Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

The Pittsburgh Press (April 1, 1945)

Always an apostle of the underdog –
Ernie Pyle ignores success, feels he must keep going

Life Magazine reviews his career – He’s not the type his readers imagine
Sunday, April 1, 1945

Ernie Pyle and friend ‘Cheetah’ enjoying the sun whole Ernie was home from the wars. (Photo by Bob Landry)

Success thrust itself upon him… he cares nothing for the money it has brought, and is embarrassed by the fame… but he keeps going because he feels that he must.

That’s Ernie Pyle, columnist of The Pittsburgh Press and 676 other newspapers, as he is described by Lincoln Barnett in this week’s issue of Life Magazine.

Life devotes parts of nine pages to Ernie, reviewing his career, appraising his success, and adding considerably to the general fund of knowledge about this self-effacing, individual who has become the outstanding war correspondent of World War II.

Not saintly or sad

“By his articulate admirers,” says Mr. Barnett, “Ernie has come to be envisaged as a frail old poet. a kind of St. Francis of Assisi wandering sadly among the foxholes, playing beautiful tunes on his typewriter.

“Actually,” “Mr. Barnett continues, “he is neither elderly, little, saintly nor sad.”

He is 44, stands 5 feet 8 inches tall; weighs 112 pounds, and although he appears fragile, he is a tough, wiry man who gets along nicely without much food or sleep.

His sense of humor… assumes a robust earthy color in conversation. His laugh is full-bellied. His profanity is strictly G.I.

Likes to just sit

Although Pyle is America’s No. 1 professional wander, he is fundamentally a sedentary person who likes nothing better than to sit in an overheated room with a few good friends. Sometimes he appears to find conversation less pleasurable than the simple circumstance of being seated.

His apparent agoraphobia is a byproduct neither of war nerves nor a swelled head. He has always been self-effacing, and he finds himself uncomfortable in his current eminence as the nation’s favorite war reporter, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of two bestsellers.

He has been called shy, but he is not timid. His reticence is marked by quiet dignity.

He likes people as individuals and writes only nice things about those he mentions by name in his column. “But there are a lot of heels in the world,” he says. “I can’t like them.”

Apostle of underdog

The Life article points out that Ernie has always been an apostle of the underdog. Seven years ago, after visiting a leper colony, he wrote that “I experienced an acute feeling of spiritual need to be no better off than the leper.”

“And so in war,” says Mr. Barnette, “Pyle has felt a spiritual need to be no better off than the coldest, wettest, unhappiest of all soldiers.”

The article relates that when Ernie gave his consent to the making of the movie, The Story of G.I. Joe, he stipulated that (1) the hero of the picture must be the Infantry and not Pyle; (2) that no attempt be made to glorify him, and (3) that other correspondents be included in the story.

The movie, in which Capt. Burgess Meredith plays Ernie, will be seen by troops overseas in June and be released to the civilian public in July.

Huge earnings

In spite of his refusal to capitalize on his fame when he returned from the European fronts, Ernie has made close to half a million dollars in the past two years, Mr. Barnett estimates.

While he was home, he wore one suit, which he bought for $41.16 when he landed in New York. His home is a modest house in Albuquerque, which cost about $5,000. He puts his money into war bonds and, according to Mr. Barnett, “quietly bestows substantial sums upon friends, relatives, G.I.’s and anybody else he likes.”

“Although Pyle disdains his affluence,” the article continues, “he is keenly appreciative of the aureole of national esteem and affection that now envelopes him.”

Hundreds pray for him

The emotions Pyle evokes in his public go beyond detached admiration. He is probably the only newspaper columnist for whom any notable proportion of readers have fervently prayed. The volume of prayer put forth for him each night can only be estimated by the hundreds of letters he receives from mothers and wives who declare they include him in their bedtime supplications.

For some time after D-Day, 90 percent of all reader queries that came into Scripps-Howard offices were: “Did Ernie get in safe?”

His success has been achieved without much push on Ernie’s part, the article maintains.

It declares that he took journalism at the University of Indiana because someone told him it would be an easy course.

He quit college a few months before he would have graduated, and went to work on a small newspaper in Indiana. Four months later, he went to the Scripps-Howard Washington Daily News as a copyreader.

Married ‘that girl’

“He was an excellent headline writer,” says Mr. Barnett, “but so mousey-mild his associates never dreamed he would ever be more than a pencil slave on the rim of the desk.”

Two years after going to Washington, he married Geraldine Siebolds, an attractive girl from Minnesota who had a job with the Civil Service Commission, Later, when he became a roving reporter, she was known to mullions as “that girl.”

He became managing editor of The News in 1932, but declared that he “hated the damn job.” Three years later, convalescing from influenza, he and Jerry took a motor trip to the Southwest. When they returned, Ernie turned in some articles about his trip and asked for an assignment as roving reporter.

Gets his wish

“They had a sort of Mark Twain quality and they knocked my eyes right out,” the Scripps-Howard editor-in-chief declared afterward. Pyle got his wish. His salary was raised from $95 to $100 a week and on August 8, 1935, his first travel column appeared in Scripps-Howard newspapers.

For the next five years Pyle roamed the Western Hemisphere. Those itinerant pre-war years were the happiest of his life. “The job would be wonderful,” he once said, “if it weren’t for having to write the damned column.”

Meanwhile he was evolving his special reportorial capacities and style. When war came, he had no need to revise his technique, His farmers, lumberjacks and bartenders had become privates, sergeants and lieutenants. And Phoenix, Des Moines and Main Street were Palermo, Naples and Rue Michelet.

He goes to war

“A small voice came in the night and said Go,” Ernie wrote in the fall of 1940. It was the same voice that had spoken to him in the leper colony in Hawaii. So he went off to war.

Pyle’s first overseas trip in the winter of 1940-41 multiplied readers of his column by 50 percent. Stirred by the spiritual holocaust of London and his own relentless instinct for self-immolation, he produced columns of great beauty and power. But it was not until he reached North Africa the following year that the Pyle legend began to evolve.

The article tells how Ernie, afflicted by one of his periodic colds, remained in Oran while the other reporters went to the front. There he met some obscure civilians who told him about the turbulent political situation in North Africa, and he scored an important scoop.

The doughboys’ saint

Gradually, as he moved about among the soldiers, covering the “backwash” of the war, he became the patron saint of the fighting foot soldier, the article relates. But he didn’t know it for a long time.

He thought, when he wrote it, that his famous column on the death of Capt. Waskow was no good.

He went on to Normandy, and went on suffering the privations and dangers of the soldiers. Gradually the suffering he saw began to get under his skin. He had premonitions of death. Finally, he had to come home. Soldiers wrote saying they didn’t blame him.

After a long rest he pushed off again, this time to the Pacific. He chose a small carrier because he knew he would feel more at home there – and because such ships hadn’t been receiving much notice.

“I dread going back and I’d give anything if I didn’t have to go,” he said. “But I feel I have no choice. I’ve been with it so long I feel a responsibility…”

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LIFE (April 2, 1945)

Ernie Pyle

America’s favorite war correspondent, now in the Pacific, is a diffident journalist who finds it hard to appreciate the importance of being Ernie
By Lincoln Barnett

Ernie and his Shetland sheep dog Cheetah sun themselves on the mesa outside Albuquerque

“I got awful sick of Pyle this last year,” an ordinarily amiable gentleman remarked recently. “The whole country’s so intent on making him a god-darned little elf. I don’t understand it. How people can get all tied up in Pyle is beyond me.”

The speaker was Ernie Pyle’s oldest friend and college classmate, Paige Cavanaugh. His job at the moment is to make sure that The Story of G.I. Joe, a movie about the infantry as seen through Ernie’s eyes, does not overly glamorize its journalist hero. Cavanaugh is bored by the apotheosis of Pyle and has said so in writing. In a letter to Ernie, he announced, “I have completed my plans for the post-war world and I find no place in it for you.”

Certain differences between the public’s conception of Pyle and his own knowledge of the subject provide Cavanaugh with much tart amusement. By his articulate admirers Ernie has come to be envisaged as a frail old poet, a kind of St. Francis of Assisi wandering sadly among the foxholes, playing beautiful tunes on his typewriter. Actually he is neither elderly, little, saintly nor sad. He is 44 years old; stands 5 ft. 8 in. tall; weighs 112 lb.; and although he appears fragile, he is a tough, wiry man who gets along nicely without much food or sleep. His sense of humor, which leavens his columns with quaint chuckling passages, assumes a robust earthy color in conversation. His laugh is full-bellied. His profanity is strictly G.I. His belch is internationally renowned. “Ernie is the world’s champion belcher,” a friend once remarked enviously. “He doesn’t burp, he belches. It’s not a squashy, gurgly belch, but sharp and well-rounded, a clean bark with a follow-through. It explodes.”

Although Pyle is America’s No. 1 professional wanderer, he is fundamentally a sedentary person who likes nothing better than to sit in an overheated room with a few good friends. Unlike most writers he prefers listening to talking. Sometimes he appears to find conversation less pleasurable than the simple circumstance of being seated. When he visited Hollywood last fall, he holed up in Cavanaugh’s house and stayed there eight days without once visiting the studio where G.I. Joe was being filmed. His apparent agoraphobia is a byproduct neither of war nerves nor a swelled head. He has always been self-effacing and he finds himself uncomfortable in his current eminence as the nation’s favorite war reporter, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of two bestsellers. He has been called shy, but he is not timid. His reticence is marked by quiet dignity. He dreads crowds, however, and has avoided making speeches since an occasion during his college days when, addressing an undergraduate audience, he was struck dumb at the height of an eloquent period and fled the stage with one arm frozen in mid-air. He likes people as individuals and writes only nice things about those he mentions by name in his column. “But there are a lot of heels in the world,” he says. “I can’t like them.”

Pyle’s only breach of his self-imposed rule against speech-making occurred six weeks ago when he addressed an audience of 1,000 servicemen in San Francisco. The occasion was notable not only for his oratory, but for the fact that it signalized his departure, for the first time, for the Pacific theaters of war. Last week, from a carrier at sea, Ernie was writing enthusiastically of his experiences as a “saltwater doughboy.” Characteristically he had asked for assignment to a small carrier. “I felt I could get the feel of a carrier more quickly, could become more intimately a member of the family, if I were to go on a smaller one,” he explained. “Also, the smaller carriers have had very little credit and almost no glory, and I’ve always had a sort of yen for poor little ships that have been neglected.”

His inclination toward neglected little ships and neglected “little people” – though he would never employ such a patronizing term – is perhaps the most significant aspect of Pyle’s professional personality. As a roving columnist before the war, he wrote about barbers, bellhops, bartenders and bums. “Ernie avoids important people,” a friend once observed. “There’s only about one in every hundred he likes.” Actually Pyle is a democratic man who gets along as well with generals and admirals as with sailors and G.I.’s. But his individuality as a war correspondent has stemmed from his identification with the ranks, particularly combat infantrymen. He has written about fliers, engineers, artillerymen and tankmen. But he is first and foremost the apostle of the dogface who lives and dies most miserably. It was inevitable that he should have gravitated to the bottom of the military pyramid, for Pyle has always cherished the underdog. Seven years ago, after visiting the U.S. leper colony in the Hawaiian Islands, he made an illuminating confession, “I felt a kind of unrighteousness at being whole and ‘clean.’ I experienced an acute feeling of spiritual need to be no better off than the leper. It was something akin to that sorcery that lures people standing on high places to leap downward.” And so in war, Pyle has felt a spiritual need to be no better off than the coldest, wettest, unhappiest of all soldiers.

One result of Pyle’s dedication to the infantry is his current enshrinement in The Story of G.I. Joe. His connection with the picture originated when Producer Lester Cowan came to him for help in the summer of 1943. The War Department has asked Cowan to make a film about the unsung foot soldier. Pondering how to handle it, Cowan consulted the late Raymond Clapper who told him that Pyle was indisputably the infantry’s No. 1 exponent. After several meetings with Ernie, who was then in the U.S. on vacation, Cowan conceived the idea of integrating his narrative of G.I.’s in Tunisia and Italy around the character of Correspondent Pyle. Ernie agreed to cooperate but with three stipulations: 1) that the hero of the picture must be The Infantry and not Pyle; 2) that no attempt be made to glorify him; 3) that other correspondents be included in the story.

When the producer suggested that he act himself, Pyle retorted drily, “Okay, if you can get somebody who looks like me to write my column.” Public debate on the question, “Who should play Ernie Pyle?” reached an intensity second only to that generated seven years ago by the question “Who should play Scarlett O’Hara?” Thousands of fans wrote Cowan letters suggesting such assorted interpreters as Jimmy Gleason, Walter Huston, Bing Crosby and Jimmy Durante. From all over the country came photographs of balding skinny men who thought they looked like Ernie Pyle. One woman forwarded a snapshot of her balding, skinny husband with the comment, “Like Ernie, to know him is to love him.” Ultimately the contested part went to Capt. Burgess Meredith. The Story of G.I. Joe will have concurrent premieres for servicemen overseas in June and will be released to the civilian public in July. Producer Cowan, who is probably the nation’s No. 1 Pyle fan, is already planning a series of sequels which may ultimately make Ernie the Andy Hardy of World War II.

‘Mr. Pyle doesn’t want to get somewhere’

Although most professional achievements grow out of assiduity and ambition, Pyle paradoxically owes his unwelcome fame and now substantial fortune to his lack of ambition. His wife once astonished a well-meaning friend who wished Ernie to meet certain people who could help him “get somewhere” by proclaiming, “But Mr. Pyle doesn’t want to get somewhere.” The fact that Ernie has reluctantly pursued an uninterrupted course to professional success affords him and Cavanaugh a source of material for badinage. Their friendship developed originally out of mutual regard for each other’s pleasant inertia. But unlike Ernie, Cavanaugh has succeeded in happily drifting from one small job to another without ever making much money. One night last fall, during Pyle’s visit to Hollywood, Cavanaugh heard him sighing and tossing in his bed. “What’s the matter?” Cavanaugh called. “I can’t sleep,” Ernie replied. “That’s because you’re so damn rich,” said Cavanaugh. A little later Pyle heard Cavanaugh flopping around. “Now what’s the matter with you?” he asked. “I can’t sleep either,” Cavanaugh said. “That,” said Ernie, “is because you’re so damn poor.” Cavanaugh laughed, then remarked thoughtfully, “I got an idea. You give me half of your dough and then we can both get to sleep.”

The impact of fame has simply accentuated Pyle’s inherent modesty. During the weeks between his return from Europe last fall and his departure for the Pacific, he could have exploited his reputation in many ways. A radio network offered him $3,000 a week for the privilege of broadcasting transcriptions of his columns. A lecture impresario bid thousands for a personal tour. But money plays no part in Pyle’s mental processes. “What’s $100,000?” he once asked. “How much is that?” For years he refused to tell Cavanaugh the size of his income. “Now,” says Cavanaugh, “we’re square because Pyle doesn’t know how much he makes himself.” His book Here Is Your War has sold 942,000 copies and more editions are forthcoming. Brave Men had sold 861,000 as of February 1. His column is bought by 366 daily papers and 310 weeklies. All in all, his income during the last two years has probably been close to half a million.

He has no feeling for luxury

For all his riches Pyle owns only one suit. Landing in New York last fall with no clothes but his battle-stained uniform, he headed for a cut-rate store near his hotel and bought a suit for $41.16. It was still his only civilian garment when he left for the Pacific six weeks ago. Pyle simply has no feeling for luxury. His little white clapboard house in Albuquerque looks like any FHA model and cost about $5,000. Twice during recent months, it was so overrun with guests he had to surrender his bed. One night he slept on a cot in a shed behind the house. The other time he spread his new Army bedroll on the living-room floor. Although most of the time he doesn’t care whether he eats or not, he likes to cook for guests. He has no fancy tastes in liquor and likes to roll his own cigarettes. His friends often ask him what he does with his money. He doesn’t mind telling them: he puts it in war bonds. He never mentions the fact that he also quietly bestows substantial sums upon friends, relatives, G.I.’s and anybody else he likes.

Although Pyle disdains his affluence, he is keenly appreciative of the aureole of national esteem and affection that now envelops him. Somebody has said, “This war has produced two things – the jeep and Ernie Pyle.” His collated columns have been called “The War and Peace of World War II.” He is regarded in Washington as a kind of oracle. Congressmen and senators quote his words more often than those of any other journalist – and act upon them. Upon his return from Europe more than 50 high-ranking officers flocked to interrogate him at the Pentagon. However, Pyle has steadfastly refused to set himself up as a public thinker. He has rejected all offers to hold forth on the state of the nation, the Army or the world. And he has avoided politics. He didn’t even vote in the last election, explaining that he had lived so many years in Washington he had lost the voting habit. When friends asked him if he liked Roosevelt, he said “Sure.” He also said “Sure” when people asked him if he liked Dewey.

The emotions Pyle evokes in his public go beyond detached admiration. He is probably the only newspaper columnist for whom any notable proportion of readers have fervently prayed. The volume of prayer put forth for him each night can only be estimated by the hundreds of letters he receives from mothers and wives who declare they include him in their bedtime supplications. For some time after D-Day, 90 percent of all reader queries that came into Scripps-Howard offices were: “Did Ernie get in safe?” The bond between Ernie and his readers is strengthened by the fact that he takes time to write personal letters to hundreds of G.I. friends and to their parents and wives. Sometimes he goes to great trouble in behalf of utter strangers. On his homecoming voyage last fall, he met a wounded soldier who was particularly distraught because he could not summon courage to notify his parents he had lost a leg. “Are you trying to tell me you would like me to write that to them?” Pyle asked. That evening he sat down and composed a warm and friendly letter with all the care and craftsmanship he would have devoted to a column.

A fellow newspaperman who has affectionately followed Pyle’s career observed recently that when his big chance came, he was ready for it, thanks not to ambition but to 20 years of journalistic training. He might never have acquired that training had it not been for his physical indolence and a chance meeting with Cavanaugh in his freshman year at college. As a boy growing up on his father’s farm near Dana, Indiana (pop. 850), Ernie had come to dislike agricultural chores. He was a quiet lad who liked to sit and listen to his elders talk. In school he got high marks in English and geography and 100 percent in deportment. By the time he was ready for the University of Indiana, he knew that farming was not for him, but he had no idea what he did want to do. On registration day at the university in the fall of 1919, freshman Cavanaugh spied freshman Pyle idly rolling a cigarette and paused to borrow the makings. “What courses you taking?” Pyle asked. “They tell me,” said Cavanaugh, “that journalism is a breeze.” Together they walked to the journalism building and confronted a professor at the enrollment desk. They stood awkwardly, shifting from one foot to the other, a pair of self-conscious farm boys who didn’t know what to say. It was Pyle who finally spoke. “We aspire to be journalists,” he said.

Ernie just laughed and said, ‘We’ll see.’

For three and a half years Ernie fidgeted in class, cut lectures and did just enough work to get by. He was manager of the football team in his senior year and editor of the campus newspaper. But he had itchy feet and often vanished on solitary walks in the country. A few months before graduation he suddenly quit college and went to work as a reporter on the La Porte, Indiana, Herald-Argus. Cavanaugh tried to discourage him, pointing out that he “wouldn’t amount to much without his diploma” and that a degree would help him get jobs in future years. Ernie just laughed and said, “We’ll see.”

The next 12 years carried Pyle fortuitously, often unwillingly, to the springboard of his success. After four months in La Porte, he landed a job on the copy desk of the Washington News. He was an excellent headline writer but so mousey-mild his associates never dreamed he would ever be more than a pencil slave on the rim of the desk. Two years after coming to Washington, he married Geraldine Siebolds, an attractive and intellectual blonde girl from Minnesota who had a job with the Civil Service Commission. Each evening after work Ernie would sit contentedly at home, rolling cigarettes, chatting with Jerry, or reading. He became telegraph editor of the News in 1928. His interest in airplanes tempted him to essay an aviation column which soon became a popular feature of the News.

Of several circumstances responsible for the evolution of the peripatetic Pyle, perhaps the most important was his appointment as managing editor of the News in 1932. “I hated the damn job,” he says now, “though I think I did pretty good at it.” His restlessness came to the surface after he had fretted as managing editor for three years. In the spring of 1935, while convalescing from influenza, he took a leave of absence and motored through the Southwest with Jerry. On his return he looked with distaste at the dingy newsroom where he had spent most of his waking hours since 1923 and realized he was fed up with editorial labor. He asked for an assignment as roving reporter and to prove his point wrote some sample pieces about his trip. “They had a sort of Mark Twain quality and they knocked my eyes right out,” the Scripps-Howard editor in chief declared afterward. Pyle got his wish. His salary was raised from $95 to $100 a week and on August 8, 1935, his first travel column appeared in Scripps-Howard papers.

For the next five years, Pyle roamed the Western Hemisphere. He saw most of South America and once surveyed the shores of the Bering Sea. Nobody told him where to go. He wrote about the “long sad wind” that blows in Iowa and about a toothless Alaskan woodsman who made a dental plate out of bear’s teeth and then ate the bear with its own teeth. He wrote about his father (“He is a good man without being repulsive about it”), and about acquiring a new automobile (“Goodbye to you my little old car. In a few minutes I must go and drive you away for the last time. Trading you off for a shiny new hussy. I feel like a dog”). From the quaint introspective essays that recurrently appeared among his travelogs and interviews, his readers came to regard Ernie Pyle as an old friend whose tastes and vicissitudes they vicariously shared. They knew of his difficulties with zipper pants and his periodic illnesses. “If I’m going to be sick all the time,” he wrote once, “I might as well drop all outside interests and devote my career to being sick. Maybe in time I could become the sickest man in America.” With Ernie on his wanderings went Jerry, whom he puckishly referred to as “that girl who rides beside me.” Those itinerant pre-war years were the happiest of Pyle’s life. “The job would be wonderful,” he once said, “if it weren’t for having to write the damned column.” Meanwhile he was evolving his special reportorial capacities and style. When war came, he had no need to revise his technique. His farmers, lumberjacks and bartenders had become privates, sergeants and lieutenants. And Phoenix, Des Moines and Main Street were Palermo, Naples and the Rue Michelet.

‘I just cover the backwash of the war’

“A small voice came in the night and said ‘Go,’” Ernie wrote in the fall of 1940. It was the same voice that had spoken to him in the leper colony in Hawaii. So, he went off to war. Before his departure he bought a little white house in Albuquerque where Jerry could await his return. Till then the Pyles had never owned a home. They had lived for five years in hotel rooms. Now they needed a base – “not a permanent hearthside at all,” he explained, “but a sort of home plate that we can run to on occasion, and then run away from again.” Both Midwesterners, the Pyles had come to love the Southwest. They picked a spot on high ground overlooking miles of tawny mesa. “We like it,” Ernie wrote, “because our front yard stretches as far as you can see.”

Pyle’s first overseas trip in the winter of 1940-41 multiplied readers of his column by 50 percent. Stirred by the spiritual holocaust of London and his own relentless instinct for self-immolation, he produced columns of great beauty and power. But it was not till he reached North Africa the following year that the Pyle legend began to evolve. Despite the success of his British columns, he felt out of place at first among the crack war correspondents who had seen combat in China, Spain, France and Norway. And indeed, many of them regarded him patronizingly as a kind of travelog writer who had somehow obtruded on the war. When Pyle’s ship docked at Oran with the second “wave” of correspondents a fortnight after the initial landings, most of his fellow pressmen hurried eastward toward the front as fast as they could. But Ernie puttered around Oran. Then he caught cold. It was nearly Christmas by the time he reached Allied headquarters in Algiers. “Didn’t you go nuts, stuck back there in Oran?” a friend asked him. “Oh no,” said Ernie. “You guys go after the big stories. I just cover the backwash of the war.” Actually at that moment his columns were being excitedly discussed all over the United States. For while puttering in Oran he had met some obscure civilians who told him about the turbulent political situation in North Africa and he had dispatched some revealing articles criticizing the U.S. policy of “soft-gloving snakes in our midst.” The strict censorship at Algiers would never have cleared them for publication. But the Oran censors, perhaps disarmed by Pyle’s unpretentious reportorial style, let them go through. Not till weeks later did he learn he had inadvertently scooped the slickest newshawks in the world.

Pyle still thought he was covering the “backwash” of the war one morning in January 1943 when he boarded a plane at an airport outside Algiers and headed eastward toward the red eroded ridges of Tunisia. He still had no idea he was to become the patron saint of the fighting foot soldier. He only knew that grand strategy was not his racket. He knew how to move unobtrusively among men and chat with them quietly until they began to articulate their adventures and thoughts. He described the looks of the country and told how he lived. And in writing about himself he defined the soldier’s existence, for he lived no better than any G.I. He dressed like a G.I., in coveralls and a wool cap. He gained almost ten pounds on canned rations but lay awake night after night, quaking with cold, fully clothed inside his bedroll. He learned how to dig foxholes in a hurry. “It wasn’t long,” he wrote, “before I could put up my tent all by myself in the dark with a strong wind blowing and both hands tied behind my back.” And he learned that in cold weather it is more comfortable to go without baths. “The American soldier,” he once observed, “has a fundamental complex about bodily cleanliness which is considered all nonsense by us philosophers of the Great Unwashed, which includes Arabs, Sicilians and me.” Jeeping all over the Tunisian battle area, he got bombed and shelled and on one occasion found himself the sole target of a German machine gunner who sent several bursts in his direction “so close they had fuzz on them.” He left famous heroes to the headline reporters and confined his efforts to the brave but obscure. He made friends in every unit in North Africa. But he gravitated ineluctably to the infantry – “the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys.”

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‘Yesterday is tomorrow… when will we ever stop’

Pyle’s articles soon attracted a vast audience at home, and soldiers who had received clippings of his column in their mail began to look upon him as their laureate. They would yell “Hi, Ernie” when they glimpsed him in the field, and whenever a press car passed troops on a toad, scores would shout, “Is Ernie Pyle in that car?” He was showered with gifts of food, souvenirs, good-luck trophies. One unit gave him a captured German Volkswagen. In return he handed out hundreds of cigarettes and scores of lighters sent to him by admirers at home.

As the months passed somber tones crept into Pyle’s columns. In North Africa, despite perils and bloodshed, he had felt that the physical discomforts of war – the animal-like existence, cold, sleeplessness, hunger for women – caused soldiers greater distress than fear of death or the horror of killing. He confessed he had at first enjoyed the simplicity of life in the field and had found the sense of danger exhilarating. But in the bitter defiles of Italy, he began to be oppressed by the terrible weariness of mind and soul that overcame men after weeks under fire. “It’s the constant roar of engines,” he wrote, “and the perpetual moving and the never settling down and the go, go, go, night and day, and on through the night again. Eventually it all works itself into an emotional tapestry of one dull dead pattern – yesterday is tomorrow and Troina is Randazzo and when will we ever stop and, God, I’m so tired!” Ernie himself came to feel exhausted and written out. One night after a spell in the wet mountains he attempted a column about some dead men – among them a Capt. Waskow – whose bodies had been brought down from a bleak ridge where fighting had raged for days. The story refused to take shape and several times he almost gave up. When it was finished, dubious of its merit, he asked Don Whitehead of the Associated Press to read it. Whitehead said, “I think it’s the most beautiful piece you’ve ever done.” Ernie declined to be cheered up. Whitehead then passed the column on to Clark Lee, Dick Tregaskis and several other correspondents, all of whom confirmed his judgment. But Ernie decided they were simply trying to be nice and went to bed miserable. Back home the exquisite understated emotion and quiet imagery of his now-famous Waskow column stirred newspaper editors from coast to coast. The New York World-Telegram headlined it “An Epic Story by Ernie Pyle.” The Washington News devoted its entire front page to it.

Pyle had the narrowest escape of his war career a few weeks later. Attracted always to the scenes of deadliest combat, he went to the Anzio beachhead. Early one morning a German bomber dropped a stick of 500-pounders squarely across a villa which was serving as press headquarters. Pyle’s upstairs room, where he had been lying in bed, was demolished. But he miraculously emerged from mountains of rubble and shattered glass with only a scratch on his check. After that his colleagues called him “Old Indestructible.” It was his last adventure in Italy. The invasion of Europe was brewing and in April 1944 Ernie flew to England to await D-Day.

Premonitions of death

Pyle’s working habits had subtly and involuntarily changed. In North Africa he had been able to move about as he pleased. By the time he reached France, he was so famous he could scarcely walk down a village street without soldiers of all ranks accosting him and requesting his autograph. He discovered that G.I.’s had come to regard mention of their names in his column as comparable to an official citation. Commanding officers besought him to visit their special units, then engulfed him with time-consuming hospitality. Pyle found that these flattering attentions interfered with his work and he regretted his loss of freedom. Yet his innate kindness and courtesy made it impossible for him to brush off admirers, even at embarrassing moments. One day, while accompanying an infantry company that had been assigned to clean out a strong point in Cherbourg, he got caught in a duel between an American tank and an enemy pillbox. While Ernie and another correspondent watched from a doorway, the tank was hit by a German shell and knocked out. “Let’s get out of here,” said the other correspondent and sprinted down the street. It was almost an hour before Ernie rejoined him. “Some of the fellows that jumped out of that tank knew me from my picture,” he apologized, “so I had to stop and talk.”

The spiritual torment and revulsion against war that had oppressed him in Italy descended on him even more darkly among the hedgerows of Normandy, though few readers guessed what underlay the warm, easy and frequently humorous content of his columns. He had been with the war nearly two and a half years, had lived longer in the front lines and witnessed more fighting than most other correspondents and indeed than most soldiers. He found himself increasingly haunted by a premonition of his own death. “Instead of becoming used to danger,” he told a friend in Normandy, “I become less used to it as the years go by. I’ve begun to feel I have about used up my chances.” The experience that finally convinced Pyle he needed a vacation was the battle of St. Lô when American planes accidentally bombed the front lines of American forces on the ground. To soften up the Germans an epic concentration of 2,500 bombers had been ordered to blast an area behind the St. Lô-Marigny Road. The dividing line between U.S. and German troops had been marked out by strips of colored cloth. “The flight across the sky was slow and studied,” Pyle wrote. “I’ve never known a storm, or a machine, or any resolve of man that had about it the aura of such ghastly relentlessness… And then the bombs came. They began like 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.” Little by little a gentle wind carried the curtains of dust and smoke back over the American lines, and soon successive flights of bombers aiming at the smoke line began dropping their death cargo on Americans. As the bombs fell about him Pyle dived into a wagon shed beside an officer. “We lay with our heads slightly up – like two snakes – staring at each other in a futile appeal, 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.” Pyle later confided to friends that this episode had been the most horrible and horrifying of all his war experiences. “I don’t think I could go through it again and keep my sanity,” he said.

After St. Lô, Ernie pulled back of the lines and slept for nearly 24 uninterrupted hours. Then for three days he found himself unable to write a line. He remained in France long enough to witness the liberation of Paris. Then he headed home. “I’m leaving for one reason only,” he wrote in his farewell column, “–because I have just got to stop. ‘I’ve had it,’ as they say in the Army… My spirit is wobbly and my mind is confused… All of a sudden it seemed to me that if I heard one more shot or saw one more dead man, I would go off my nut.” He was not exaggerating. Analyzing his mental state several months later, he confessed, “I damn near had a war neurosis. About two weeks more and I’d have been in a hospital. I’d become so revolted, so nauseated by the sight of swell kids having their heads blown off, I’d lost track of the whole point of the war. I’d reached a point where I felt that no ideal was worth the death of one more man. I knew that was a short view. So, I decided it was time for me to back off and look at it in a bigger way.”

‘If I can survive America…’

Hundreds of soldiers wrote Ernie goodbye letters, saying in effect “We understand.” Not one reproached him for leaving. And many expressed relief that he was leaving danger behind. Back home his fellow countrymen welcomed him like a Congressional Medal hero. Strangers rushed up to him on street corners to wring his hand and express their esteem. One night he went to a Broadway show. Before he reached his seat a swelling buzz of recognition focused every eye on the back of his balding head. Gratified but at the same time terrified by such attentions, Pyle took refuge in the sanctuary of a hotel room and remained there during most of his stay in New York while his friend, Lee Miller, managing editor of the Scripps-Howard Newspapers, Washington Bureau, stood guard at the never-silent telephone, shielding him from impresarios, autograph hunters and other well-meaning intruders. Friends noticed he appeared at ease only in the company of G.I.’s. Whenever some veteran of Tunisia spied him and yelled, “Hi Ernie, remember Kasserine Pass?” Pyle would fondly throw his arms around him and drag him off to a bar for a session of reminiscence. “If I can survive America,” Ernie told Miller, “I can survive anything.”

Even at home in Albuquerque he found it difficult to relax. There too the phone chattered and sightseers cruised past his house, seeking a glimpse of Ernie sunning on his terrace. Mail kept him busy three hours a day. In addition to his manifold professional distractions, Ernie’s vacation was marred by anxiety over the health of his wife. She had been recurrently ill for several years, and this factor had aggravated the depression that shadowed his last months overseas. His pleasure on returning home was vitiated by the fact that Jerry was in the hospital on the day he arrived. One afternoon when his melancholy was deepest and chances of her ultimate recovery seemed dim, he told Cavanaugh, “Here I am with fame and more money than I know what to do with – and what good does it do me? It seems as though I haven’t anything to live for.” Then, remarkably, Jerry rallied and came home from the hospital early in December. Her progress toward health accelerated week by week during Ernie’s stay in Albuquerque. When he went to Hollywood on his way to the Pacific, Jerry accompanied him. One evening they went nightclubbing and danced for the first time in years.

‘I dread going back…’

It was with profound misgivings that Ernie set off again to war. “I dread going back and I’d give anything if I didn’t have to go,” he said. “But I feel I have no choice. I’ve been with it so long I feel a responsibility, a sense of duty toward the soldiers. I’ve become their mouthpiece, the only one they have. And they look to me. I don’t put myself above other correspondents. Plenty of them work harder and write better than I do, But I have in my column a device they haven’t got. So, I’ve got to go again. I’m trapped.” There was only one bright spot in Pyle’s contemplation of his new assignment. “Out in the Pacific,” he said, “I’ll be damned good and stinking hot. Oh boy!”

And so Ernie boarded a plane in San Francisco and headed for Hawaii, the Marianas and points west. Ultimately he will rejoin his Army G.I.’s in the Philippines or on some other embattled archipelago. But for a while now he will devote his special talents to the Navy. He was under a full head of steam last week, writing as fondly and luminously of “his” ship as ever he did of “his” company of doughfeet in Italy. “My carrier is a proud one,” he proclaimed. “She is known in the fleet as ‘The Iron Woman,’ because she has fought in every battle in the Pacific in the years 1944 and 1945.” Day by day his new friends became as vivid to Pyle readers as his old friends in foxholes beside the Rhine.

However long the war may last, Pyle is determined to cover it to the last shot. This resolution disturbs many of his admirers who regard Ernie Pyle as a nonexpendable national asset and who fear the mathematics of survival may now be against him. Although such an apprehension is not the prime element in his reluctance to return to war, he recognizes death as a disagreeable possibility. He is not afraid to die, but he looks forward very much to a day when he can jump into a car with unlimited gasoline and drive once again with Jerry by his side down the long white roads of the Southwest. “I can’t bear to think of not being here,” he says. “I like to be alive. I have a hell of a good time most of the time.”

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 2, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC (delayed) – The main thing I never understood about how an aircraft carrier operates, is what they did with all the rest of the planes while one was landing or taking off.

I had thought the flight deck had to be entirely clear of planes. I thought that as soon as one took off, they brought the next one up from the lower deck by elevator, and sent it off.

It isn’t that way at all. There are always idle planes standing on deck during landings and takeoffs. There have to be, for the hangar deck down below isn’t big enough to hold all the planes. But these idle planes are never along the side of the deck – they are at one end or the other. Here’s how it’s done:

Planes always take off and always land from stern to bow of the ship – or from rear to forward as you simple landlubbers would say.

For the takeoff, all the planes are parked tightly together at the rear of the deck., all have folding wings, which has been one of the great contributions to this war, without them a carrier could hardly carry enough planes to justify itself.

Noise is terrific

These parked planes take up maybe one-eighth of the flight deck – the rear one-eighth. When they get ready to launch planes all the engines are started and warmed up while the planes are still parked tightly together.

The noise is terrific. Angry propellers whirl within inches of the tail of the next ship. “Plane-pushers” by the dozen crawl around, under, and among these flying propellers, adjusting chocks and untying the lines that hold the planes down.

When they are ready, the center plane in the front is taxied out a few feet. His folded wings are unfolded. The pilot tests his controls. puts down his flaps.

A signalman standing ahead and to the right of him indicates by motions when he is to start. He holds on his brakes, speeds up his engine until the noise is ear-splitting, and then the signalman leans over and dramatically swings his arm forward, as though personally to give the plane impetus.

The plane starts rolling. The deck behind him is packed with planes. But the seven-eighths of deck in front is clear. Not a plane or man on it.

No sooner has one plane gone than the next one is ready, has his wings unfolded and is running up his engine. They take off one right after the other, less than a minute apart, until the whole flight is in the air.

Prepare for return

The moment the last plane of the flight is off, a horn signals the fact, and the great flight deck instantly becomes a swarm of men.

Usually there are several planes left on deck, which weren’t scheduled to go. All these are immediately towed to the forward end of the deck, and reparked there.

For, when the planes come back to land, they must use that rear end of the deck. While they are landing, the whole front end of the deck is full of parked planes.

A barrier of steel cables, stretched head-high across the deck, stops any wild-landing plane from crashing into the bunch of tightly parked ships ahead.

As soon as a plane lands, the barrier is dropped, the plane taxies over it, and the barrier is raised again for the next guy coming in. The plane that has just landed is parked among the other inert ones up front and the pilot shuts off his engine.

When the last plane is down, the horn squawks, all the men rush out, and all the planes are towed back to the rear of the deck, ready for the next takeoff.

Almost never, during actual landing of the planes, is the elevator let down. It is used only between flights, to take planes down to the “garage” or bring up fresh ones.

Like cars at carnivals

This moving of planes from one end of the flight deck to the other is called “re-sporting.” It goes on all day long – back and forth, back and forth.

The planes are pulled by tiny tractors. As they run around they look like these little electric cars you bump each other with at carnivals.

At night, probably two-thirds of the planes are “spotted” on deck. They are parked tightly together, and tied down to gratings in the flight deck by heavy rope.

If we’re sailing into a storm, they’re tied additionally with steel cable. And all night long men are posted among them, to see that nothing breaks or goes wrong.

Despite all this, there have been times when the ocean was so rough and the deck careening at such a steep angle, that planes would break all their moorings and go screeching over the side. That would be when I was down in my cabin, very seasick.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 3, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OFF THE OKINAWA BEACHHEAD (by Navy radio) – This is the last column before the invasion. It is written aboard a troop transport the evening before we storm onto Okinawa.

We are nervous. Anybody with any sense is nervous on the right before D-Day. You feel weak and you try to think of things, but your mind stubbornly drifts back to the awful image of tomorrow. It drags on your soul and you have nightmares.

But those fears do not mean any lack of confidence. We will take Okinawa. Nobody has any doubt about that. But we know we will have to pay for it. some on this ship will not be alive 24 hours from now.

We are in convoy. Many, many big ships are lined up in columns with our warships escort on the outsides. We are an impressive escort on the outsides. We are an impressive sight – yet we are only one of many similar convoys.

We left from different places. We have been on our way many days. We are the biggest, strongest force ever to sail in the Pacific. We are going into what we expect to be the biggest battle so far in the Pacific.

Our ship is an APA, or assault transport. The ship itself is a war veteran. She wears five stars on her service ribbon – Africa, Sicily, Italy, Normandy and Southern France. She wears the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Legion of Merit Silver Star. She has fared well on the other side. We hope her luck holds out in the Pacific.

We are carrying Marines. Some of them are going into combat for the first time. Others are veterans from as far back as Guadalcanal. They are a rough, unshaven, competent bunch of Americans. I am landing with them. I feel I am in good hands.

Two of a stripe

I’ve shared a cabin with Marine Maj. Reed Taylor of Kensington, Maryland. He is a Guadal vet and he jokingly belittles newcomers who weren’t through “green hell.” The major and I are sort of two of a stripe and we get along fine.

We have the nicest cabin either of us ever had at sea. And we’ve take advantage of it by sleeping away almost the whole trip. We’ve slept day and night. So have many others.

There is a daily argument on ship whether or not you can store up sleep and energy for the ordeal ahead. The doctor says it’s nonsense – that you can’t store up sleep.

Between naps I’ve read two books. They are Bob Hope’s I Never Left Home (how I wish I never had) and Bob Casey’s Such Interesting People only I wish I could hear Bob Casey tell all those stories in person, lying on his cot in France and roaring and shaking with his own laughter. Bob’s laughter would be good for us now. A Marione officer said, “I haven’t laughed for three days.”

Nobody complains

Our trip has been fairly smooth and not many of the troops were seasick. Down in the holds the Marines sleep on racks four tiers high. It isn’t a nice way to travel. But I’ve never heard anybody complain. They come up on the deck on nice days to sun and to rest and to wash clothes, or lie and read or play cards.

We don’t have movies. The ship is darkened at subset and after that there are only dim lights. The food is good. We get news every morning in a mimeographed paper and once or twice a day the ship’s officers broadcast the latest news over the loudspeaker.

They’ve kept us informed daily of the progress of the Okinawa bombardment that preceded our landing. Every little bit of good news cheers us. The ship, of course, is full of rumors, good and bads, but nobody believes any of them.

Daily briefings

Meetings are held daily among the officers to iron out last-minute details of the landing. Day by day, the Marine troop are fully briefed on what they are to do.

Everything we read about Okinawa stresses that the place is lousy with snakes. It’s amazing the number of people who are afraid of snakes. Okinawa “snake-talk” crops into every conversation.

On the last day we changed our money into newly manufactured “Invasion Yen,” drew two days K rations, took a last bath, and packed our kits before supper. We had a huge turkey dinner and, say, we have steak and eggs for breakfast.

“Fattening us up for the kill,” the boys laughingly say.

At 3 o’clock on the last afternoon there was a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It was the afternoon before Easter Sunday. A lot of us could not help but feel the tragic irony of it, knowing about tomorrow’s battle.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 4, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

WITH THE MARINES ON OKINAWA BEACHHEAD (by Navy radio) – You wouldn’t believe it. and we don’t either. It just can’t be true. And yet it is true.

The regiment of Marines that I am with landed this morning on the beaches of Okinawa and were absolutely unopposed, which is indeed an odd experience for a Marine.

Nobody among us had dreamed of such a thing. We all thought there would be slaughter on the beaches. There was some opposition to the right and to the left of us, but on our beach, nothing, absolutely nothing.

We don’t expect this to continue, of course. A Marine doesn’t fool himself like that. Certainly, there will be hard fighting ahead and we all have our fingers crossed. But to get the firm foothold we have, with most of our men ashore and our supplies rolling in, is a gift for which we are grateful.

More like home

This is Easter Sunday morning. It is a beautiful one. One of the Marines, after spending months in the tropics, remarked a while ago, “This weather feels more like American weather than anything since I left home.”

It is sunshiny and very warm. We had heard it would be cold and many of the boys wore heavy underwear. Now we are sweating and regretting. I wore two pairs of pants, but I am about to take off one of them.

We are dressed in green herringbone combat uniforms. Everybody made the trip in khaki and changed this morning aboard ship. The men left their old khaki lying on their bunks and they’ll be collected by the Navy, cleaned and used to clothe prisoners and our own casualties who have lost their clothes.

On our ship we were up to 4 a.m. We had done our final packing of gear last night. We brought ashore only what we could carry on our backs. When we put on our new green fatigues, one Marine remarked, “the latest Easter style – herringbone twill.”

Wonderful feeling

My schedule for landing was an early one. I was ashore a short time after the first wave. Correspondents were forbidden to go before the fifth wave. I was on the seventh.

I had dreaded the sight of the beach littered with mangled bodies. My first look up and down the beach was a reluctant one. And then like a man in the movies who looks and looks away and then suddenly looks back unbelieving. I realized there were no bodies anywhere – and no wounded. What a wonderful feeling!

In fact, our entire regiment came ashore with only two casualties. One was a Marine who hurt his foot getting out of an amphibious truck. And the other was, of all things, a case of heat prostration!

And to fulfill the picnic atmosphere, listen to this–

Aboard ship we had turkey dinner last night. So, this morning they fixed me up with a big snack of turkey wings, bread, oranges and apples. So instead of grabbing a hasty bite of K rations our first meal ashore, we sat and lunched on turkey wings and oranges.

Nice Easter

There are low chalky cliffs on this island. In these cliffs are caves. In the caves are brick-colored urns a couple of feet high. And in these urns are the ashes of many honorable ancestors.

Our bombardment had shattered many of these burial vaults. What our big guns missed, the soldiers and Marines took a precautionary look into by prying off the stone slabs at the entrances.

In front, looking out to sea, stands our mighty fleet with scores of little black lines extending to shore – our thousands and thousands of landing craft bringing more men and big guns and supplies.

And behind me, not two feet away, is a cave full of ex-Japanese, which is just the way it should be. What a nice Easter Sunday after all.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 5, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (By Navy radio) – Now that we are ashore im full force upon the Japanese island of Okinawa I would like to go back and tell you in detail how the invasion went off.

As our regimental commander said the night before the landing:

All I’m worried about is getting past the first two days when we are on our own and will have to improvise to meet every situation. But after that we will be established and from then on, we can just go by the book.

The first two days are over – accomplished with an ease that had everybody flabbergasted. By evening of the first day, we had done much more than the most optimistic planner figured we could in the first three days. So from now on it’s “By the Book.”

For some reason which I haven’t fathomed yet the conventional name of D-Day was changed for this invasion to “Love Day.” Possibly it was because we were landing on Easter Sunday and somebody felt the spirit of brotherly love.

At any rate when dawn came on Love Day and the pink, rising sun lifted the shroud of oriental darkness around us, we were absolutely appalled.

An all-out job

For all our main convoys had converged and there they lay around us in one gigantic fleet, stretching for miles. There were around 1,500 ships and thousands of small landing craft which the ships had carried with them.

There weren’t as many small ships as at Normandy, but in naval power and actual force of men and fighting strength it was equally as big as the invasion of Europe. We certainly didn’t go at Okinawa in any half-hearted manner.

We had ham and eggs for breakfast at 4:30 a.m. We strapped our unwieldly packs on our backs. Our heavier gear was left aboard to be taken ashore several days later.

It was only half-light when we went on deck. You could see flame flashes on the horizon toward shore. The men on the deck were dark and indistinguishable forms.

This was IT

Our assault transport carried many landing craft (LCVPs) on desk. They were lifted by a derrick and swung over the side. We piled into them as they hung even with the rail. Then the winch lowered them into the water.

I went on the first boat to leave our ship. It was just breaking dawn when we left. It was still more than two hours before H-Hour. Our long ocean trip was over. The days we had reluctantly counted off were all gone. Our time had run out. This was it.

All around us hundreds of other boats were putting off and churning the water, but there was no organization to it. They weren’t yet forming into waves. These early boats carried mainly the control crews who would manage the colossal traffic of shore-bound invasionists in the next few hours.

We chugged shoreward for more than an hour, for we had stopped far offshore. Our destination was a small control ship lying about two miles from the beach.

Easy to get lost

Scores of these little control craft were forming a line the entire length of our long beachhead, about a quarter of a mile apart. They were the traffic policemen of our invasion.

They all looked alike, and we had to find ours by number. In all the welter of mules of ocean traffic. It was easy to get lost and we did. We were half an hour finding our control boat after getting there.

An assault on an enemy shore is a highly organized thing. It is so intricately organized, so abundant in fine detail that it would be impossible to clarify it all in your mind. No single man in our armed forces knows everything about an invasion.

But just to simplify one point–

Suppose we were invading an enemy beach on a four-mile front. It is not as you would think, one over-all invasion. Instead, it is a dozen or more little invasions, simultaneously and side by side. Each team runs its own invasion. A combat team is a regiment. Our regimental commander and his staff were on the little control ship. Thus, our control ship directed only the troops of our regiment.

We had beaches “Yellow One” and “Yellow Two.” Troops of our regiment formed waves directly off those beaches, miles at sea, and we went straight in.

Other control ships on either side, having nothing to do with us, directed other waves having nothing to do with us. Each was its own private little show.

As I’ve written before, war to an individual is hardly ever bigger than a hundred yards on each side of him. And that’s the way it was with us at Okinawa.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 6, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (via Navy radio) – An hour and a half before H-Hour at Okinawa, our vast naval fleet began its final, mighty bombardment of the shore with its big guns. They had been at it for a week, but this was a concentration whose fury hadn’t been approached before.

The power of the thing was ghastly. Great sheets of flame would flash out from a battery of guns, gray brownish smoke would puff up in a huge cloud, then the crash of sound and concussion would carry across the water and hit you. Multiply that by hundreds and you have bedlam.

Now and then the smoke from a battlewagon would come out in a smoke ring, an enormous one, 20 or 30 feet across, and float upward with perfect symmetry.

Then came our carrier planes, diving on the beaches. And torpedo planes, carrying heavy bombs and incendiaries that spread deep red flame.

Smoke and dust rose up from the shore, thousands of feet high, until finally the land was completely veiled.

Bombs and strafing machine guns and roaring engines mingled with the blended crash of naval bombardment and seemed to drown out all existence.

Assault waves form

The ghostly concussion set up vibrations in the air – a sort of flutter – which pained your ears and pounded upon you as though some almighty were beating you with invisible drumsticks,

During all this time, the waves of assault craft were forming up behind us.

The water was a turmoil of movement. Dispatch and control boats were running about. LSMs and LSTs were moving slowly forward to their unloading areas.

Motor torpedo boats dashed around as guides. Even the destroyers moved majestically across the fleet as they closed up for the bombardment of the shore.

From our little control ship and the scores like it, waves of assault craft were directed, advised, hurried up, or slowed down.

H-Hour was set for 8:30. By 8 a.m. directions were being radioed and a voice boomed out to sea to form up Waves 1 and 2, to hurry up, to get things moving.

Our first wave consisted solely of heavy guns on amphibious tanks which were to wade ashore and blast out the pillboxes on the beaches. One minute behind them came the second wave – the first of our foot troops.

After that, waves came at about 10-minute intervals. Wave 6 was on its way before Wave 1 ever hit the beach. Wave 15 was moving up before Wave 6 got to the beach. That’s the way it went.

We were on the control boat about an hour. I felt miserable and that awful weight was still on my heart. There’s nothing romantic whatever in knowing that an hour from now you may be dead. And the fury of our bombardment was in itself horrifying.

Some officers I knew came aboard. They weren’t going ashore until afternoon. They wanted to talk. I simply couldn’t carry on a conversation. I just couldn’t talk.

I got a drink of water, though I wasn’t thirsty. Then one sailor came up and introduced himself and said he read the column. Then a knot of sailors gathered around on deck.

So far, so good

One sailor with black, close-cropped hair and glasses offered me a cigar. I didn’t even have the wit to put down his name.

I told him I didn’t smoke cigars, but I would take one for our regimental colonel who practically lives on cigars, and was about out of them.

A few minutes later the sailor came up with five more cigars to give to the colonel. They wanted to give me candy, cigarettes, and cookies, but I told them I already had plenty.

Word came by radio that Waves 1 and 2 were ashore without much opposition and there were no mines on the beaches. So far, so good.

We looked at the shore through binoculars. We could see tanks moving across the fields and the men of the second wave walking inland, standing upright. There were a few splashes in the water at the beach, but we couldn’t make out any real fire coming from the shore.

It was all very indefinite and yet it was indicative. The weight began to lift. I wasn’t really conscious of it. But I found myself talking more easily with the sailors, and somehow the feeling gradually took hold of me that we were to be spared. The 7th Wave was to pick us up as it came by. I didn’t even see it approaching. Suddenly they called my name and said the boats were alongside.

I grabbed my pack and ran to the rail. I’m glad they came suddenly like that. The sailors shouted, “Good luck,” over and over and waved us off. We were on our way.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 7, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – The LCVP in which I rode shoreward on Love Day morning at Okinawa was so crowded the men just stood against each other. I knew most of them for they were all from the ship that brought us up.

They had been riding for an hour before they picked us up off the control boat and they were soaked to the skin from the spray.

The morning was warm and sunshiny, yet they had all gotten very cold just from being wet. Some of them got the cold shakes and couldn’t stop. They joked with each other about quaking with fear, instead of cold. We all smiled sort of sickly like.

We talked most of the way., but I can’t remember much of what we said. We were all sort of tensed up inside.

These Pacific islands have one bad feature that we never had to contend with in any of the European invasions. And that is a reef that lies just under water, three or four hundred yards out. Hence a boat of any size can’t run up to the beach, for it can’t get over the reef.

Consequently, we had to transfer again about a half mile from shore. We ran up along a fleet of amphtracks – amphibious tractors – which were waiting there for us.

Start last lap

These are like big trucks, only they’re on tractors. When in the water the tractor treads, built cup-like propel the thing along, the moment it touches bottom it crawls along like a tractor. They can go miles to sea or miles inland, either one.

Our packs were so heavy it was hard to get from one boat to the other. It took our load about 10 minutes to transfer. And then we started the last lap, the one that really counted.

The terrific bombardment had completely stopped about a minute before H-Hour. By now almost an hour had passed, and the ships were again firing spasmodically.

Small fires were burning inland and a great cloud of black smoke rose from the airport up on high ground. But the pall of smoke and dust which had covered the beach had blown away, and we could clearly see the men on shore and the wave ahead of us landing.

No firing ahead

We had all expected to go onto the beach in a hailstorm of tracer bullets, mortar shells throwing sand, and artillery shells whistling into the water near us. And yet we couldn’t see a bit of firing ahead. We hoped it was true. We hoped.

While we were hoping, somebody took out his canteen and had a drink. People get awfully thirsty as they approach a beachhead. The canteen went around. When it came to me, I took a big gulp, and almost choked. For it wasn’t water at all but straight brandy!

During the bombardment and all during the landings a lone four-engined Liberator bomber flew slowly back and forth over the beach. We marveled at his audacity for he seemed an easy target for ack-ack. Yet he didn’t seem to get shot at.

Nonchalant Liberator

Liberators are too big for carriers to handle so it would have had to come all the way from the Philippines or Iwo Jima or Saipan. We presumed it carried photographers. It seemed incongruous, lumbering around up there alone so nonchalantly.

We were musing on the Liberator when suddenly the amphtrack hit bottom, tilted way over on one side as though it was going to upset, then tilted back with a big thump that almost threw us off our feet.

We were crossing the coral reef. It was a good crossing at that. The water was smooth and there were no rollers on the reef. The gods were goods to us on that invasion day.

The weather was warm and spring-like. The sun shone brightly. There was no wind. it couldn’t have been better.

From the reef on in, the amphtrack joggled and tilted at it rode the rough coral bottom. Then at last it climbed out of the water and onto the sand.

We ran up about 20 feet from the water’s edge. The driver let down the ramp that forms the rear end of the amphtrack and we stepped out. We were on Okinawa an hour and a half after H-Hour without getting shot at and we hadn’t even got out feet wet.

The first words I heard on Japanese soil were from an incredulous Marine who said: “Hell, this is just like one of MacArthur’s landings.”

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 9, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – Never before had I seen an invasion beach like Okinawa.

There wasn’t a dead or wounded man in our sector of it, medical corpsmen were sitting among their sacks of bandages and plasma and stretchers, with nothing to do.

There wasn’t a single burning vehicle. Not a single boat lying wrecked on the reef or shoreline. The carnage that is almost inevitable on an invasion was wonderfully and beautifully not there.

There was hardly anybody at all on the beach when we landed. The few assault waves ahead of us had pushed on inland. And all that vast welter of people and machines that make a beach hum with work were still many waves behind us.

The bulldozers and the jeeps had not yet arrived. There was no activity and hardly any sound. It was almost as though we were the original explorers.

Our little party, which was the regimental staff, moved to the foot of a bluff about 100 yards back of the beach. It was full of caves and our naval gunfire had made a rubble at the foot of the bluff. But several cave mouths still gapped open.

We decided to set up there until the colonel could get the picture in his mind, through information brought by runners, of just what was going on.

Kidded about his marksmanship

There were about a hundred men with us in addition to the officers. The men were under Sgt. Andy Anderson from Washington State. The first thing Andy had them do was to make sure there were no Japs hiding in the caves to snipe on us, for the first waves had gone through too fast to clean everybody out – if anybody had been there.

So, they would sneak up on a hole, with rifles ready. Then Andy would take out a hand grenade and throw it into the hole. But the first one hit the edge of the holes and rolled down outside.

Andy threw himself on the sand and all the rest of us lay flat. The grenade went off with a bang, but nobody got hurt. From then on, we kidded Andy about the fine display of Marine marksmanship he had given us.

In addition to being great fighters, I believe the Marines are the friendliest bunch I’ve ever been with. I’ve never had any trouble with people being unfriendly, but these Marines seem to have it bred into them to be pleasant and to make you feel at home.

Nothing like Okinawa had ever happened to them before. They’re accustomed to butchery on the beaches. They’d kept saying to me, “If you could just have been with us before, we’d have shown you some excitement.”

And I would reply, “Brother, I’ve had all the excitement I need for a lifetime. This kind of invasion suits me fine.”

The souvenir hunters

I started wandering up and down the beach. One boy was carrying a little vase in his hand, saying, “Here’s the first souvenir of Okinawa!”

He was James Cosby, pharmacist first class, of Cereal Spring, Illinois (All medical corpsmen with the Marines are actually in the Navy, you know). He had found the vase lying outside one of the burial vaults. It had blue Japanese characters on it.

Then I noticed a tall and heavily laden Marine, carrying a big roll of telephone wire on his shoulders and leading a white nanny goat, tied to a string. I stopped him, and said, “Would you like to have you and your goat in the newspapers?”

He grinned and said, “Sure, why not?”

He was Pvt. Ben Glover of Baird, Texas. He was a telephone lineman at home, and that’s what he is here. Linemen are always among the first ashore.

By evening of Love Day, scores of Marines had baby goats for pets and were leading them around. There are lots of goats on Okinawa and the little ones were so white and so cute that we animal-loving Americans couldn’t resist adopting them.

I saw one Marine who had commandeered a horse and had it carrying his pack. Another had a bicycle. By Love Day plus three, I’m sure they’ll be carrying little Japanese babies on their backs. Americans are the darndest people! Why can’t everybody be like them?

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 10, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – Since this island is the closest to Japan we’ve landed on and since we seem to feel this really is Japan, rather than just some far outpost, I’ll try to describe to you what it looks like.

Actually it doesn’t look a great deal different from most of America. In fact, it looks much more like America than anything the Marines have seen for the last three years.

The climate is temperate rather than tropical, and so is the vegetation. There are tropical-like trees on and near the beaches – I think they’re pandanus bushes. But there also are many trees of the fir family with horizontal limbs.

The country over which my regiment passed during the first two days was cultivated. It rose gradually from the sea and was all formed into small fields.

It didn’t look at all unlike Indiana in late summer when things have started to turn dry and brown, except that the fields were much smaller.

The wheat, which looks just like ours, is dead ripe in the fields now. The Marines are cutting it with little sickles. In other fields are cane and sweet potatoes.

Each field has a ditch around its edge, and dividing the fields are little ridges about two feet wide. On top of the ridges are paths where the people walk. All through the country are narrow dirt lanes and now and then a fairly decent gravel road.

As you get inland, the country becomes rougher. In the hills there is less cultivation and more trees. It is really a pretty count We had read about what a worthless place Okinawa was, but I think most of us have been surprised about how pretty it is.

Okinawa civilians pitiful

Okinawa civilians we bring in are pitiful. The only ones left seem to be real old or real young. And they all are very, very poor.

They’re not very clean. And their homes are utterly filthy. Over and over, you hear Marines say, “This could be a nice country if the people weren’t so dirty.”

Obviously, their living standard is low. Yet I’ve never understood why poverty and filth need to be synonymous. A person doesn’t have to be well off to get clean. But apparently he has to be well off to want to keep clean. We’ve found it that way clear around the world.

The people here dress as we see Japs dressed in pictures: women in kimonos and old men in skintight pants. Some wear a loose, knee-length garment that shows their skinny legs.

The kids are cute as kids are all over the world. I’ve noticed Marines reaching out and tousling their hair as they marched past them. We’re rounding up all the civilians and putting them in camps. They are puzzled by it all.

They’re scared to death

Most of the farm families must have got out when our heavy bombardments started. Lots of farmhouses have either been demolished or burned to the ground before we came. Often, in passing a wrecked farmhouse, you smell the sickening odor of death inside.

But there are always people you won’t leave, no matter what. We couldn’t help feeling sorry for the Okinawans we picked up in the first few days. We found two who spoke a little English. They had once lived in Hawaii. One was an old man who had a son (Hawaiian-Japanese) somewhere in the American Army.

They were all shocked from the bombardment and yet I think rather stupid too, so that when they talked they didn’t make much sense.

I don’t believe they had any idea of what it was all about. As one Marine officer said, “The poor devils. I’ll bet they think this is the end of the world.”

They were obviously scared to death. On Love Day, the Marines found many of them hiding from us in caves. They found two old women, 75 or more, in a cave, caring for a paralyzed girl. She wasn’t wounded, just paralyzed from natural causes. One of the old ladies had a small dirty sack with some money in it. When the Marines found her, she cried and tried to give them the money – hoping I suppose that she could buy herself off from being executed.

After all the propaganda they’ve been fed about our tortures, it’s going to be a befuddled bunch of Okinawans when they discover we brought right along with us, as part of the intricate invasion plan, enough supplies to feed them, too!

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 11, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (via Navy radio) – During our first afternoon on Okinawa my group of Marines went about a mile and a half inland. Our vehicles were not ashore yet, so we had to pack on our backs everything we had.

Personally, I was overladen as usual. I had two canteens, a musette bag, a blanket rolled up in a Poncho, three rubber life preservers, a shovel, and assorted knives, first aid kits, etc. Furthermore, I had on two pairs of pants, was carrying two jackets, and it was hotter than hell.

The result of all this was that for the first time in my life I couldn’t keep up. I hated to do it, but I had to sit down now and then to rest and let the others go ahead. (Moral: A lifetime of sin and crime finally catches up with you.)

Anyhow, we finally got where we were going. We stopped on a hillside, threw down our gear, connected our phones to wires on the ground, and were ready for business. That is, the others were. Me, I lay down on the grass and rested for an hour.

After that we began getting ready for the night. We figured the Japs would bomb us all night, that their artillery soon would start up from the hills, and that when it got dark, some slinky infiltrators would start infiltration.

So, we dug foxholes. The slope was so steep I chose a nice depression at the foot of a small embankment that didn’t require much digging.

The why of the life preservers

Now we come to the life preservers. You may have wondered why I was carrying three lifebelts on dry land. Well, I knew what I was doing all right.

I just blew up my three life preservers, spread them in the foxhole and I had the nicest improvised Simmons you ever saw. We finally got onto that trick after a few invasions in Europe and I slept all last summer in France comfortably on three blown-up preservers.

And it was worth the struggle of carrying them just to see the reaction of the Marines. They would come up to look at this stranger device and stand there, staring, and then say: “Well, I’ll be damned. Why in the hell couldn’t I have thought of that?”

Then we got out our K rations and my friend, Maj. Reed Taylor, came and squatted Indian-fashion while I made hot coffee for us with some new heat tablets the Marines had issued. By the time we finished, it was almost dark.

Everybody who wasn’t on guard at the edge of our little camp, or who wasn’t standing duty at the field telephones went to bed, for in Jap country you don’t move around at night unless you have to.

Only one with a blanket, too

Going to bed was merely a figure of speech for everybody except me. I seemed to be the only one who had brought a blanket and I definitely was the only one who had nice soft life preservers to sleep on.

The others slept on the ground in their foxholes with their ponchos wrapped around them. A poncho is wind and waterproof, but it has no warmth. In fact, it seems to draw all the warmth out of your body and transmit it into the air.

The day had been hot, but the night got mighty cold. And a very heavy dew came gradually, soaking everything. All the others practically froze and got very little sleep. But for once in my life, I was warm as a bug.

But I didn’t sleep too much. There’s always a flaw somewhere. My flaw was the mosquitoes. I’ve never been so tortured by mosquitoes as that first night on Okinawa.

They were persistent. They were tenacious. And they were the noisiest mosquitoes I’ve ever associated with. They were so noisy that when I pulled the blanket over the side of my face and covered my ears tight, I could still hear them. That’s really true.

Puts blanket over head

I doused my face twice with the mosquito repellant which the Marines had issued, but it did no good whatever. It was 11 o’clock before I finally got asleep. At 2 a.m. I awakened and knew something was wrong. What was wrong was my face.

My upper lip was swollen so that I thought I had a pigeon egg under it. My nose was so swollen the skin was stretched tight over it. And my left eye was nearly shut.

After that I just went under the blanket and decided to suffocate. That way I did sleep, but the next morning I was groggy and dopey from sleeping so long without air.

Those mosquitoes really put a scare into me. For they say Okinawa is malarial and I certainly got enough mosquito venom that night to malarize half of California. So bright and early, I started taking atabrine for the first time in my life.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 12, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (via Navy radio) – Our first night on Okinawa was uncanny and full of old familiar sounds – the exciting, sad, weary little sounds of war.

It had been six months since I’d slept on the ground, or heard a rifle shot. With the Marines it was about the same.

I was tagging along with a headquarters company of a regiment. We were on a pretty, grassy slope out in the country. The front lines were about a thousand yards ahead. Other troops were bivouacked all around us.

There were still a few snipers hiding around. An officer was brought in just before dark, shot through the arm. So, we were on our toes.

Just at dusk, three planes flew slowly overhead in the direction of the beach. We paid no attention, for we thought they were ours. But they weren’t.

In a moment all hell cut loose from the beach. Our entire fleet and the guns ashore started throwing stuff into the sky. I’ve never seen a thicker batch of ack-ack.

As one of the Marines said, there were more bullets than there was sky. Those Jap pilots must have thought the world was coming to an end to fly into a lead storm like that only 10 hours after we had landed on Okinawa. All three were shot down.

No country sounds at all

As deep darkness came on, we got into our foxholes and settled down for the night. The countryside became as silent as a graveyard – silent, that is, between shots. The only sounds were war sounds. There were no country sounds at all. The sky was a riot of stars.

Capt. Tom Brown was in the foxhole next to me. As we lay there on our backs, looking up into the starry sky, he said:

“There’s the Big Dipper. That’s the first time I’ve seen that since I’ve been in the Pacific.” For, you see, Marines of this division have done all their fighting under the Southern Cross, where our Big Dipper doesn’t show.

As full darkness came, flares began lighting the country ahead of us over the front lines. They were shot in shells from our battleships, timed to burst above our lines, and float down on parachutes. This was to keep the country lighted up so we could see the Japs if they tried to infiltrate, which is one of their favorite tricks.

The flares were shot up several per minute from dusk until the moon came out full. It was very bright after that and the flares were not needed.

But all night long, two or three ships kept up a slow shelling of the far hills where the Japs were supposed to be. It wasn’t a bombardment; just two or three shells per minute. They passed right over us and I found that passing shells have the same ghostly “window shade rustle” on this side of the world as on the other.

My foxhole was only about 20 feet from where two field telephones and two field radios were lying on the ground. All night, officers sat on the ground at these four pieces of communications and directed our troops.

Conversation startlingly familiar

As I lay there listening in the dark, the conversation was startlingly familiar – the words and the thoughts and the actions exactly as I’d known them for so long in the infantry.

All night I could hear these low voices over the phones – voices in the darkness, voices of men running the war at the front.

Not long after dark the rifle shots started. There would be a little flurry far ahead, maybe a dozen shots. Then silence for many minutes.

Then there would be another flurry, way to the left. Then silence. Then the blurt of a machine gun closer, and a few scattered single shots sort of framing it. Then a long silence. Spooky.

All night it went like that. Flares in the sky ahead, the crack of big guns behind us, then of passing shells, a few dark figures coming and going in the night, muted voices at the telephones, the rifle shots, the mosquitoes, the stars, the feel of the damp night air under the wide sky – back again at the kind of life I had known so long.

The old familiar pattern, unchanged by distance or time from war on the other side of the world. A pattern so imbedded in my soul that, coming back into it again, it seemed to me as I lay there that I’d never known anything else in my life. And there are millions of us.

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Editorial: Symphony of words

For our money there’s nobody in the business who can write like Ernie Pyle. Sometimes Ernie outdoes himself. For instance, this description of a night in Okinawa, taken from his column which is printed on the first page of the Section today:

Not long after dark the rifle shots started. There would be a little flurry far ahead, maybe a dozen shots. Then silence for many minutes.

Then there would be another flurry, way to the left. Then silence. Then the blurt of a machine gun closer, and a few scattered single shots sort of framing it. Then a long silence. Spooky.

All night it went like that. Flares in the sky ahead, the crack of big guns behind us, then as passing shells, a few dark figures coming and going in the night, muted voices at the telephones, the rifle shots, the mosquitoes, the stars, the feel of the damp night air under the wide sky – back again at the kind of life I had known so long.

The old familiar pattern unchanged by distance or time from war on the other side of the world. A pattern so imbedded in my soul that, coming back into it again, it seemed to me as I lay there that I’d never known anything else in my life. And there are millions of us.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 13, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – Our war with Japan has gone well in the last few weeks.

We are firmly on Okinawa, which is like having your foot in the kitchen door.

Our wonderful carrier pilots have whittled down the Jap air force daily. Our anti-aircraft from ships and from shore batteries has plugged Jap fliers for the highest ratio I’ve ever known from ack-ack.

Our task forces have absolutely butchered the only Jap task force to put to sea in many months. B-29s are hitting Japan, with fighter escort from Iwo Jima. Airfields are springing up on Okinawa. We all say we sure are glad we are not in the Japs’ shoes.

One main question asked over here now is, “How long will the Japs hold out?” There are all kinds of opinions, but actually nobody knows.

We don’t know, because no one in his right mind can pretend to understand the Oriental manner of thinking. They are unpredictable. They are inconsistent. As one officer said, “They are uncannily smart one day, and dumb as hell the next.”

Jap claims ridiculous

Their values are so different from ours. The news broadcasts from Tokyo and Shanghai are an example. These broadcasts are utterly ridiculous.

During our first week on Okinawa, they constantly told of savage counterattacks when there weren’t any. They told of driving a large part of our landing forces back to the boats and far out to sea, when actually they fired only a few shots onto the beaches.

On D-Day plus four, they broadcast that despite their counterattacks we finally succeeded in landing 6,000 troops. The truth is that by sunset of

Everything that Tokyo said about us was a downright lie. Yet maybe Tokyo really believed it. No one can tell. The Japs don’t think as we do.

The crippled Jap air force cannot do us anything but spasmodic harm from now on. And their navy needn’t ever be considered. If you could see the colossal naval power we have here, you could hardly believe your eyes. It’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in this war.

More supplies arriving

We have plenty of troops in reserve, and new convoys of supplies have already begun to arrive just as we finished unloading the original massive supply fleet.

On Okinawa, the majority of the Japs are on the southern tip, and in considerable strength. The northern area is being combed and a few scattered ones mopped up.

There is tough fighting in the South and it will remain tough to the end. I’ve heard some officers say the south end of Okinawa may turn into another Iwo Jima. That will mean heavy casualties on our side, but the end of Okinawa is inevitable.

And while the Army’s XXIV Corps of infantry is doing that job, the rest of the island apparently is wide open for us to develop and we are doing it with our usual speed.

This island has everything we could want in such an island. There is plenty of room for more airfields, room for roads and vast supply dumps and anchorages for ships. And the civilians from whom we had expected trouble are docile and harmless.

Island to be built quickly

The way Americans can build, this island can be transformed in two months. Before long it could look like Guam or Pearl Harbor. We are in Japan’s backdoor and while we are here, they can’t really do very much to us.

Of course, Japan’s vast land armies are still almost intact. But if it does come to the great mass land warfare of Continental Europe, we now are able to build up strength for that warfare right on the scene.

There is a fighting spirit among us. People are conjecturing about the possibility of the Pacific War ending sooner than we had ever allowed ourselves to think.

For years it looked endless, but now you hear people talk about being home maybe by Christmas. Some really believe they will. Others have their fingers crossed, but they are more hopeful than ever before.

Instead of a war weariness, there seems to be a new eagerness among our forces to sweep on and on, and wind the thing up in a hurry.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 14, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – The bulk of the battle of Okinawa is being fought by the Army – my old friend, the doughfoots. This time the Marine had it easy, and by the turn of circumstance the Army is the one that has the job to do.

But my self-assignment on the Okinawa blitz was to write about the Marines and that’s what I continue to do. I landed with the Marines, crossed the island with them, and have been living with them amidst fleas, mosquitoes, goats and a few Japs, hiding under bushes. So naturally I want to tell you about them.

Marine Corps blitzes out here have all been so bitter and the Marines have performed so magnificently that I had conjured in a mental picture of a Marine that bore a close resemblance to a man from Mars. I was almost afraid of them myself.

I did find the Marines confident, but neither cocky nor smart-alecky. I found they have fears, and qualms, and hatred for war the same as anybody else. They want to go home just as badly as any soldiers I’ve ever met. I found them good, human Americans.

They are proud to be Marmes. They wouldn’t be in any other branch of the service. Yet they are not arrogant about it. And I found they have a healthy respect for the infantry.

One day we were sitting on a hillside talking about the infantry. One Marine spoke of a certain Army division – a division they had fought beside – and was singing 15 praises.

In peacetime, when the Marine Corps was a small outfit, with its campaigns highlighted, and everybody was a volunteer you could understand why Marines felt so superior.

But since the war the Marine Corps has grown into hundreds of thousands of men. It has been diluted, so to speak. Today it is an outfit of ordinary people – some big, some little, some even draftees. It has changed, in fact, until Marines look exactly like a company of soldiers in Europe.

Yet that Marine Corps spirit still remains. I never did find out what perpetuates it. They’re not necessarily better trained. They’re no better equipped and often not as well supplied as other troops. But a Marine still considers himself a better soldier than anybody else, even though nine-tenths of them don’t want to be soldiers at all.

The Marines are very cognizant of the terrible casualties they’ve taken in this Pacific War. They’re even proud of that too, in a way. Any argument among Marine units is settled by which has had the greatest casualties.

Many of them even envisioned the end of the Marine Corps at Okinawa. If the Marine divisions had been beaten up here as they were on Iwo Jima, the boys felt it would have been difficult to find enough men of Marine Corps caliber to reconstitute all the divisions.

They even had a sadly sardonic song about their approach to Okinawa, the theme of which was “Goodbye, Marines!”

So, you see, Marines don’t thirst for battles.

I’ve read and heard enough about Marines to have no doubts whatever about the things they can do when they have to. No Marine need ever apologize for anything.

The Marines are O.K. for my money, in battle or out.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 16, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – We camped one night on a little hillside that led up to a bluff overlooking a small river. The bluff dropped straight down for a long way. Up there on top of the bluff it was just like a little park.

The bluff was terraced, although it wasn’t farmed. The grass on it was soft and green. And those small, straight-limbed pine trees were dotted all over it.

Looking down from the bluff, the river made a tum and across it was an old stone bridge. At the end of the bridge was a village – or what had been a village.

It was not just a jumble of ashes and sagging matched roofs from our bombardment. In every direction, little valleys led away from the turn in the river.

It was as pretty and gentle a sight as you ever saw. It had the softness of antiquity about it and Japanese prints. And the sad, uncanny silence that follows the bedlam of war.

A bright sun made the morning hot and a refreshing little breeze sang through the pine trees. There wasn’t a shot nor a warlike sound within hearing. I sat on the bluff for a long time, just looking. It all seemed so quiet and peaceful. I noticed a lot of the Marines sitting and just looking too.

Looks like home

You could come from a dozen different parts of America and still find scenery on Okinawa that looked like your country at home.

Southern boys say the reddish clay and the pine trees remind them of Georgia. Westerners see California in the green rolling hills, partly wooded, paryly patchworked wirth little green fields. And the farmed plains look like our Midwest.

Okinawa is one of the few places I’ve been in this war where our troops don’t gripe about what an awful place it is. In fact, most of the boys say they would like Okinawa if it weren’t at war with us and if the people weren’t so dirty.

The countryside itself is neat and the little farms are well kept. So far, the Okinawa climate is superb and the vistas undeniably pretty. The worst crosses to bear are the mosquitoes, fleas and the sight of the pathetic people.

Fine group of poor roads

Most of the roads on Okinawa are narrow dirt trails for small horse-drawn carts. Then there are several wider gravel roads. One man aptly described it as “an excellent network of poor roads.”

Our heavy traffic of course has played hob with the roads. Already they are tire-deep in dust and troops on the road have mask-like faces, caked with dust.

Bulldozers and scrapers are at work constantly.

I’ve mentioned before about our fear of snakes before we got here. All the booklets and literature given us ahead of time about Okinawa dwelt at length on snakes. They told us there were three kinds of poisonous adders, all three being fatal. The booklets warned us not to wander off the main roads, not to stop under the trees or snakes would drop on us (as if you could fight a war without getting off the roads!). In some of the troop briefings, they had the Marines more scared of snakes than Japs.

Few snakes seen

Well, I’ve kept a close watch and made a lot of inquiries. And the result is that in the central part of Okinawa where we’ve been there are just practically no snakes at all.

Our troops have walked, poked, sprawled and slept on nearly every square yard of the ground. And in my regiment, for one, they have seen only two snakes.

One was found dead. The other was killed by a battalion surgeon, coiled into a gallon glass jar, and sent to the regimental command post as a souvenir. It was a vicious rattler, a type called habu.

Those are the only snakes I’ve heard of. There was a rumor that in one battalion they have caught and made pets of a couple of snakes, but I don’t believe it.

The local people sav the island was very snaky up until the middle 30s when they imported some mongooses which killed most of the snakes. But we haven’t seen any mongooses so we don’t know whether the story is true or not.

Correspondent John Lardner says his only explanation is that St. Patrick came through here once as a tourist and took all the snakes with him.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 17, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – After a couple of days with the headquarters of the Marine Regiment I moved to a company and lived and marched with them for several days. The company is a part of the 1st Marine Division.

At first, I introduced myself to the company commander and he took me on a half hour’s walking trip around the company area before turning me loose with the men.

They had turned in for the night and put out perimeter defenses so no infiltrating Japs could get through and any big attack could be dealt with.

A company was on a hill about 3,000 yards long and about a hundred yards wide. The men were dug in down the sides of the hill. There was a mortar platoon at the foot of the hill, all set up to throw mortars any direction.

Our part of the island had not then been declared “secured,” and we had even received warning of possible attacks from sea that night. So, nobody was taking any chances.

Perfect defense position

“This is the most perfect defensive position we’ve ever had in our lives,” the company commander said. “One company could hold off a whole battalion for days. If the Japs had defended these hills, they could have kept us fighting for a week.”

The company commander was a young man with a soft Southern tongue and his black hair was almost shaved. He was a little yellow from taking atabrine.

He is Capt. Julian Dusenbury from Claussen, South Carolina. He is easy going with his men, and you could tell they liked him. It happened that his birthday was on April 1 – the Easter Sunday we landed on Okinawa. He was 24 that day. His mother had written him she hoped he’d have a happy birthday.

“That was the happiest birthday present I ever had,” he said, “going through Love Day without a single casualty in the company.”

Best of bargain

While I was aboard ship somebody had walked off with my fatigue and combat jackets. So, the ship gave me one of those Navy jackets, lined with fleece, which is actually much warmer and nicer than what I’d had.

On the back it had stenciled in big white letters: U.S. Navy. I had it on when I first walked through the company’s defense area. Later that evening we were sitting on the ground around a little fire, warming our supper of K rations. By that time, I’d got acquainted with a good many of the boys and we felt at home with one another.

We had some real coffee and we poured it into our canteen cups and sat around drinking it before dark.

Lot of laughs

Then one of the boys started laughing to himself and said to me:

You know, when you first showed up, we saw that big Navy stenciled on your back and after you passed, I said to the others: “That guy’s an admiral, Look at the old grey-haired guy. He’s been in the Navy all his life. He’ll get a medal out of this, sure as hell.”

The originator of this bright idea was Pvt. Albert Schwab of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He’s a flamethrower and flamethrowers have to be rugged guys, for the apparatus they carry weighs about 75 pounds, and also they are very much addicted to getting shot at by the enemy.

But to see Albert sitting there telling that joke on himself and me, you’d never know he was a rugged guy at all. I’m not an admiral and I won’t get any medal, but you do get a lot of laughs out of this war business when things aren’t going too badly.

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FLASH: Ernie Pyle killed in action at Ie Island

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I was not looking forward to this sad day. Thank you Ernie for your insightful observations on our common human condition during the war. You will be missed as a friend to all, particularly, the infantryman.