Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

The Pittsburgh Press (May 25, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Tunisia – (by wireless)
While with the infantry in the north Tunisian campaign, I had to live of course just as they did. Our home was on the ground. We sat, ate, and slept on the ground.

We were in a different place almost every night, for we were constantly moving forward from hill to hill. Establishing a new bivouac consisted of nothing more than digging new foxholes. We never took off our clothes, not even our shoes. Nobody had more than one blanket, and many had none at all. For three nights I slept on the ground with nothing under or over me. Finally, I got one blanket and my shelter-halves sent up.

We had no warm food for days. Each man kept his own rations and ate whenever he pleased. Oddly enough I was never conscious of the lack of warm food. Water was brought to us in cans, but very little washing was done.

Artillery is worst to stand

Sometimes we were up all night on the march and then would sleep in the daytime till the hot sun made sleep impossible. Some of the men slept right in their foxholes, others on the ground alongside. Since rocks were so abundant, most of us buttressed our foxholes with little rock walls around them.

During that week, we were shot at by 88s, 47s, machine guns, tanks. Despite our own air superiority, we were dive-bombed numerous times, but they were always in such a hurry to get it over and get home that usually their aim was bad and the bombs fell harmlessly in open spaces. You could always count on being awakened at dawn by a dive-bombing.

Having now been both shelled and bombed, I believe an artillery barrage is the worse of the two. A prolonged artillery barrage comes very close to being unbearable, and we saw many pitiful cases of “anxiety neurosis.”

The nights were sometimes fantastic. The skies would flash all night from the muzzle blasts of big guns. Flares shot from the ground and dropped from planes would hang in the sky. Armored vehicles would rumble across country all night. German planes would thrum through the skies seeking some flash of light on the ground.

Awake, 30 hours at a time

At dusk groups of litter-bearers would set out to carry the wounded from forward companies. Just after dawn each morning the stretchers and the walking wounded would come slowly downhill from the night’s fighting. Ammunition carriers in long lines toiled up to us, carrying those triple clusters of heavy mortar shells on their shoulders.

A couple of miles behind us the engineers worked day and night without cease, digging and blasting and bulldozing passes through the hills so that our wheeled vehicles could follow the advance.

Sometimes we didn’t sleep at all for 30 hours or more. At first the activity and excitement and everything kept me awake. I didn’t want to go to sleep for fear of missing something. Also, at first the terrific noise of the artillery kept us awake. But on my last two nights in the lines, I slept eight hours solid and never heard a thing.

Letdown comes after victory

During all the time we were under fire I felt fine. The catch-as-catch-can sleep didn’t seem to bother me. I never felt physically tired even after the marches. The days were so diverse and so unregimented that a week sped by before I knew it. I never felt that I was excited or tense except during certain fast-moving periods of shelling or bombing, and these were quickly over. When I finally left the line just after daylight one morning I never felt better in my life.

And yet, once I was safe back in camp, an intense weariness came over me. I slept almost every minute of two days and nights. I just didn’t have the will to get up, except to eat. My mind was as blank as my body was lifeless. I felt as though every cell in my makeup had been consumed. It was utter exhaustion such as I had never known before. Apparently, it was the letdown from a week of being uncommonly tense without realizing I was tense. It was not until the fourth day that I began to feel really normal again, and even now, I’m afraid I think too much about the wounded men.

MORAL: German 88mm shells are evil companions and their company should be avoided.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 26, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
Little items… The constant boom and roll of heavy artillery are still to me the most saddening, sickening, doom-spelling sound of all the ghastly war noises I know… One of the funniest sights of the war to me so far is to see an Arab, clad in nothing but American GI skintight winter underwear, running along behind a caravan of camels…

The most pathetic little sight I’ve seen in the war was just after a 500-pound bomb landed in the garden of a monastery (only 50 yards from my tent, incidentally) … We went over to look at the great crater it left, and lying there just outside the rim of the crater was a big frog, dead from concussion. His legs were still spread, in leaping position, his eyes still open, his mouth still agape as if just about to say in hurt wonderment:

Why did you want to do this to me?

Captor buys prisoner’s camera

Maj. Charles Miller of Detroit had a Rolleicord camera and 10 rolls of film that he bought from an English-speaking Italian prisoner. When he offered to buy it, the prisoner was aghast. He said:

Why, I’m a prisoner. It’s yours. You don’t buy it, you take it.

But Maj. Miller told him we didn’t do it that way over here, and he gave the Italian three times as much as the price the prisoner finally proposed. At home the same camera would cost $200.

We aren’t the only ones who like to collect enemy gear. The Germans did the same. German prisoners showed up with American mess kits and with Tommy guns, and even wearing pieces of American uniforms.

The Germans worked up a terrific respect for the uncanny accuracy of our artillery. It was so perfect it had them agog. They tell of one German officer, taken prisoner before the collapse, who when brought into camp said:

I know you’re going to kill me, but before you do, would you let me see that automatic artillery of yours?

We didn’t kill him, of course, and neither did we show him our automatic artillery, because we haven’t got any. We’re just crack shots, that’s all.

Killing sickens pilot

A fighter pilot I know – a squadron leader – sent close to 200 Germans to their doom. He was homeward bound from a mission and flying right on the deck – in other words, just above the ground. He zoomed over a little rise, and there straight ahead, dead in his sights, was the evening chow line behind a German truck.

It all happened in a second. There wasn’t time for the Germans to duck. The pilot simply pressed the button, cannon shells streamed forth, and Germans and pieces of Germans flew in all directions.

The squadron leader barely mentioned it in his report when he got back. He says it almost made him sick. Killing is his business, but it is killing an opponent in the air that he likes. I’m not even giving his name, because he feels so badly about it.

I have run onto another dog that came all the way from America. He is a black-and-white springer spaniel, and he sprang from the dog pound at St. Petersburg, Florida. Two pilots originally had him – Lt. Richard East, of East Orange, New Jersey, and Lt. Harold Taft, of Jeffersonville, Indiana. They named him Duckworth, after the third member of their original flying-school trio – Lt. John Stewart Duckworth of Boston.

Mascot dog loves to fly

Duckworth has checked out in seven different kinds of airplanes. He has flown across the Atlantic, and twice across Africa, and once up and once down Africa. He loves to fly.

I heard one pilot who had a pet cat that burst its eardrums on its first flight and is now stone deaf. But the boys stuff cotton in Duckworth’s ears and he’s okay.

The dog’s namesake, Lt. Duckworth, is now at Randolph Field, Texas, fretting because he isn’t overseas in combat. The dog’s co-owner. Lt. East, is one of those who never came back from a Tunisian mission. So, Duckworth now belongs only to Lt. Taft, who humors him and cusses him and is very proud of him.

He says “Duckworth” is the biggest ladies’ man in Africa.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 27, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
Two little profiles of men who fight:

When I first met Charles P. Stone on a Tunisian hillside, he was a major. Within two hours he was a lieutenant colonel. The promotion consisted of nothing more than his regimental commander walking up and telling him about it. Stone is a West Pointer and a Regular Anny man. So was his father before him.

He says proudly:

I beat my father by 13 years. He was 40 when he got his lieutenant-colonelcy.

Col. Stone goes by the name of Charlie, and he calls his officers by their first names. He is tall and slender, his hair is short in a crew cut, and he has a front tooth missing. He had a one-tooth bridge but it came out in battle and he lost it. Despite his rank he sleeps on the ground in the open, with only one blanket. He is friendly, but his decisions are quick and positive.

Rebukes friend’s disrespect

I remember one night one of the other officers was speaking of “a dead stiff” they had found in the grass that evening. The office speaking was one of Stone’s best friends, but Stone instantly stopped the conversation and said:

After this it will be “dead soldiers.” None of this “dead stiff” stuff.

Stone carries a couple of dozen big snapshots of his wife in his pocketbook. His home is at New Brunswick, New Jersey. He writes one letter a day no matter where he is. He manages to shave every three or four days.

He paid almost no attention to little happenings around him such as wounded men coming up, prisoners passing, and shells landing too close. Where the rest of us would look foe a long time, and ask questions, he took one quick glance and then lay down.

You can’t cross up this man

He has the ability to ignore all the little clutterings of war that have nothing to do with the action. He is a hard man to rattle. You could see that the whole complicated battle area and its hourly confusing changes were as clear as crystal in his mind.

At 27, a battalion commander and a lieutenant colonel, with four big engagements behind him, I would wager heavy money on him to be a general before the war is over.

Sgt. Jack Maple is one of those funny guys. The boys of his infantry company say Maple is about a 120%. While he’s around, he’s the kind who makes himself the butt of his own jokes. When a visitor shows up, the others gather around just to hear him perform.

Sgt. Maple says he fully intends to be a hero every time he’s in a battle but somehow there’s always so much suction in his foxhole that he can’t get out of it. Sgt. Maple says he expects to be the Sgt. York of this war, but since he’s a little slow in starting he has nicknamed himself Sgt. Cork.

‘Cork’ demands the headlines

He asked me:

What kinda headlines they gonna put on your piece? Can you get ‘em to out a big headline clear across the front page in San Francisco or Los Angeles saying “Sgt. Cork Maple Is Hero of Tunisia”?

I told him I would use my influence.

Maple lives at 8885 Carson St., Culver City, California, in case you want to know the hero’s home address. He says that if he gets killed, he doesn’t want any of this nonsense of sending his money home. He has already made a verbal will – his friends in the company are to take whatever money he has and keep it till they’re in a rest period, and then all get good and drunk on it.

Cork says he has all the hard luck. He pulled a tiny piece of shrapnel out of his pocket. It was paper-thin and about the size of a pinhead. He said:

That’s my souvenir. It landed on top of my hand and didn’t even break the skin.

When I saw it, I just looked at it and said:

Cork Maple, you unfortunate SOB, if it had been anybody else in the company it would have gone clear through his hand and he’d have got the next hospital boat home. But you can be smothered by 88s and they won’t even draw blood on you.

‘88 Club’ all planned

Maple has his after-war career all mapped out. He’s going to open a sort of nightclub in Los Angeles. He will call it the Eighty-Eight. All the drinks will have war names, such as Airburst, Stuks, Bouncing Baby and so on, the booths will be foxholes in the floor, and the place will be full of boobytraps that will go off and scare people.

He says:

I oughta be able to get somebody to back it. There’ll still be more suckers left after the war.

I said:

It sounds good to me, but if I put it in the paper some patriot will steal your idea and have the club before you get home.

He said:

That’s all right. If you put it in the paper, that’ll be a record that it is my idea. Then if somebody steals it, I can sue him. Maybe I’d make more money that way anyhow. Go ahead and put it in.

And as I walked down the hill, Sgt. Cork called after me:

And don’t forget the big headline now! Clear across the front page!

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 28, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
One day out on a Tunisian hillside, I sat on a box and got a shave and haircut from a soldier-barber. While I was getting clipped, Carol Johnson, who has been over here doing pen-and-ink battle sketches for NEA Service, came along and snapped my picture.

The last time I had a barbershop picture taken was six years ago, up on the coast of the Bering Sea, when I got shaved by the only woman barber in Alaska. I was sitting on a box that time, too. I don’t seem to make any progress in the world.

The soldier who cut my hair was Pvt. Patrick Fitzgibbons, of 315 West 57th St., New York. He has been barbering for 17 years – on ocean liners, in Hollywood, on Broadway. Pvt. Fitzgibbons calls it cutting hair. He says:

I’ve been cutting hair ever since I was 15. You get used to cutting hair, and you miss it if you can’t do it every day.

When I told Pvt. Fitzgibbons I probably would put his name in the paper, he fussed around and spent an extra half hour on me, putting on after-shaving creams, washing my neck, and going over and over the remnants of my hair with his scissors. I think he would probably have given me a bath if I hadn’t kept an eye on him.

Ernie breaks both record

Speaking of baths, I had my first one in six weeks a few days after the Tunisian campaign was finished. That breaks my five-week record of the winter.

I’ve discovered that I’m a guy who can take baths or leave them alone. Certainly, my unsanitary condition didn’t undermine my health, for I never felt better than during those long dirty periods.

We found out one thing about baths at the front – if you don’t bathe for a long time the fleas don’t bother you. Apparently, you either build up a protective coating that they can’t reach through or else you become too revolting even for fleas. Whatever the reason, I know of rash people who took an occasional bath and were immediately set upon by fleas, while we filthy characters sailed along blissful and unbitten.

Some of the boys did find the cleanup process quite a thrilling experience. Will Lang, of LIFE and TIME Magazines, got a haircut and shampoo one afternoon and then went right back next morning to the same shop and got another shampoo. When I expressed astonishment at this unusual procedure he said, why, that was nothing, he’d seen Bob Capa, the Colliers photographer, sit in a chair and get three shampoos, one right after another, each one with a different flavor of soap.

Army takes Volkswagen away

Will and I came back from the front in a jeep, because the Army up and took my little German Volkswagen away from me. The High Command put out a general order that all captured vehicles were to be turned in, so in she went, even though she had been given to me officially.

Upon hearing of the order my first impulse was to take off the tires and bury them, remove the engine, and put a hand grenade under the front seat, just to show the Army they couldn’t do that to me. But after seeing my lawyer I decided the Army probably could do anything to me it wished, so I bowed gracefully and left the Volkswagen sitting in a plowed field for the Army to collect. I didn’t really care. The damn thing would hardly run anyway.

Everybody’s doin’ it

Our jeep was stolen on the way back, but the MPs picked it up after 12 hours. That was a stroke of luck, for stolen jeeps are usually gone forever. Since they’re all alike, it is very hard for the MPs to identify a particular one. Ours was easy, however, because the glass was gone from the windshield on the right-hand side, and we knew the thieves couldn’t do anything about that, for we’d tried to get it fixed ourselves and there was no glass in that whole area.

Jeep thievery has been practiced on such a scale that it’s practically legitimate, I’ve not yet heard of a jeep being stolen right out from under the driver, leaving him riding along in mid-air, but I’ve heard of cases almost as bad. Some friends of mine were standing on a sidewalk and actually saw their jeep driven away by thieves.

In one city, soldiers stole a jeep with “Military Police” painted all over it. And to top it off, an unthinking private stole Maj. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle’s car.

What are you all stealing at home these days?

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 29, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
During the Tunisian campaign I had a chance to visit the 9th Division only once. I didn’t know a soul in this division, and I drove into their shrub-hidden command post with the same feeling of lonely uneasiness one gets in approaching a strange big city for the first time.

But as we piled out of our jeep, one of the MPs came over and pulled one of these columns out of his pocket – one written way back last winter about the about the Military Police. He laughed and said he’d been waiting a long time for me to show up. He said he knew the Military Police were good, but he didn’t think they were quite as good as I made them out.

This particular soldier was Pvt. Walter Wolfson, of 714 W 181st St., New York. He is a coffee merchant by profession, a radio actor by avocation, and a soldier by the trend of events. Wolfson’s family owns a coffee-importing business – the Empire Coffee Mills, at 323 W 42nd St. He had some newspaper pictures of crowds queueing up at their door to buy coffee after rationing started. His mother and brother run the business while he is away. Wolfson’s sergeant says of him:

If he can sell coffee like he can stop autos, he must have had a good business.

Before he went into the Army, Wolfson was on the “Rainbow House” program. He knows a lot of poetry and opera by heart and is always reciting and singing around camp.

Sergeant digs round foxholes

Wolfson’s sergeant is Charles Harrington, a former mill worker from Gary, Indiana. He is another one with pistol grips made from the windshield of a Messerschmitt, and he carries a picture of his wife in each side of his gun handle.

Sgt. Harrington is the only soldier I’ve ever seen who digs round foxholes instead of rectangular ones. He says that’s literally so it will be harder for strafing bullets to get at him, but figuratively so the Devil can’t get him cornered. He says he’s convinced the adage is true that “there are no atheists in foxholes.”

Running onto those two was a pretty good start in breaking into new territory. So, then we went up to the tent where correspondents always check in and find out what’s going on, and who should be there but Maj. Bob Robb, a old friend of mine from the San Francisco Exposition I met him when he was publicizing the big fair. Then on another trap he and I went out together to visit Jack London’s old home, the Valley of the Moon. And on a later visit to San Francisco, he went with me through the wine country while I was writing some columns about the vineyards. And the last time I had seen him was at the Golden Gate a year and a half ago. He was a lieutenant then, in Army Public Relations at the Presidio – and rapidly going nuts, I might add, from the chaos. To escape that treadmill, he asked for overseas duty, and, boy, did he get it! He was right in the thick of things in the latter phase of the Tunisian campaign, and having the time of his life.

Pvt. Wolfson, Sgt. Harrington, and Maj. Robb have one thing in common with every soldier in the Army – they think their division is the best one extant. Being myself a man without a division, I just agree with them all.

A man without an anecdote

Pfc. Joseph Lorenze is one of my infantry friends out of the 1st Division. His home is at 963 Holly St., Inglewood, California. He’s a nice, quiet, friendly fellow who worked in a furniture factory before the war.

We were together during that unforgettable period when our infantry was fighting day and night for the hills west of Mateur. I wanted to put Lorenze’s name in one of my dispatches, but I told him I didn’t like to use names without having some little anecdote to go with them that would be interesting to everybody. So, while the shells commuted incessantly back and forth overhead, Pvt. Lorenze and I sat in our foxholes and thought and thought, and damned if we could think of a thing to say about him, even though he had been through four big battles. So, finally I said:

Well, I’ll put it in anyhow. You live only half a mile from my friend Cavanaugh, so I’ll hook it up with him some way.

You may remember my friend Cavanaugh. He was in France in the last war when he was 16 years old. This time, he is serving his country by writing me funny letters about the home front, to keep up my morale. In the latest one, he says:

This is just getting around to being a fit country to live in. No gas, no tires, no salesmen, no gadgets, and plenty of whisky to last the duration. Money ain’t worth a damn and I’m glad I’ve lived to see the day. Everybody you talk to has a military secret. I have completed my plans for the postwar world, and I find no place in it for you. Good luck with your frail body, my friend, and try to bring it back to Inglewood sometime. And a can of salmon would be nice too.

So someday Pvt. Lorenze and I will take off our shoes and lie in the grass in Cavanaugh’s backyard and tell him all about our narrow escapes on Hill 428, and not even listen when he tries to get in a word about how it was around Verdun and Vimy Ridge.


I couldn’t quite picture what he was describing until I found this.


The Pittsburgh Press (June 1, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
The nicest American camp I’ve ever seen in the fighting area of North Africa is one inhabited by about a hundred men who run the smokescreen department around a big port to help confuse German air-raiders.

I happened upon the thing wholly by accident. Another correspondent and I were driving through country that was strange to us. We came to a town late one afternoon, and were told by a bored billeting clerk that there was no place in town for us to stop and that’s that. So, we just said phooey on you, friend, we haven’t slept under a roof in months anyhow, we carry our own beds with us, and we hate cities to boot.

Whereupon we drove right out of town again and started looking for some spot under a tree where we could camp for the night.

It was during this search that we passed a very neat-looking American camp by the roadside. On an impulse we drove in and asked the first officer we saw if we could just throw our bedrolls down on the ground and stay all night with them.

He said:

What do you want to throw them on the ground for?

We said:

Well, we don’t want to put you to any trouble, and we’re accustomed…

He said:

Nonsense! We’ll make room for you in our cabins. Have you had supper yet?

No, but we’ve got our own rations with us.

He said:

Nonsense! Come and eat first, and then we’ll find you a place to stay.

What an outfit!

The officer was Lt. Sam Kesner, of Dallas, Texas. He was wearing coveralls and a field cap and you couldn’t tell him from a private except for his bars. He went to Texas A&M and got his chemical engineering degree and his Army commission both on the same day.

Lt. Kesner’s boss is Capt. J. Paul Todd, of Clinton, South Carolina. He was a schoolteacher before the war. He taught mathematics at Rock Hill, South Carolina, and at Atlanta, Georgia. Their outfit is a part of the Chemical Warfare Service, but instead of dealing out poisonous gases they deal out harmless smoke that covers up everything when raiders come over.

By the nature of their business, they work all night and sleep all day. They take their various stations in little groups in a big semicircle around the city, just before dusk, and stay there on the alert till after daylight. At midnight a truck makes the rounds with sandwiches and hot coffee. Capt. Todd himself also makes a four-hour tour of the little groups each night, ending about 2 a.m.

Their assignment has been permanent enough to justify their fixing up their camp in a homelike way. They have taken old boards from the dock area and built about three dozen small cabins, sort of like tourist-camp cabins back home. They have board floors, board side walls, and canvas roofs.

Cabins have been named

They have built bunks for their bedrolls, hung up mosquito nets, hammered boards together for chairs, made tables, and put little steps and porches in front of their cabin doors. They’ve named their cabins such things as “Iron Mike’s Tavern,” “African Lovers,” “The Village Barn,” “The Opium Den.”

Lt. Kesner has a sign hanging outside his door that says, “Sixty-Five Hundred Miles from Deep in the Heart of Texas.” The heart is drawn instead of spelled out.

Capt. Todd has a wife back home named Marigene and a daughter named Paulagene. He left when his daughter was four weeks old. Now she’s a year and a half. But he keeps himself well reminded of them, for tacked on the wall of his cabin are 34 pictures of his wife and baby. He’s the picture-takingest man I ever ran onto.

The hundred men in this camp are just like a clan. They have all been together a long time and they have almost a family pride in what they’re doing and the machinery they’re doing it with.

One of the boys in the kitchen said he’d read this column in The Cleveland Press for years. He is Cpl. Edward Dudek, of 8322 Vineyard Ave., Cleveland. I asked him what he did before the war besides read this column, and he said he was a chemical worker. The Army clicked long enough to put him into the Chemical Service, but then a cog slipped somewhere and now he’s a cook instead of a chemical worker. But I suppose he can make his own fumes when he gets homesick by spilling a little grease on the stove.

We spent a comfortable night with this outfit and tarried around a couple of hours the next morning, just chatting, because everybody was so friendly. Then, they gassed us up without our even asking, and we finally left feeling that we’d visited the nearest thing to home since hitting Africa.


The Pittsburgh Press (June 2, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
Men and machines have both now passed their shakedown period in this war – at least here in North Africa. Men who weren’t up to their jobs have largely been culled out and given different work. There are still some inept ones in office jobs, but among the line troops the mill of experience has pretty well ground out the weaklings, the freaks, and the misfits.

And it’s the same with machinery and weapons. Some things have proved themselves almost useless. Others have turned out so perfectly that the engineers would have to scratch their heads to think of any change in design.

In the mechanical end of our African war, three American vehicles stand out above all the others. They are the jeep, the GMC two-and-a-half-ton truck, and the Douglas DC-3 cargo plane.

The DC-3, known in the Army as the C-47, is the workingest airplane in existence, I suppose. It lifts incredible loads, and takes terrific beatings from rough fields, hard handling, and overuse. Almost any pilot will tell you it is the best airplane ever built.

The GMC truck does the same thing in its field. It hauls big loads, it is easy to drive and easy-riding, and the truck driver can do practically anything with it up to an outside loop. It seldom gets stuck, and if it does it can winch itself out. The punishment it will take is staggering.

Jeep goes everywhere

And the jeep – good Lord, I don’t think we could continue the war without the jeep. It does everything, goes everywhere. It’s as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule, and as agile as a goat. It consistently carries twice what it was designed for, and still keeps on going. It doesn’t even ride so badly after you get used to it.

I have driven jeeps thousands of miles, and if I were called upon to suggest changes for a new model, I could think of only one or two little things.

One is the handbrake. It’s perfectly useless – won’t hold at all. They should either design one that works or else save metal by having none at all.

And in the field of acoustics, I wish they could somehow fix the jeep so that at certain speeds the singing of those heavy tires wouldn’t sound exactly like an approaching airplane. That little sound effect has caused me to jump out of my skin more than once. Except for those two trivial items the jeep is a divine instrument of wartime locomotion.

Only once in my long and distinguished jeep career have I ever had anything go wrong. That time the gears got all mixed up and the thing wouldn’t come out of low gear. It was while we were still fighting around Mateur.

There’s repair depot

Our road was under heavy German shellfire, so the only thing we could do was to take off cross-country and make a wide circle around the shell-infested area. We drove through shoulder-high barley fields, along foot-wide goat trails, up over hills, down steep banks, across creeks, and over huge rockbeds. Then just as we hit the main road and were out in the free again, this gear thing happened.

We still had 20 miles ahead of us, and there was nothing to do but keep on going in low gear. Luckily, we hadn’t gone more than a mile when we saw a little sign denoting an Armored Force repair depot. We drove in just on a chance, and sure enough they said they could fix the jeep. They not only fixed it but gave us supper while we waited, and were extremely pleasant about the whole thing. That’s better service than you get in the States.

The boss man of this outfit was Lt. George P. Carter, of Louisa, Kentucky. He had intended becoming a doctor, and had just finished his premedical course, but now he’s a doctor of heavy machinery. His gang retrieves tanks and repairs them, and keeps all the mighty rolling equipment of an armored division in order. To them, fixing a jeep is like a boilermaker fixing a watch, but they can do it.

The mechanic who fixed our gears was Sgt. Walter Harrold, of Wadena, Minnesota. Already that day his outfit had been forced to move twice. German artillery had got their range once, and they were dive-bombed another time.

Sgt. Harrold had been working and moving and dodging all day and would have to work some more that night, yet he worked on our jeep with as much interest as though it were his own. You can tell a mechanic at heart even on a battlefield. Or maybe I should say especially on a battlefield.

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The Pittsburgh Press (June 3, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
The head man of the photographic section at one of our Flying Fortress airdromes is Sgt. Robert Thompson, of Lansing, Michigan. Thompson has four men in the section with him. They are well organized for future conquests, as one of them speaks Italian and one speaks German.

I am mentioning these boys because they have built themselves a photographic darkroom that is unique in Africa. It is an underground dugout 10 feet deep. Most of it was dug through solid rock, and without any blasting equipment whatever. It took the five boys 10 days to do it.

You go down some steps, turn right along a deep, narrow ditch, and then right again, which brings you completely underground with a three-foot roof of earth and rock over you for bomb protection. They’ve never had a raid at this field, but where they were previously stationed raids were frequent.

Everything in the darkroom is homemade. Running water comes through some curved piping taken from the hydraulic system of a B-17. On the end of the pipe is a spigot from a wine barrel. All their photographic chemicals are kept in old champagne bottles. Their developing trays are gasoline tins cut in half the long way. Their film-printing box was made from fragmentation bomb cases. Their red safety light is the reflector off a jeep. An electric switch from a bombardier’s control-box lid is cushioned with rubber from the pilot’s seat of a Fortress.

Besides Thompson, the men in this section are Cpl. Bennett Tucker, St. Louis, Pvt. Harold Harrington, Carteret, New Jersey (he’s Irish), Pfc. Otto Zinkgraff, Plymouth, Wisconsin (he’s the German), and Pfc. John Martini, New York (he’s the Italian).

They all live in the same tent, and for such an international hodgepodge you never saw five men prouder of their joint accomplishments.

Another Volkswagen owner

A man I’ve been intending to mention for a long time is Capt. A. D. Howell of Maryville, Tennessee, a suburb of Knoxville. Over here he is known as Dixie Howell, but he was never called that before he got in the Army.

We met way back in January, and every time I’ve run onto him since then something new has happened to him. One time he had been slightly wounded and got a Purple Heart. Another time he’d invented a new way to clean up minefields. Another time he had been decorated for bravery. Another he had been promoted to captain. Another had his thumb bandaged because of a cut from a dive-bombing fragment. And the last time he had just abandoned a captured German Volkswagen because it didn’t have power enough to pull over the mountains.

That last item makes us practically blood brothers since we are both former Volkswagen owners now.

Capt. Howell worked for the Aluminum Company of America before the war. His father-in-law is the regional manager at Alcoa. Young Howell didn’t have to live on grits and sowbelly by any means, but regardless of his nice status in life he volunteered in the Canadian Army long before Pearl Harbor, and went to England more than two years ago. He transferred to the American Army last fall.

He has been constantly at the front. He’s the mine and booby-trap expert with a regiment of fighting Engineers. He probably knows as much about the more fiendish types of German explosives as anyone in North Africa.

Shows Eisenhower sideshow

Howell has a truckful of defanged mines, booby traps, flares, rockets, grenades, scare whistles, and other devices which he uses to teach others how to deal with them. Once I saw him demonstrating his sideshow to Gen. Eisenhower, on one of the general’s visits to the front.

Capt. Howell has a 5-year-old daughter, Madlyn, and a beautiful wife. He hasn’t seen them in two and a half years. He says he’d give anything in the world to see them, yet he doesn’t want to go home till after the next show is over, whatever it is.

He’s had more than his share of narrow escapes. He won his Silver Star by working for an hour, under constant fire, setting his charge on a bridge and blowing up the bridge when the advancing Germans were only 400 yards away.

He’s just one of the thousands over here who have done things you people at home can hardly conceive of, and who are now very tired but still willing to go on and on.

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The Pittsburgh Press (June 4, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
Many things have happened since I left my gang of Flying Fortress friends last January. Often in the months that intervened I have watched them plow through the Tunisian skies, miles above, and wondered what they were up to and what they were thinking and how things were with them. Now I have visited them again briefly.

A few of them are gone forever, but not so many. Practically everybody has gone up one notch in the promotion scale. Some of them have been sent home to help train new groups. And a lot of them have completed their allotted number of missions and are through with combat flying for a while, and assigned to ground duties.

Many new faces show up

Nearly all of them wear medals. Distinguished Flying Crosses and Purple Hearts are galore. Some of them seem pretty tired, and those of the old original crews who haven’t got in their full number of missions are anxious to get it done and rest.

Some of my enlisted friends have commissions now. Most of the January beards have been shaved off, and shirtless suntans have replaced the heavy mackinaws the mechanics used to wear. Pet puppies have grown into big dogs.

There are many new faces. Replacements arrive to fill the gaps left by those who don’t return and those who finish their required missions and go on ground duty. Everybody knows more about his job than he used to. It’s routine now, both on the ground and in the air, and you sense a confidence that comes from doing a thing a long time.

Fliers earn respite

Shortly after the Tunisian campaign ended, the flying men were given a three-day holiday, the first of its kind since they arrived in North Africa. Some of them went to the nearest cities by jeep or truck for a little fling. Others took planes and went to big cities farther back. Many went to beaches to swim and laze. And a great many went to Tunisia – to see with their own eyes the havoc they had so carefully and perilously wrought all winter.

They found it an odd thing to be there on the ground looking at a place they’d never seen except from miles above and with the sky around them riddled with flak and swarming with fighters. They visited Bizerte, which they had wrecked, and Ferryville and Tunis, whose docks they had demolished in their numberless raids. They were pleased at what they saw. They found that in their precise work of destruction they had done a good job.

Old plane finally checks-in

The House of Jackson ­– the Fortress crew I have followed since before it left England – doesn’t exist anymore as a “family.” The passage of time has scattered and consumed it. Two of the original members are dead. Some have been promoted. Others have completed their goal in missions and are on ground duty. The remaining few have been assigned to other crews.

They are all veterans of veterans by now, and their old Fortress itself is no more. The old “Devils from Hell” that they brought all the way from America nearly a year ago went down over Palermo one bitter day, but only one of the original House of Jackson was still on her then.

The faithful old ship was on her 42nd mission when she died. She had been on so many raids they had almost run out of room to paint the little white bombs on her nose, each of which denote a mission. Her list of enemy victims ran high too.

I supposed the boys would feel sentimental about her going, but they didn’t seem to.

Fliers are legion now

There was a day when I knew every group of fliers on combat duty in North Africa. But not anymore. They have multiplied and grown fantastically. Today there are more than you could possibly know, even if you devoted all your time to it.

When I go about the airfields now, I feel old in Africa. Those few who carried the torch at first, and still remain, are a sort of grandfather generation among all the hordes that speckle the skies today. And that is well, for that is what we have been waiting for.


The Pittsburgh Press (June 5, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
To me the funniest incident of the Tunisian campaign was the following:

Back in January and February, the headquarters of the II Corps were in a deep ravine some six miles the other side of Tébessa. Wooded mountains rose of each side quite steeply, and the bottom of the gulch was well coated with trees.

The corps was down there in numerous tents, but it was decided to tunnel big shelters into the mountainsides for offices just in case of dive-bombings. So, soldiers were set to tunneling.

It was a major mining job, for they had to bore through solid rock, using air drills and dynamite. They worked in shifts, 24 hours a day. The blasted-out rock was hauled away in trucks.

They bored four great tunnels into the mountainous, each one as wide as an auto and some 50 yards long. At the back end they connected all four tunnels into ne huge room, forming unquestionably the biggest and finest air-raid shelter in the continent of Africa.

It took three solid weeks to build it. And the very day it was finished the Germans broke through Faid Pass and pushed us back through Kasserine, and the corps had to move in a hurry. The government tunnels, all finished, were never occupied even for an hour.

Flea bite cure found

Shaving cream is among the items regularly issued to frontline troops over here. It is one thing everybody has found extremely useful. It turned out to be the best sunburn lotion we know of. The soldiers also out it on flea bites with good effect. They shave with it too, incidentally. It’s just one of those little discoveries of the war.

They tell an anecdote about a soldier on guard duty in the frontlines one night, for the first time. He heard a strange noise, fired at it, and then called out, “Who went there?”

The engineers who built those marvelous temporary steel bridges, strong enough to hold up tanks, over the Tunisian rivers after the Germans had destroyed the original bridges are certainly due a lot of credit.

Perhaps the biggest satisfaction they got out of their work was naming the bridges after they had finished them. They nearly always painted a name on signboards and staked one at each end of the bridge. You could tell one outfit was from New York, for you cross4ed a whole string of bridges named “Manhattan,” “Brooklyn,” “Queensborough” and so on. But the one that tickled me most was a big one at Mateur which bore a sign with large black letters: “Huey P. Long Bridge.”

Sugar sent home

Last December, when I left Oran, I bundled up a canvas bag full of odds and ends that I didn’t want to carry to the front, and left it at one of the Army offices for picking up at some future date. Months went by, and I never got back to Oran, I inquired about the bag a couple of times from travelers who had come from that office, and they reported it was still there. And then just the other day came a letter from Washington saying that a mysterious bag, sent by me and addressed to me, had arrived in America. They described the nah, and it was without doubt my Oran storage bundle. Apparently, somebody just got tired of seeing it around and decided to get it far out of sight.

I can’t remember what was in the bag, except for two items: (1) the only dress uniform I’ve got, and (2) a pound box of cube sugar I brought with me from America a year ago. I don’t need the sugar, as the Army has plenty, and I’ve never had the dress uniform on since the night I left London last fall.

But now that it’s 4,000 miles away I suppose some general will be inviting me out to dinner and I’ll have to go in coveralls. While we’re supposing, suppose we suppose it’s Gen. Eisenhower himself, just to make it good.

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The Pittsburgh Press (June 7, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, North Africa – (by wireless)
Another friend, whom I’ve mentioned before in these columns, is among the missing. He, we know almost definitely, is a prisoner.

He is Capt. Tony Lumpkin, of Mexico, Missouri. Tony was headquarters commandant of a certain outfit – a headquarters commandant being a sort of militarized hotel manager.

Just before he disappeared, Tony got to going by the nickname of “Noah” Lumpkin, because he always seemed to pick out such a miserably wet place for a command post. On their last move before he was captured, the commanding general – a swell guy with a sense of humor – called Capt. Lumpkin over, stood with him outside a tent looking out over the watery landscape, and congratulated him on locating them in the center of such a beautiful lake.

Tony wanted to do some shooting

Tony Lumpkin needn’t have been captured at all if he had been content to stick to his comparatively safe “hotel managing.” But he wanted to get a crack at the Jerries himself. He is an expert gunner, and he finally talked the commander into letting him take five men and a small gun on wheels and go out to see what he could pick off.

The first day they got one German truck plus something that turned out later to be a camel, although it looked like a truck at the distance they were firing from. The second day they moved farther into the mountains to get into a better shooting position, but bagged nothing. On the third day they went even farther into the hills, hunting a perfect spot for firing.

Capt. Lumpkin used to share a tent with Maj. Chuck Miller of Detroit, and with their assistant, Cpl. William Nikolin of Indianapolis, both of whom I’ve written about before. They formed an intimate little family.

That third night Maj. Miller came in late. He was astonished, and a little bit concerned, to see Tony’s cot empty. When he woke up next morning there was still no Tony.

He knew something had happened. He went to the general and got permission to start out with a squad of his own military police and hunt for his lost companion.

Tony really gets lost

They covered all the ground Tony had covered, and finally, by studying the terrain and talking with others who had been nearby, and interviewing German prisoners, they pieced together what had happened. The hill that Capt. Lumpkin had been trying to get to had been simply lousy with German machine-gunners. The Germans saw him all the time. They sent out a party that worked behind and surrounded him. A German who was captured later said that a captain with a Tommy gun killed one German and wounded another before being taken. That is all we will know until Tony comes back to us.

There isn’t grief in the little Lumpkin-Miller-Nikolin family, but there is a terrible vacancy.

Maj. Miller says:

We were a perfect team. Tony was slow and easygoing, and I’m big and lose my temper too quickly. We balanced each other. I’d keep him pepped up and he’d calm me down. We sure miss him, don’t we, Nicky?

The two who remain, the officer and the corporal, seem drawn even close together than before. When there are guests, Nicky is called in to be part of the company. Nicky waits on the 6’4” major as though he were a baby, and the major treats Nicky with an endearing roughness.

They’d give a lot to have him back

Maj. Miller went on:

Nicky always woke us up every morning by bringing in hot tea. Then the damn intellectual would ruin the day for me by sitting down while we drank the tea and starting an argument along the line of who was the greater writer, Tolstoy or Anatole France. That kind of stuff throws me.

Tony would argue with him, and relieve me of the horror of such a subject at such an hour. But now that Tony’s gone, I have to bear the load all by myself. It’s awful.

And Nicky stands and grins while the major talks.

Our conversation drifted off onto other things, and a long time afterwards, out of a clear sky, Maj. Miller said:

Damn it, I’d give a month’s pay – no, I’d give six months’ pay – no, I’d give a year’s pay if only old Tony were back.

And Nicky would gladly do the same.


The Pittsburgh Press (June 8, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

NOTE: The Press today begins a new series of columns by Ernie Pyle, the report of a 13,000-mile trip into the heart of Africa. The trip was made before the heavy fighting in Tunisia and until now Ernie hasn’t had time to tell about it.

Somewhere in Africa –
During a lull in the Tunisian fighting, I let the old wanderlust get the better of me as usual, and took myself a trip.

It was just a little trip – only 13,000 miles. If I’d thought to go in a different direction, I could have traveled from Tunisia to California and back to Tunisia again in the same direction. Yet all I did was fly around Africa.

The reason for the trip was twofold – to get a breathing spell from the front, and to try to get warm. I hadn’t been warm in nearly nine months, and one way to get warm is to go south.

So, I went down to the tropics. I slept under mosquito netting, swam in the Gold Coast surf, bought ivory carvings in the Congo, watched native jungle dances, took after-lunch siestas, had my own houseboy, and really lived the life of Reilly on my small world tour.

It wasn’t entirely a vacation trip, for I wrote columns as I went along. So now I’ll be telling you about the trip, and also how some of our American soldiers live in the other half of this vast and strange continent.

Our trip took us over mountains, ocean, jungle and desert. It was a sort of pioneer version of peacetime traveling with Pan American Airways, except that it was all by Army plane. We’d fly all day, go to bed early, and get up anywhere from 3:30 on for another early start.

You almost always take off before daylight, for distances are vast in Africa and you cover a lot in one day. Rolling out of bed at inhuman hours gets to be almost normal for you after a while.

I remember one morning at a little jungle camp down in the Congo. We were sitting at a mess-hall bench eating breakfast. Our pilot, Capt. Johnnie Warren of Columbia, South Carolina, was sitting next to me. We were both half-asleep.

Daylight spoils the ‘fun’

A faint dawn began to show in the sky. I said:

Look, it’s getting daylight.

Whereupon Capt. Warren looked out the window, threw down his spoon, and said:

Aw shucks, that takes all the fun out of his takeoff. Now we can see where we’re going.

We flew across the Sahara. We landed at little pinpoints populated by a lonely dozen or two Americans in khaki shorts, holding these far outposts that must be held by somebody.

The desert was stifling when we came down upon it, and each time we pitied the fellows stationed there, and were glad to leave and climb back into the cooler skies.

The Sahara is hard to see from the air, because the wind keeps a constant haze of sand hanging above it. After you’ve risen a couple of thousand feet, you don’t see anything.

For a long time, I forced myself to stay awake and keep looking out the window, for fear I’d miss something interesting. But finally, I gave up hope of seeing anything, and plunked myself upon an inviting stack of gray sacks piled along one side of the cabin.

And thus, cuddled down into a nice form-fitting nest, I slept most of the way across the Sahara Desert upon the United States mail.

I should have abandoned my long underwear and heavy uniform the day after starting. But I figured on the coolness of flying at high altitudes the following days, and left them on.

Long live Liberia!

On the third day, we were deep in the tropics. We stopped at a jungle field for lunch. It was hotter than hell. Most of the black natives were semi-naked. The whites were sitting around in a sort of boiling stupor. The sweat poured off us newcomers, and that woolen underwear began to wriggle. I felt as though somebody had poured hot gravy down my back.

And then the pilot decided to stay there overnight. We were assigned to barracks, and carried our luggage about a quarter of a mile to them through the blasting sun.

I flopped on my cot a few moments and shut my eyes, just long enough to roll over in my mind the delightful anticipation of the bath I was going to have,

In the tropics, bathwater is never heated. It’s just right without heating. The water came pouring out of the showers over me, and water has never felt so good. Baths had been few and unsatisfactory for me during the past winter. But there in the tropics I washed and washed until I was weak from over-cleansing.

And then I put on summer underwear and thin khaki, abandoning long heavy underwear for the first time since last July. For a couple of hours, I felt the way one feels after fever – light and floating and strange. But I felt good.

That transition from heavies to lights, from months of cringing against the cold, to the sudden freedom of true warmth, is an experience that sticks in your mind for weeks above the ordinary happenings of the days.

Liberia is where I became a sanitary human being again. Long live Liberia!

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The Pittsburgh Press (June 9, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

NOTE: Before the heavy fighting in Tunisia which led to the Axis surrender, Ernie Pyle took a little side jaunt around Africa – a mere 13,000-mile trip. Only now has he had time to write the story of that trip. This is the second article.

Somewhere in Africa –
As you travel west and then south away from Tunisia, your feeling of leaving the war behind increases in direct proportion to the miles you travel.

In Algeria, you still feel the war, for you are surrounded by the flow of supplies and troops and equipment moving toward the front. You feel no danger, but you have that exhilarating surge that comes of great activity around you.

In Morocco, the atmosphere is different. There is still great activity there, but it is so far from the front that you feel a definite wall between you and what is going on up there in Tunisia. It’s sort of like the warmup before the big game.

But south of Morocco – well, you seem only to be forever practicing. Our camps throughout the rest of Africa are sort of normal affairs. You have a daily job to do and it’s the same every day. Your job is vital, and yet there’s nothing to fight. You feel a sense of frustration; you’ve finally reached the ball park, but you can’t see the diamond.

Ashamed of living so well

All through Africa, I ran onto this same feeling. Morale was perfectly good and people were doing their jobs and doing them well; but everybody had in the back of his head the burning yearning to get up north where the shootin’ was going on.

Down below, some of the permanent bases are almost like country clubs. There is little difference between life there and life at an American posy in peacetime. Dozens of times I’ve heard soldiers, all the way from privates to colonels, express a feeling of shame that they were living so well.

I know how they feel, and I sympathize. Yet they shouldn’t feel ashamed. For their jobs are vital. They’re doing a work that must be done or else their fellowmen at the front could not survive. Everybody can’t be on the firing line.

And as for living well, I certainly see no harm in it if you’re equipped to do so, and can do it without taking anything away from anybody else. It seems to me that living miserably just out of sympathy would be a ridiculous affectation.

‘Always gotta do something’

This impatience with a static camp life is just a manifestation of the normal American necessity to bust out and do things.

One day, I was talking with the commander of a camp far in the jungle, a camp we were closing because it was no longer needed. The camp was near a famous and bad rapids.

The commander said:

I guess it’s a good thing we’re leaving here. Take those rapids as an example. People have lived around for thousands of years, and nobody has ever tried to shot the rapids.

But if we stayed here another month, sure as hell some soldier would go over those rapids in a barrel. That’s just the way we are. Always gotta do something. That’s the best thing about us.

And I know of another case of farawayness-from-the-front getting under some soldiers’ skins. This also happened at one of our tropical camps.

Four soldiers couldn’t stand the peacefulness any linger, so they bought two dugout canoes, stocked up with provisions, hired two native boys to help, and started by river to Cairo – a little matter of 5,000 miles.

By tom-tom teletype

The soldiers were gone three days before they were caught. The order for their capture, incidentally, was carried upriver through the jungle by native tom-toms, beating out the message from village to village, on orders of the Army.

The boys’ commander told me that personally he would have liked to give them medals, but rules are rules, so he had to order them court-martialed for desertion. They were let off with a month apiece, and now are transferred to another camp. They still haven’t got to the fighting line, but their ex-commander bets they’ll get there eventually.


The Pittsburgh Press (June 10, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

NOTE: This is one in a series of columns by Ernie Pyle reporting on his 13,000-mile trip into the heart of Africa, made before the heavy fighting began in Tunisia.

Somewhere in Africa –
In the tropical, legendary part of Central Africa which once was famous in the worldwide slave trade, there is now a fabulous American camp.

This camp is an airfield, and it is the biggest American aerial operation anywhere outside the United States. It has big shops and great warehouses, and it takes thousands of men to run the place and handle the planes that flow through here.

The camp is equipped to care for hundreds of flying transients every night, and traveling generals and ambassadors are so frequent you don’t bother to ask their names. The place is truly an aerial Times Square. Here men from England, America and India meet and shake hands as they step off their planes, none of them more than three days from home.

Lucky indeed is the soldier who fights the war in that place, for he is healthy, comfortable and comparatively safe.

Movies ahead of U.S. showings

He can surf-bathe on a beach which they say is better than Miami’s. his food is abundant and his bed soft. He is seldom too warm and never too cold. His mail comes from home quickly, and he sees American movies sometimes before they are released at home.

He wears light coveralls or khaki shorts at his work, and the typical sun helmet of the tropics. He takes quinine daily, but his camp is so clean that malaria is rare.

This American post is laid out like one of our modern government-built cities at home. Winding paved streets run all through it. There is some grass, and young trees have been planted. There are three churches, and the finest general store – the post exchange – I’ve seen in Africa. It has one-day laundry and you can get your shoes half-soled in less than two weeks – both of which are phenomenal in Africa.

There are tennis courts and a baseball diamond. There is an outdoor theater, with a movie every night. Sometimes visitors appear on the stage. Martha Raye played here, and took the boys by storm. When the performance was over, they presented her with a token of their appreciation – a baby crocodile. Martha screamed and his behind the piano.

Ernie’s stage fright silences him

H. V. Kaltenborn spoke to the soldiers there. So did Quentin Reynolds when he went through not long ago. I was there at the time, and the soldiers apparently had been affected by the heat that day, for they started yelling for me to get up on the stage, too.

It was one of the few times in my life when I really want to get up and say something. But that old phobia of mine – stage fright – took a firm grip and I couldn’t have moved if you’d offered me a million dollars.

At this camp, the soldiers live in pre-fabricated barracks. They sleep on cots under mosquito nets, and eat in mess halls.

The officers have rooms in permanent block barracks, made of concrete and stucco. A wide screened porch runs entirely around each barracks. Every room has a front and back window, and a front and back door, so there is plenty of air.

Just off the back porch is a bath for every two rooms. Some of the blocks ever have electric refrigerators, to provide ice for the late-afternoon cooling drinks.

A white mosquito net hangs over every bed. During the day, your houseboy hangs out all the bedding top be cleaned and dried by the sun and wind, and twice a week he puts the mattresses out to sun. it is so comfortably cool at night you use a blanket.

The weather is muggy there, although the annual rainfall is actually less than in Indiana. But things get musty and moldy very quickly. That painless spot on my typewriter, which has rusted so fervently in Panama and Ireland, has developed a new coat here that looks like a spot of brown fur.

At this camp, one officer is an old friend of mine from Albuquerque. He went away on a long trip the day I arrived, so I lived in his room while he was gone.

Light averts mold

The first night there, just before going to bed, I discovered the electric light on the back wall of his clothes closet was burning. It didn’t go off when you shut the door, as I thought it should. I spent 10 minutes trying to find the switch to turn it off, and finally gave up and let it burn all night.

The next day I mentioned it to an officer, and was amazed to learn that an electric light burns continuously in every closet in the block. It’s never turned off, day or night. It isn’t there for light. It’s there to absorb the dampness so your clothes won’t mold!

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The Pittsburgh Press (June 11, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

NOTE: Before the heavy fighting in Tunisia which led to the Axis surrender, Ernie Pyle took a little side jaunt around Africa – a mere 13,000-mile trip. Only now has he had time to write the story of that trip. This is the fourth article.

Somewhere in Africa –
In the huge aerial crossroads camp that I wrote about yesterday, hundreds of black natives work – as houseboys, as white-coated waiters, as drivers, and as plain laborers putting up more and more buildings. They are descendants of the ones who escaped being carried away to America as slaves.

There is a Negro houseboy for every two rooms in the officer’s blocks. He dresses in khaki shorts and goes barefoot. His job is easy, but he has less “manana” in him than some of our own Latins.

The boys are faithful, honest and pleasant. Most of them are devoted to their masters. It will be hard for many an American officer to get over being waited on hand and foot when he returns to the old hometown.

Handy houseboys got $12

The houseboy comes at 6:30 in the morning, and stays till 6:30 at night. He has an hour off for lunch, and two hours for resting in the afternoon.

He keeps your room clean, airs the bedding, hangs out your clothes, and shines your shoes every day, even if you haven’t worn them since the last shining. He does your washing if you don’t want to sent it to the laundry, and sews on your buttons.

He is always within yelling distance somewhere on the back porch, and he comes at call to get you some ice or find you some matches or anything you wish.

He gets $12-a-month salary, and each officer tips him 49¢ a week extra. The houseboy calls his officer “Master,” and sometimes it is slurred so that it sounds just like our old-time Southern Negro “Massuh.” When our boy Jim first called me “Master,” I thought he was talking to somebody else, and looked around to see who was in the room.

The colored boys all speak a native tongue, but they know enough English that you can talk easily with them. In that area, there is a whole vocabulary of pidgin English.

‘Who dat man?’ favorite expression

For instance, you never hear the word “tip.” The world is “dash.” You “dash” your houseboy two shillings a week. A beggar never says “gimme.” He askes you to “dash” him a penny. A meal is “chop-chop,” and when you’re telling a boy to do something immediately or to hurry, you say “one-time.”

Another favorite expression is “Who dat man?” It seems that the native soldiers call halt by yelling “Who dat man?” So, the thing has become a byword with our troops. If somebody knocks at your door, you call “Who dat man?” If a sinister villain appears in the movie to do the heroine dirt, the soldier audience yells “Who dat man?”

Everything wood is mahogany

Around this special camp, everything is made of mahogany. That doesn’t mean they’re squandering our taxes on foolish luxury; mahogany happens to be the cheapest and most prolific wood in those parts.

The clothes closets, the chairs, the weather stripping, all are of mahogany. This precious wood forms the rough benches of the outdoor movie. The projection shack is made of mahogany, and so are the concrete forms for the new buildings.

There is, in fact, so much mahogany everywhere that it almost ceases to be pretty, for after a while you just aren’t aware of it anymore.

A small proportion of officers and men – maybe one-tenth on the hottest days – wears khaki shorts in Central Africa, just as tropical Englishmen do in the movies.

At night, you are required to out on long trousers, long-sleeved shirts, and the officers must wear ties. It is as much for safety against mosquitoes as for discipline.

Everybody wears mosquito boots

Also at night, most people in camp wear mosquito boats – which are brown suede, sort of like cowboy boots, near knee-high. In fact, they won’t let you into the outdoor movie unless you’ve got on your mosquito boots.

The Army nurses have special boots which come clear above their knees. At least, that’s what my investigating department reports.

Oddly enough, you don’t see many deep tans among our troops in the tropical countries. The reason is that you perspire so much you just soak the tan off.

Cigarettes gets damp down there, and don’t taste the same. And you have to put your extra envelopes in the closet near the electric light. Otherwise, they seal themselves. That’s the reason I don’t write to anybody; all my envelopes are sealed. Any old excuse in a storm, I always say.


The Pittsburgh Press (June 12, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

NOTE: This is one in a series of columns by Ernie Pyle reporting on his 13,000-mile trip into the heart of Africa, made before the heavy fighting began in Tunisia.

Somewhere in Africa –
At any number of our camps in Central Africa, I noticed with sharp surprise a playful little thing which you would never be aware of if you hadn’t been at the front.

In these camps, soldiers will walk along in groups, kidding and laughing, and you’ll hear them give each other mock others of “Squads Right,” or “Halt.”

The first time I heard that shouted word “Halt” down there, I stopped dead still, and my heart skipped a couple of beats. For believe me, when you’re up at the front, halt means halt and no monkey business. Nobody ever says it in play, and when you hear it, you freeze in your tracks. If you don’t, you’re likely to get a bullet through you.

It’s a sound that bears the same deadly warning as the whine of a shell or the hiss of a snake, and you obey it automatically and instinctively.

Too hot to walk the dog

For some reason, and I can’t explain it, the troops on Central Africa don’t go on for pets the way they do up north.

True, I’ve heard of soldiers who had baby giraffes for pets, and others who had monkeys and parrots, and even leopards. But they are rare. The small number of dogs is what amazed me. Up north, the soldiers have thousands and thousands of dogs for pets.

I guess it’s just too hot down here to walk the dog around.

Many of our officers and men, by the nature of their jobs, have covered Africa from stem to stern. They know the whole continent intimately, and they rattle off the merits of some unheard-of jungle river port as knowingly as they’d speak of Cape Town or Cairo.

And they are impressed. I’ve heard many an American say he’d sure got his eyes opened by coming over here. Before the war, he was hardly aware that Africa existed. But now he sees the immense richness of the jungle and the plains going partly to waste; he wonders who said there was no more land left in the world to pioneer.

Soldiers global-minded

Of course, the average soldier swears that after the war he’ll never set foot out of his hometown again. But everybody isn’t average. I’ll bet you that within five years after the war, you’ll find thousands and thousands of Americans scattered to the remotest points of the globe, carving out careers for themselves in spots they’d never heard of before 1942. This war is making us global-minded.

One evening, at a campo way down on the Slave Coast, an officer came up and introduced himself. He was Lt. Walter Wichterman, an insurance man of Indianapolis. The reason he spoke to me was this – we were college mates at Indiana University, and once went to Japan together when the Indiana baseball team made a tour over there. Our paths had not crossed for more than 20 years.

U.S. homes must be museums

If what I’ve seen is any indication, the average American home by now must look like the Natural History Museum. Soldiers are fiends for buying stuff and sending it home.

There isn’t so much to buy in North Africa. But in other parts, there is. The carved ivory, carved ebony, leather work, knives and stuff that have been sent home from Central Africa must reach an appalling total.

Add to that all that must be flowing home from India, China, Alaska and elsewhere, and we’re surely becoming a nation of ivory-hoarders.

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The Pittsburgh Press (June 14, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Africa –
We are apt to think of Saturday night as a peculiarly American institution. But like a lot of other things that we just assume belong to us, Saturday night is universal.

It is the night to howl, the world over. That holds just as true in the jungle as on Broadway. Everywhere in the jungle, the natives dance and drink and sing on Saturday night.

So, one Saturday night in Liberia, we went across the river to see a village dance. A native boy rowed us across the black water in a long dugout canoe.

The dancers were about 10 Negro girls in long cotton-print dresses, half a dozen or so young men, and a scattering of grinning, half-naked kids. As far as I could ever see, the dance consisted of nothing more than hopping around in a big circle.

Soldiers want jungle touch

There were already some soldiers standing around when we arrived. Some of the Negro boys in the village worked as houseboys for the Americans, so one of them came over and got chairs for us.

To tell the truth, the dance was pretty tame. Gradually the American soldiers, as they do the world over, decided they wanted a little more life in it. It was their wish and desire that the dancing girls take off their blouses. It was not an especially outlandish request, since the girls go around all week without any blouses. The Americans wanted to get the real jungle touch, you know, such as you see in pictures.

Well, negotiations for the hoped-for striptease were started through the houseboy who worked for the lieutenant with us. The houseboy left to put the matter before the chief.

Pretty soon, a different Negro boy came back, stood directly in front of us, and made a speech. It was in pretty good English, fairly normal, and very flowery.

Six bucks ‘uncover’ charge

He was, he said, speaking as an official representative of the chief, welcoming us to the village. The chief was proud to have us, sent his royal respects, and hoped we were enjoying the dance. Anything the village had was ours.

We were touched. It might well have been Sumner Welles welcoming the new ambassador from Brazil. We were ashamed we’d thought of anything so crude as our striptease request. We abandoned the whole idea, and the lieutenant was just rising to deliver a courtly reply to the chief’s welcome, when the boy launched into the second half of his prepared address.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was to the effect that if we could spare up the nominal sum of six bucks among us, the chief would attend to the blouse business in a big way!

The lieutenant was pretty sore over this, especially when it came out thar the other soldiers had already forked over $4 for the same purpose. But it looked like all or nothing, so we dug up $6 and, by shaking ourselves, once more achieved the transition from ministers plenipotentiary back to ordinary guys in the front row.

Be patient, chief says

And then for an hour, the dance went on, just as usual. Every 10 minutes or so, the lieutenant would send word to the chief that we were still waiting and to hurry up.

The chief, who looked like any other Negro you ever saw, was sitting in dignity on his back porch about 20 feet away, but the business had to be conducted through an emissary. Each time, the chief would send back word to be patient, that such things took time.

Finally, after another half-hour, the lieutenant got mad, and went in person to the chief. They palavered a long time. When he came back, he said the chief was practically in tears.

The whole affair was off, and the chief had given our money back. The girls had refused to obey his command. They didn’t mind taking off their blouses, since they don’t wear any all week anyhow. That wasn’t the trouble. They were just using it for an issue.

Chief defied publicly

The chief confessed to the lieutenant that his power over the village had been slipping for some weeks. Tonight was the showdown. He had been defied tonight, and he couldn’t publicly lose face like that and keep his hold. He was finished. Poor chief.

We got in the canoe and rowed back across the river. The girls were dancing and laughing their defiance of the chief when we left, and we could still hear the tom-toms back at camp.

The whole thing was a confusing study in human psychology. As a dance, it wasn’t half as good as you’d find in any Saturday-night cotton patch in our own South. But as a study in drawing-room neurotics, Noël Coward himself couldn’t have produced a better one.

And as a final puzzle in our psychological drama, why are soldiers anxious to pay 10 bucks on Saturday night for the same thing they can stand around and look at all week for nothing? Don’t ask me, I’m just a stranger here myself.

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The Pittsburgh Press (June 15, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Africa –
Here’s a good lesson in not believing everything you hear. Up in North Africa last winter, there was a report from people who should know that more than 50% of our troops in tropical Africa were down with malaria. We just accepted it as true.

But when I went to Central Africa, I found that malaria among our soldiers was less than 1%! And dysentery is even lower.

The false rumor was based on one single detachment of troops. They were the first to hit Africa last spring, they were in an infested jungle, they were without mosquito nets for the first four days, and practically the whole camp was down with malaria. The percentage was actually greater than the rumored 50, in that one case.

But that was soon over, and today that place is as healthy as any other. And nowhere else have we ever had a serious run of the fever.

Actually, the general health of our troops in the tropics is better than in the average camp at home, Army doctors say. It’s because we exercise such extraordinarily careful protection over our men’s health. You can’t travel around Central Africa without feeling a tremendous pride in the Army’s Medical and Sanitary Corps.

Let’s go to another part of Africa – a place so deep that it takes days of flying to get there. Right from our camp you can hear the throb of tom-toms all over the country at night. The soldiers only have to take a boat ride to shoot crocodiles. The place is practically the capital of malaria and dysentery.

Our campsite – picked by local officials – was in the worst swamp around. Yet the Americans thrive there. The answer lies in spraying and burning and oiling the swamps, using mosquito netting. Watching all dirt and filth, and taking 10 grains of quinine a day.

They had an astonishing example there of American sanitation. The troops were living out in this swamp-like camp. But the Army nurses were living temporarily in the nearby city. They were living in a hotel – a big, modern, lovely place. And every single one of the nurses came down with dysentery – one of them died – while only three of the soldiers out in the swamp got dysentery. Those three vases were traced to eating occasional meals in town, at the same place the nurses got theirs.

An Army doctor told me the other day that probably every one of our soldiers in that area does have malaria germs in him, but the daily quinine keeps them from becoming active. I asked him, then, how long it would take the germs to die after leaving malarial country.

He said:

If we were to be ordered home tomorrow, I’d have the boys continue their daily quinine for six weeks. By that time, all the germs would be out of them.

Throughout the tropics all Americans sleep under mosquito netting, and wear boots of an evening, and most of them take quinine. In some places, they take one tablet a day (five grains), and in more dangerous places two a day. Nobody uses face nets, so far as I know.

A few people can’t take quinine. It gives them a bad skin rash, and too much ringing in the ears. These people are put on atabrine. And then there are other people who are allergic to atabrine and get deathly sick after taking it. These people are kept on quinine.

A few of our men have cracked up under the tropical strain and had to be sent home. But they are very few. The average man gets along all right in the tropics if he is careful, keeps regular hours, and doesn’t drink too much.

It is true that the tropics sap your energy. You just don’t have the old git-up-and-git you had back home. You feel sleepy of a morning, you’re a little dopey most of the time, you welcome the siesta after lunch. You’re less efficient than back home.

In one of our camps where soldiers were doing hard manual labor such as mixing concrete, they tried both an hour and a half and two hours and a half for the lunch-and-rest period. Hospital figures showed the two-and-a-half-hour noon rest was necessary. So that’s what they’re on now.

But of course, they’re young. Now me, at my age, I have to rest all day.

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The Pittsburgh Press (June 16, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Somewhere in Africa – (by wireless)
I have taken quite a shine to the natives of Africa’s Gold Coast, Slave Coast and Ivory Coast. They seem so happy. It makes you forget how grim people at war are, and it sort of makes you happy, too.

These are the people our own American Negroes came from. They are as black as our blackest Negroes. You seldom see a light-colored one. They are supposed to be full of tropical diseases, yet you can look at any fisherman along the coast and if you can find a more magnificently powerful physical specimen anywhere in the world, I’d like to see him.

They have many qualities that surprise me. They have, first of all, a lively sense of humor. They’re always laughing, and their wit isn’t just primer wit, either. It’s often very subtle.

They work slowly, as all people do in the tropics, but they are not shiftless. You see fewer sitting around doing nothing than you do in our own South.

And they are honest. In some countries, you hardly dare take off your clothes for fear they will disappear, but along these hot coasts, honesty seems to be inbred. Hundreds of these blacks work as houseboys and personal servants for the Americans and British, and the thought of anything being stolen never enters anybody’s head.

Furthermore, they are meticulously clean. The little sandy yards of their homes are swept constantly with big coarse brooms. There’s never a speck of trash in them. And the people are always taking baths. The men bathe every afternoon when they finish work. They bathe on the scene of their job, right out in the open in a bucket of water. I think that if you gave one of those Negroes 20 buckets of water a day, he’d take 20 baths.

They are in every respect a contrast to the Arabs of North Africa.

Natives deck out in colors

As soon as a coast Negro gets home from work, he changes from the ordinary shorts and undershirts in which he usually works into native dress. That consists of nothing but yards and yards of wildly bright cotton print, thrown over one shoulder and draped around the body.

The wildness of color and fantasy of design of these cotton prints is the most striking thing about the Central African natives to me. To see a village street full of Negroes late in the afternoon is to see something so beautifully colored you can’t believe it’s true.

From babies to old men, everybody is garbed in some vivid hue – they aren’t in stripes, or in checks, or even solid colors; they give the appearance of being a million colors thrown onto a piece of cloth willy-nilly, in which the overall effect turns out to be as beautiful and natural as a garden of flowers.

They buy the cloth at native markets. Some of it is manufactured locally, but most of it comes from England, America and India. You hardly ever see two pieces alike.

The riotous colors sort of get in your blood, so I decided to go native a little myself. My flannel pajamas were slightly heavy for this climate, so I went to a bazaar to buy some tropical pajamas. But everything on the counters looked as if it had been made for Kansas City. I was disappointed. So, the Indian trader who ran the bazaar said he’d made me some. By buying the cloth myself, I could go as wild as I wished.

Ernie goes wild, over pajamas

So I went to a native outdoor market, and into a little stall inhabited by two black women, a naked, crawling baby, and scores of bolts of weirdly bright cloth. I bought four different pieces of material, so that in making two pairs of pajamas, nothing would match.

One of the black women joined in my whimsy and helped me find wilder and wilder stuff. She got so pleased with the whole business she didn’t even ask me for some “dash” – a little extra – when I paid her.

When I took the cloth back to the tailor, he had no doubts whatever that I was crazy, too, for he laughed and laughed and went about his measuring with a vim. Three days later, my monstrosities were ready. They were really wonderful.

Back at camp, I put them on and gave a style show for a gang of American officers with whom I was staying. At first, they all yelled and hooted in derision, as I had expected they would, but within two days they were all downtown buying wild cloth and having pajamas made for themselves. Everybody from colonels on down now has some psychopathic pajamas in the making.

Personally, I haven’t slept too well since I got mine, they are louder than a London air-raid siren, and have everything in them except the Battle of Gettysburg. They are a screaming explosion of birds, flowers, castles, snakes, palm trees, the great earthquake of 1934, elephants, boats, pointing fingers and evil eyes. I hope they last till I get back home again. Then I can say I’m shell-shocked – and prove it.

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