faint line of black smoke stretched straight for a mile behind one of them.

And as we watched there was a gigantic sweep of flame over the plane. From nose to tail it disappeared in flame, and it slanted slowly down and banked around the sky in great wide curves this way and that way, as rhythmically and gracefully as in a slow-motion waltz.

Then suddenly it seemed to change its mind and it swept upward. steeper and steeper and ever slower until finally it seemed poised motionless on its own black pillar of smoke. And then just as slowly it turned over and dived for the earth – a golden spearhead on the straight black shaft of its own creation – and it disappeared behind the treetops.

But before it was done there were more cries of, “There’s another one smoking and there’s a third one now.”

Chutes came out of some of the planes. Out of some came no chutes at all. One of white silk caught on the tail of a plane. Men with binoculars could see him fighting to get loose until flames swept over him, and then a tiny black dot fell through space, all alone.

And all that time the great flat ceiling of the sky was roofed by all the others that didn’t go down, plowing their way forward as if there were no turmoil in the world.

Nothing deviated them by the slightest. They stalked on, slowly and with a dreadful pall of sound, as though they were seeing only something at a great distance and nothing existed in between. God, how you admired those men up there and sickened for the ones who fell.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 9, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Normandy, France – (by wireless)
It is possible to become so enthralled by some of the spectacles of war that you are momentarily captivated away from your own danger.

That’s what happened to our little group of soldiers as we stood in a French farmyard, watching the mighty bombing of the German lines just before our breakthrough.

But that benign state didn’t last long. As we watched, there crept into our consciousness a realization that windrows of exploding bombs were easing back toward us flight by flight, instead of gradually forward, as the plan called for.

Then we were horrified by the suspicion that those machines, high in the sky and completely detached from us, were aiming their bombs at the smoke line on the ground – and a gentle breeze was drifting the smoke line back over us!

An indescribable kind of panic comes over you at such times. We stood tensed in muscle and frozen in intellect, watching each flight approach and pass over us, feeling trapped and completely helpless.

And then all of an instant the universe became filled with a gigantic rattling as of huge, dry seeds in a mammoth dry gourd. I doubt that any of us had ever heard that sound before, but instinct told us what it was. It was bombs by the hundred, hurtling down through the air above us.

Many times I’ve heard bombs whistle or swish or rustle, but never before had I heard bombs rattle. I still don’t know the explanation of it. But it is an awful sound.

We dived. Some got in a dugout. Others made foxholes and ditches and some got behind a garden wall – although which side would be “behind” was anybody’s guess.

Too late for the dugout

I was too late for the dugout. The nearest place was a wagon shed which formed one end of the stone house. The rattle was right down upon us. I remember hitting the ground flat, all spread out like the cartoons of people flattened by steamrollers, and then of squirming like an eel to get under one of the heavy wagons in the shed.

An officer whom I didn’t know was wriggling beside me. We stopped at the same time, simultaneously feeling it w a s hopeless to move farther. The bombs were already crashing around us.

We lay with our heads slightly up – like two snakes staring at each other. I know it was in both our minds and in our eyes, asking each other what to do. Neither of us knew. We said nothing. We just lay sprawled, gaping at each other in a futile appeal, our faces about a foot apart, until it was over.

There is no description of the sound and fury of those bombs except to say it was chaos, and a waiting for darkness. The feeling of the blast was sensational. The air struck you in hundreds of continuing flutters. Your ears drummed and rang. You could feel quick little waves of concussions on your chest and in your eyes.

At last, the sound died down and we looked at each other in disbelief. Gradually we left the foxholes and sprawling places, and came out to see what the sky had in store for us. As far as we could see other waves were approach from behind.

When a wave would pass a little to the side of us we were garrulously grateful, for most of them flew directly overhead. Time and again the rattle came down over us. Bombs struck in the orchard to our left. They struck in orchards ahead of us. They struck as far as half a mile behind us. Everything about us was shaken, but our group came through unhurt.

Inhuman tenseness

I can’t record what any of us actually felt or thought during those horrible climaxes. I believe a person’s feelings at such times are kaleidoscopic and uncatalogable. You just wait, that’s all, You do remember an inhuman tenseness of muscle and nerves.

An hour or so later, I began to get sore all over, and by midafternoon my back and shoulders ached as though I’d been beaten with a club. It was simply the result of muscles tensing themselves too tight for too long against anticipated shock. And I remember worrying about war correspondent Ken Crawford, a friend from back in the old Washington days, who I knew was several hundred yards ahead of me.

As far as I knew, he and I were the only two correspondents with the 4th Division. I didn’t know who might be with the divisions on either side – which also were being hit, as we could see.

Three days later, back at camp, I learned that AP photographer Bede Irvin had been killed in the bombing and that Ken was safe.

We came out of our ignominious sprawling and stood up again to watch. We could sense that by now the error had been caught and checked. The bombs again were falling where they were intended, a mile or so ahead.

Even at a mile away, a thousand bombs hitting within a few seconds can shake the earth and shatter the air where you are standing. There was still a dread in our hearts, but it gradually eased as the tumult and destruction moved slowly forward.

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Ernie’s description is almost unbelievable and the horror of friendly fire is something we find hard to grasp given the detailed plans that were supposed to protect US soldiers not kill them.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 10, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Normandy, France – (by wireless)
With our own personal danger past our historic air bombardment of the German lines holding us in the Normandy beachhead again became a captivating spectacle to watch.

By now, it was definite that the great waves of four-motored planes were dropping their deadly loads exactly in the right place.

And by now two Mustang fighters flying like a pair of doves patrolled back and forth, back and forth, just in front of each oncoming wave of bombers, as if to shout to them by their mere presence that here was not the place to drop – wait a few seconds, wait a few more seconds.

And then we could see a flare come out of the belly of one plane in each flight, just after they had passed over our heads.

The flare shot forward, leaving smoke behind it in a vivid line, and then began a graceful, downward curve that was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

It was like an invisible crayon drawing a rapid line across the canvas of the sky, saying in a gesture for all to see: “Here! Here is where to drop. Follow me.”

And each succeeding flight of oncoming bombers obeyed, and in turn dropped its own hurtling marker across the illimitable heaven to guide those behind.

Long before now the German ack-ack guns had gone out of existence. We had counted three of our big planes down in spectacular flames, and I believe that was all. The German ack-ack gunners either took to their holes or were annihilated.

How many waves of heavy bombers we put over I have no idea. I had counted well beyond 400 planes when my personal distraction obliterated any capacity or desire to count.

I only know that 400 was just the beginning. There were supposed to be 1,800 planes that day, and I believe it was announced later that there were more than 3,000.

It seemed incredible to me that any German could come out of that bombardment with his sanity. When it was over, even I was grateful in a chastened way I had never experienced before, for just being alive.

I thought an attack by our troops was impossible now, for it was an unnerving thing to be bombed by your own planes.

During the bad part, a colonel I had known a long time was walking up and down behind the farmhouse, snapping his fingers and saying over and over to himself, “–dammit, –dammit!”

As he passed me once he stopped and started and said, “–dammit!”

And I said, “there can’t be any attack now, can there?” And he said “No,” and began walking again, snapping his fingers and tossing his arm as though he was throwing rocks at the ground.

The leading company of our battalion was to spearhead the attack 40 minutes after our heavy bombing ceased. The company had been hit directly by our bombs. Their casualties, including casualties in shock, were heavy. Men went to pieces and had to be sent back. The company was shattered and shaken.

And yet Company B attacked – and on time, to the minute! They attacked, and within an hour they sent word back that they had advanced 800 yards through German territory and were still going. Around our farmyard men with stars on their shoulders almost wept when the word came over the portable radio. The American soldier can be majestic when he needs to be.

There is one more thing I want to say before we follow the ground troops on deeper into France in the great push you’ve been reading about now for days.

I’m sure that back in England that night other men – bomber crews – almost wept, and maybe they did really, in the awful knowledge that they had killed our own American troops. But I want to say this to them. The chaos and the bitterness there in the orchards and between the hedgerows that afternoon have passed. After the bitterness came the sober remembrance that the Air Corps is the strong right arm in front of us. Not only at the beginning, but ceaselessly and everlastingly, every moment of the faintest daylight, the Air Corps is up there banging away ahead of us.

Anybody makes mistakes. The enemy makes them just the same as we do. The smoke and confusion of battle bewilder us all on the ground as well as in the air. And in this case the percentage of error was really very small compared with the colossal storm of bombs that fell upon the enemy. The Air Corps has been wonderful throughout this invasion, and the men on the ground appreciate it.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 11, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

On the Western Front, France – (by wireless)
I know that all of us correspondents have tried time and again to describe to you what this weird hedgerow fighting in northwestern France has been like.

But I’m going to go over it once more, for we’ve been in it two months and some of us feel that this is the two months that broke the German Army in the west.

This type of fighting is always in small groups, so let’s take as an example one company of men. Let’s say they are working forward on both sides of a country lane, and this company is responsible for clearing the two fields on either side of the road as it advances.

That means you have only about one platoon to a field. And with the company’s understrength from casualties, you might have no more than 25 or 30 men in field.

Over here the fields are usually not more than 50 yards across and a couple of hundred yards long. They may have grain in them, or apple trees, but mostly they are just pastures of green grass, full of beautiful cows.

The fields are surrounded on all sides by Immense hedgerows which consist of an ancient earthen bank, waist high, all matted with roots, and out of which grow weeds, bushes, and trees up to 20 feet high.

The Germans have used these barriers well. They put snipers in the trees. They dig deep trenches behind the hedgerows and cover them with timber, so that it is almost impossible for artillery to get at them.

Sometimes they will prop up machine guns with strings attached, so they can fire over the hedge without getting out of their holes. They even cut out a section of the hedgerow and hide a big gun or a tank in it, covering it, with brush.

Also they tunnel under the hedgerows from the back and make the opening on the forward side just large enough to stick a machine gun through.

But mostly the hedgerow pattern is this: a heavy machine gun hidden at each end of the field and infantrymen hidden all along the hedgerow with rifles and machine pistols.

It’s a slow and cautious business

Now it’s up to us to dig them out of there. It’s a slow and cautious business, and there is nothing very dashing about it. Our men don’t go across the open fields in dramatic charges such as you see in the movies. They did at first, but they learned better.

They go in tiny groups, a squad or less, moving yards apart and sticking close to the hedgerows on either end of the field. They creep a few yards, squat, wait, then creep again.

If you could be right up there between the Germans and the Americans you wouldn’t see very many men at any one time – just a few here and there, always trying to keep hidden. But you would hear an awful lot of noise.

Our men were taught in training not to fire until they saw something to fire at. But that hasn’t worked in this country, because, you see so little. So, the alternative is to keep shooting constantly at the hedgerows. That pins the Germans in their holes while we sneak up on them.

The attacking squads sneak up the side of the hedgerows while the rest of the platoon stay back in their own hedgerow and keep the forward hedge saturated with bullets. They shoot rifle grenades too, and a mortar squad a little farther back keeps lobbing mortar shells over onto the Germans.

The little advance groups get up to the far ends of the hedgerows at the corners of the field. They first try to knock out the machine guns at each corner. They do this with hand grenades, rifle grenades and machine guns.

Fighting is very close

Usually, when the pressure gets on, the German defenders of the hedgerow start pulling back. They’ll take their heavier guns and most of the men back a couple of fields and start digging in for a new line.

They leave about two machine guns and a few riflemen scattered through the hedge, to do a lot of shooting and hold up the Americans as long as they can.

Our men now sneak along the front side of the hedgerow, throwing grenades over onto the other side and spraying the hedges with their guns. The fighting is very close – only a few yards apart – but it is seldom actual hand-to-hand stuff.

Sometimes the remaining Germans come out of their holes with their hands up. Sometimes they try to run for it and are mowed down. Sometimes they won’t come out at all, and a hand grenade thrown into their hole, finishes them off.

And so, we’ve taken another hedgerow and are ready to start on the one beyond.

This hedgerow business is a series of little skirmishes like that clear across the front, thousands and thousands of little skirmishes. No single one of them is very big. But add them all up over the days and weeks and you’ve got a man-sized war, with thousands on both sides being killed.

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The Pittsburgh Press (August 12, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

On the Western Front, France – (by wireless)
What we gave you yesterday in trying to describe hedgerow fighting was the general pattern.

If you were to come over here and pick out some hedge-enclosed field at random, the fighting there probably wouldn’t be following the general pattern at all. For each one is a little separate war, fought under different circumstances.

For instance, you’ll come to a woods instead of an open field. The Germans will be dug in all over the woods, in little groups, and it’s really tough to get them out. Often in cases like that we will just go around the woods and keep going and let later units take care of those surrounded and doomed fellows.

Or we’ll go through the woods and clean it out, and another company, coming through a couple of hours later, will find it full of Germans again. In a war like this one everything is in such confusion I don’t see how either side ever gets anywhere.

Sometimes you don’t know where the enemy is and don’t know where your own troops are. As somebody said the other day, no battalion commander can give you the exact location of his various units five minutes after they’ve jumped off.

We will bypass whole pockets of Germans, and they will be there fighting our following waves when our attacking companies are a couple of miles on beyond. Gradually the front gets all mixed up. There will be Germans behind you and at the side. They’ll be shooting at you from behind and from your flank.

Sometimes a unit will get so far out ahead of those on either side that it has to swing around and fight to its rear. Sometimes we fire on your own troops, thinking we are in German territory. You can’t see anything, and you can’t even tell from the sounds, for each side uses some of the other’s captured weapons.

Foot soldier hates to be near tank

The tanks and the infantry had to work in the closest cooperation in breaking through the German ring, that tried to pin us down in the beachhead area. Neither could have done it alone.

The troops are of two minds about having tanks around them. If you’re a foot soldier, you hate to be near a tank, for it always draws fire. On the other hand, if the going gets tough you pray for a tank to come up and start blasting with its guns.

In our breakthrough each infantry unit had tanks attached to it. It was the tanks and the infantry that broke through that ring and punched a hole for the armored divisions to go through.

The armored divisions practically ran amuck, racing long distances and playing hob, once they got behind the German lines, but it was the infantry and their attached tanks that opened the gate for them.

Tanks shuttled back and forth, from one field to another, throughout our breakthrough battle, receiving their orders by radio. Bulldozers punched holes through the hedgerows for them, and then the tanks would come up and blast out the bad spots of the opposition.

It has been necessary for us to wreck almost every farmhouse and little village in our path. The Germans used them for strongpoints, or put artillery observers in them, and they just had to be blasted out.

Most of the French farmers evacuate ahead of the fighting and filter back after it has passed. It is pitiful to see them come back to their demolished homes and towns. Yet it’s wonderful to see the grand way they take it.

Four hours rest in three days

In a long drive, an infantry company may go for a couple of days without letting up. Ammunition is carried up to it by hand, and occasionally by jeep. The soldiers sometimes eat only one K ration a day. They may run clear out of water. Their strength is gradually whittled down by wounds, exhaustion cases and straggling.

Finally, they will get an order to sit where they are and dig in. Then another company will pass through, or around them, and go on with the fighting. The relieved company may get to rest as much as a day or two. But in a big push such as the one that broke us out of the beachhead, a few hours is about all they can expect.

The company I was with got its orders to rest about 5:00 one afternoon. They dug foxholes along the hedgerows, or commandeered German ones already dug. Regardless of how tired you may be, you always dig in the first thing.

Then they sent some men with cans looking for water. They got more K rations up by jeep, and sat on the ground eating them.

They hoped they would stay there all night, but they weren’t counting on it too much. Shortly after supper a lieutenant came out of a farmhouse and told the sergeants to pass the word to be ready to move in 10 minutes. They bundled on their packs and started just before dark.

Within half an hour, they had run into a new fight that lasted all night: They had had less than four hours’ rest in three solid days of fighting. That’s the way life is in the infantry.

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