Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

The Pittsburgh Press (July 8, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Second of a series.

North Africa –
The fond mothers of WAACs in Africa may have visions of their poor little girls all alone over here in this big bad world fighting off olive-skinned rouges with one hand and lions and snakes with the other.

They needn’t worry. The girls are perfectly safe. The city they are in is as modern, though in a European way, as cities back home. Thousands of French women and girls, dressed just as Americans dress, crowd the streets at all hours. There are American Army nurses, and British nurses, WAAFs, WRENs and ATS girls, and five different kinds of French service girls in uniform.

There is the thrill of being in the midst of vital things here, without the drawbacks of either physical danger or spiritual peril.

Our WAACs do about a dozen kinds of work here. It takes a couple of dozen to run their own two barracks, their three messes and their headquarters. They are proud of being a self-contained unit, requiring no help from anybody. They even repair their own stoves.

Five of the others are car drivers, and the rest work in offices. They serve as secretaries, typists, draughtsmen, phone operators, and mail sorters. They get up and “go to the office” just as though they were on civilian jobs back home.

There are six WAACs in Gen. Eisenhower’s office. There are 30 in the Adjutant General’s office, 11 in the Judge Advocate’s office, 14 in Civil Affairs. The Signal Corps has 50 running switchboards and teletypes and deciphering code messages. And since there are no WAVES over here yet, two WAACs are working for the Navy!

When a WAAC takes over a telephone switchboard from a soldier, efficiency goes up about a thousand percent. If there is one single thing the male species does with complete confusion and incompetence, it’s running a switchboard.

The mail section is another example of women doing a job better than soldiers can. There are 95 WAACs in the delayed-mail section – mail that, for some reason or other, is not immediately deliverable, and the addresses have to be tracked down. This is confining and tedious work. You have to sit all day, and you become practically an international business machine. Each of these girls is now doing the work of four G.I. soldiers whom they replaced, the big bumble-fingers.

There are a number of WAACs in the Planning Section, and these are cognizant of the most vitally secret information. They are good tongue-holders. Their officers tell me that soldiers who have dates with WAACs are always confessing to them where they are going next, but that the girls are as mum as though they were talking to German spies.

Of the five girls who are drivers, two drive trucks. In England, it’s a common sight to see a whole big military convoy driven by women, but we haven’t reached that stage yet. The two WAAC truckdrivers work mostly in the city, but they have made cross-country trips of several hundred miles hauling supplies.

Both of these drivers are former schoolteachers, and one holds a master’s degree. She is Idel Anderson of San Francisco. She taught history in Reno. She loves it over here. In fact, she has definitely decided to come back after the war and stay a while. She wants to learn French perfectly, for one thing, and to have more time to brush up on history at the scene.

The other schoolmarm who wheels a big truck is Dorothy Gould, of Dos Palos, California. Both of these girls wear Army coveralls, but both of them are feminine and there is nothing truck-driverish about them except their ability.

The five officers of the WAAC company live in barracks with the girls but have separate rooms. The company commander is Capt. Frances Marquis, of New York, who is 46 and married and did promotion publicity work back home.

Second in command is Capt. Burke Nicholson, of St. Louis. She is 29, married, and has her own law practice in St. Louis. In fact, she was president of the Women’s Bar Association there, being the youngest one extant.

Lt. Elizabeth Joosten commands that part of the company which lives in a convent. She is a charming woman with a sharp wit, she is married, and she gives the Stratford Hotel in Houston, Texas, as her home. She was born and educated in Holland.

Lt. Sylvia Marsili, who says her name rhymes with parsley, is 36, comes from Pittsburgh, has a BS degree in home economics, and taught junior high school at Pittsburgh.

The fifth officer is a doctor. She is Lt. Margaret M. Janeway, who had her own practice in New York. She’s about to be taken into the Army. Lt. Janeway is 47, and married. She says the WAACs’ health is good and that the average WAAC in Africa, although she has gained about 15 pounds, has actually got slimmer around the waist. Which shows what hard work and regular hours and trying to learn French can do for a woman.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 9, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Third of five articles on the WACs.

North Africa –
For some weird and unfathomable reason known only to the strange creatures themselves, women love to drill. But the WACs in North Africa don’t get to do much drilling. They’re too busy doing their regular jobs.

Those of the WACs who live at the edge of town in a convent are marched about a quarter of a mile every morning to board the trucks that take them downtown. That and a 15-minute drill period once a week is all the drilling they get.

The ones who live in an old office building downtown don’t even get that. In fact, they don’t even have reveille. Horn-tooting at sunrise would be impractical, for the girls work shifts clear around the clock, like factory workers, and at dawn many of them have barely got to sleep.

Their home life is very much like life at college. They sleep in double-decker beds, some of them French iron beds, some carpentered from boards. All the beds have springs. The girls sleep between Army blankets, with one rough sheet. They are issued seersucker pajamas, either light blue or peach-colored. Their rooms are crowded. There isn’t too much space to put things.

After careful yoo-hooing and peeking ahead by the officer in command, I was allowed to snoop around into the sacred precincts of the girls’ dormitories and rooms. Everything was neat, since the girls are soldiers now. They make their own beds, and do their own washing. Practically every one of them brought an electric iron from home. Probably the most typical sight in a WAC barracks is a girl bending over an ironing board.

In the downtown barracks, the girls hang their washing on half of the roof, keeping the other half for sunbathing. Clotheslines are constantly filled with brown stockings, slips, shirts and panties.

The officer who took me around said:

You’re the first man who has ever seen this many pairs of WAC panties at one time.

And I said:

Madam, due to the rigors of old age and encroachment for war work upon my spare time, I have never seen even one pair of WAC panties before.

Each girl is issued three khaki skirts and nine shirts. They are not allowed to roll up their sleeves, and they must wear the cotton stockings that are issued to them. French girls who are the equivalent of our WACs wear anklets, which look infinitely better.

The girls are not allowed to wear jewelry, except signet or wedding rings and wrist watches. The first week they were here, it was a poor WAC indeed who didn’t have at least three Algerian bracelets showered upon her by startled and adoring G.I.s, but since they weren’t allowed to wear them, most of them sent the bracelets home.

The girls have to wear dog tags around their necks, the same as soldiers, but every one of them has her tag on a silver or gold chain instead of the Army’s piece of string.

The girls don’t have much time for dates. Those on daytime shifts work from 8 to 5, and many of them go back at night to work some more. Those who don’t have to work at night use that time to do their washing, pressing and letter-writing.

Lights go out at 10 o’clock, and the roll is taken every night to catch anybody who is staying out. Each girl gets an 11 o’clock pass once a week, and half a day off once a week.

Every one of the girls has already learned passable French, and some of them are expert at it.

There are frequent dances and beach parties, given by various Army units. When one of these is planned, the Army sends notice that so many WACs are wanted. The notice is put on a bulletin board, and any WACs who want to go put down their names.

When mail arrives, a list of those who have letters is put on the bulletin board. The day I was there, the typewritten list was headed:

Come and get it, you sweet little things.

There is also a full-length mirror near the front door of the downtown barracks, and above the mirror a sign which says, “Check Your Appearance.”

I don’t believe the girls have as many pictures beside their beds as the average soldier living in permanent quarters. You see a few photographs of parents and nephews, but the boy pictures I noticed were 100% of men in uniform. Many of the WACs are engaged to boys back home who are now in the service.

A good many romances are blooming among those not already engaged, but so far, there have been no marriage requests. Some 18% of the WACs in Africa were already married when they enlisted.

Every box and windowsill at WAC quarters is filled with ointments, lotions, salves, pastes and creams. They brought a year’s supply with them when they came, and now the post exchange has plenty for sale. Consequently, your WACs are soared that unspeakable condition known as being non-cosmetic.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 10, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Fourth of five articles on the WACs.

North Africa –
There are some amazingly interesting individuals among the 283 WACs now serving in North Africa. For instance, one girl used to be a bartender. One was a reporter on an English paper in China. One is an heiress to Penney Store millions. One was a poetess. One was at Pearl Harbor. And two of them have sons in the service.

Five of the WACs have met their brothers here in North Africa. They are Lt. Sarah Bagby, of New Haven, Missouri; Lt. Susan Hammond, of Nahant, Massachusetts; Capt. Ruth Briggs, of Westerly, Rhode Island; Evelyn Pagles, of Tonawanda, New York, and Ethel Crow, of Houston, Texas.

Mrs. Mary McCurl, of Baltimore, has a son in the Merchant Marine, and Mrs. Florence Byrns, of Cincinnati, has a son in the Army. Miriam Stehlik, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was a model before joining the WACs. Virginia Stacy, of Seattle, was at Pearl Harbor and now works for the Navy here.

Alice Hesse, of Boulder Creek, California, had a book of poetry published. Sgt. Nana Rae, of New York, has become a poet since arriving here. She came out with one on the G.I.s’ most unfavorite pill. The title is Atabrine, and the poem follows:

If I should die before I wake,
At least I won’t have pills to take,
And after doses one to three
The Lord can have the rest of me.

One of my favorite WACs is Betty Jane O’Leary, of Pittsburgh. She is a beaming blond with impish eyes. She does secretarial work at WAC headquarters. The first time I appeared there without my having identified myself or anything, she began committing favorably upon my dogs, my picket fence at home, my good looks, and the general quality of genius apparent in these columns. Smart girl, that O’Leary.

Sgt. Mary Murray is 43, with a young face and graying hair. She has traveled all over the world as a fur salesman. She married into the Navy and lived for many years in China. She saw the Japanese invasions of Manchukuo and Shanghai in 1931 and 1937. Now she is chief cook at one of the three WAC messes, and she says she never enjoyed anything more in her life.

Every afternoon there is a string of G.I.s at her back kitchen door waiting for coffee and a chance to talk to Mary. She hears more battle stories than any other WAC. For some reason, the men want to tell her everything. Dogfaces just back from the front unburden their horror stories to her, and what some of them have been through almost makes her cry at night when she relays the hair-raising experiences to the other girls.

There isn’t a more popular WAC with the soldiers than Murray, and she thinks they are all wonderful. Slightly tipsy soldiers weep on her shoulder and occasionally ask to kiss her because she reminds them of their mother.

She kisses them back, but wishes their impulses were stirred by something less maternal.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 12, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Last of five articles on the WACs.

North Africa –
The WACs in North Africa say they use about the same military slang the Army uses. No battlefield language of their own has grown up. They grouse mostly about the same thing soldiers do – their officers, their work, their food – yet actually they don’t find any of these very bad.

The WACs have not lived the rough-and-tumble life of Army nurses. They don’t have to wear G.I. underwear nor heavy field shoes. They eat at tables, take regular baths, and always look crisp and neat.

The only real danger they have been in was air raids on their city, and now these seem to have stopped.

Now and then, you hear some officer or soldier say:

Well, I always said a woman’s place was in the home, and I still think so.

But the bulk of the Army which comes in contact with the WACs doesn’t feel that way at all. The Army knows how well the girls can work, and the enlisted men appreciate that it is not easy for a girl to leave her home and country and come far across the ocean to live. They feel a sort of camaraderie with the WACs.

The WACs themselves are much prouder of being over here, I believe, than the men are. I doubt if even a handful of them would go home if given a chance.

The most soldierly of all the WACs I’ve seen is Anne Bradley of Philadelphia. Furthermore, she is so good-looking it makes you hurt. In addition, she had a personality that breaks you down, without resistance, and to top off the indignity of one small person having all these blessings, she’s got brains as well.

Sgt. Bradley so definitely should be an officer that I asked her boss about it, and the reply was this:

She would be an officer now if she had stayed in America, but she passed up that chance in order to get overseas, and we can’t promote in the field the way the Army does. If I could just put a second lieutenant’s bars on Bradley right now, my worries would be over.

The sergeant is so photogenic that she is on some of the WAC recruiting posters. But she has never pretended to be a professional beauty. Actually, she is a career woman. She is only 24, yet before enlisting, she was personnel director of the Beechnut Packing Company.

She runs her half of the company with gay-hearted quips that have a terrible firmness. When she walks, it’s like an animated statue, she’s so straight.

Margaret Miller of Stow, Ohio, is what is known as company artificer. That means carpenter and jack of all trades. Margaret is short, dark and stubby, has a boyish bob, wears overalls, carries a hammer, and goes by the name “Butch.”

She does all the fixing around the joint, repairs the plumbing, moves furniture, patches holes in the floor, and puts up wooden crosses to hold mosquito nets over beds.

Butch says that for the two years previous to joining the WACs, she was a combination bartender and bouncer in a saloon. She gets her really heavy work done by saving it up till the garbagemen come past. She gives them a bottle of wine and some fast talk, and presto, everything is moved.

I asked the sergeant if Butch had any boyfriends, and she said:

Does she! The first week we were here, one G.I. wrote several times a day threatening to blow his brains out if she didn’t tell him she loved him. And she wouldn’t, because she didn’t.

There is an anti-aircraft battery near Butch’s barracks and she is always taking hot coffee out to the boys. One evening, Butch didn’t show up at “lights out,” so they sent some of the girls to look for her. Butch had delivered her coffee and started home all right, but got tired and lay down in the grass for a while. The searching party found her there, fast asleep.

Ernie Pyle has informed us from Africa that he will not be sending any dispatches for a few days.


The Pittsburgh Press (July 14, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Aboard a U.S. Navy ship of the invasion fleet – (by wireless, delayed)
When I came aboard the vessel that was to carry us through the invasion, I was struck with the odd bleakness of the walls and ceilings throughout the ship.

At first, I thought it was a new and very unbecoming type of interior decoration but then shortly I realized that this strange effect was merely part of the Navy procedure of stripping for action. Inside our ship there were many other precautions. As you go into battle all excess rags and blankets are taken ashore or stowed away and locked up. The bunk mattresses are set on edge against the walls to act as absorbent cushions against torpedo or shell fragments. The entire crew must be fully dressed in shoes, shirts, and pants – no working in shorts or undershirts because of the danger of burns.

The Navy’s traditional white hats are left below for the duration of the action. No white clothing is allowed to show on deck. Steel helmets, painted battleship gray, are worn during engagement. Men who go on night watches are awakened 45 minutes ahead of time instead of the usual few minutes and ordered to be on deck half an hour before going on watch, for it takes that long for the eyes to become accustomed to the full darkness.

All souvenir firearms are turned in and the ammunition thrown overboard. There was one locked room full of German and Italian rifles and revolvers which the sailors had gotten from frontline soldiers. Failure to throw away ammunition was a court-martial offense. The officers didn’t want stray bullets whizzing around in case of fire.

Ernie gets a Mae West

Food supplies were taken from their regular hampers and stored all about the ship so that our entire supply couldn’t be destroyed by one hit. All movie film was taken ashore. No flashlights, even hooded ones, were allowed on deck.

Doors opening on deck have switches just the reverse of refrigerators – when you open the door the lights inside go out. All linoleum had been removed from the floors, all curtains taken down.

Because of weight limitations on the plane which brought me here I had to leave my Army gas mask behind so the Navy issued me a Navy mask along with all the sailors before departure. They also gave me one of those bright yellow Mae West life preservers like aviators wear.

Throughout the invasion period, the entire crew was on one of two statutes – either “General Quarters” or “Condition Two.” General Quarters is the Navy term for full alert and means everybody on full duty until the crisis ends. It may be 20 minutes or it may be 48 hours. Condition Two is half alert, four hours on, four hours off, but the off hours are spent right at your battle station. It merely gives you a little chance to relax.

They listen to Olga

Our ship is so crowded it takes three sittings in Officers’ Mess to feed the men. Every bunk has two officers assigned to it, one sleeps while the other works.

The ship’s officers were told the whole invasion plan in great detail just after we sailed. Charles Corte, ACME photographer, who was the only other correspondent on this ship, and I, also were given a detailed picture of what lay ahead. The crew was given the plan a little at a time after sailing. In addition, a mimeographed set of instructions and warnings was distributed about the ship before sailing. It ended as follows:

This operation will be a completely offensive one. The ship will be at General Quarters or Condition Two throughout the operation. It may extend over a long period of time. Opportunities for rest will not come very often. You can be sure that you will have something to talk about when this is over. This ship must do her stuff.

The night before we sailed, the crew listened as usual to the German propaganda radio program which features Olga, the American girl turned Nazi, who was trying to scare them, disillusion them and depress them. As usual they laughed with amusement and scorn at her childishly treasonish talk.

In a vague and indirect way, I suppose, the privilege of listening to your enemy trying to undermine you the very night before you go out to face him expresses what we are fighting for.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 15, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Aboard a U.S. Navy ship of the invasion fleet – (by wireless, delayed)
Our ship has been in African waters many months but this invasion is the first violent action its crew has ever been through. Only three or four men, who’d been torpedoed in the Pacific, had ever before had any close association with the probability of sudden death.

I’ve come to know a great many of the sailors aboard and I know they went into this thing just as soldiers go into the first battle – seemingly calm but inside frightened and sick with worry. It’s the lull in the last couple of days before starting that hits you so hard. In the preparation period, your fate seems far away and once in action you are too busy to be afraid. It’s just those last couple of days when you have time to think so much.

The night before we sailed, I sat in the darkness on the forward deck helping half a dozen sailors eat a can of stolen pineapple. Some of the men of our little group were hardened and mature. Others were almost children. They all talked seriously and their gravity was touching. The older ones tried to rationalize how the law of averages made it unlikely that our ship out of all the hundreds in action would be hit.

‘If I get through alive–’

They spoke of the inferiority of the Italian fleet and argued pro and con over whether Germany has some hidden Luftwaffe up her sleeve she might whisk out to destroy us. Younger ones spoke but little. They talked to me of their plans and hopes for going to college or getting married after the war, always epilogued by the phrase:

If I get through this fracas alive.

As we sat there on the hard deck, squatting in a circle around our pineapple can like Indians, we all seemed terribly pathetic to me. Even the dizziest of us knew that within less than 48 hours, many of us stood an excellent chance of being in this world no more. I don’t believe one of us was afraid of the physical part of dying. That isn’t the way it is.

Your emotion is rather one of almost desperate reluctance to give up your future. I suppose that seems like splitting hairs and that it really all comes under the heading of fear, yet somehow to us, there is a difference.

These gravely yearned-for futures of men going into battle include so many things – things such as seeing “the old lady” again, of going to college, of staying in the Navy for a career, of holding on your knee just once your own kid whom you’ve never seen, of becoming again champion salesman of your territory, of driving a coal truck around the streets of Kansas City once more and, yes, even of just sitting in the sun once more on the south side of a house in New Mexico.

Ernie eavesdrops

When you huddle around together on the dark decks on your last wholly secure night, it’s these little hopes and ambitions that make up the sum total of your worry at leaving rather than any visualization of physical agony tomorrow.

Our deck and the shelf-like deck above us were dotted with little groups huddled around talking. You couldn’t see them but you could hear them. I deliberately listened around for a while. Every group was talking in some way about their chances of survival. A dozen times, I overheard this same remark:

Well, I don’t worry about it because I look at it this way. If your number’s up, then it’s up and if it ain’t, you’ll come through no matter what.

Every single person who expressed himself that way was a liar and knew it but, hell, a guy has to say something on the last night. I heard oldsters offering to make bets at even money we wouldn’t get hit at all and 2 to 1 we wouldn’t get hit seriously. Those were the offers but I don’t think any bets were actually made.

Somehow it seemed sort of sacrilegious to bet on your own life.

Simple, undramatic patriotism

Once I heard somebody in the darkness start cussing and give this answer to some sailor critic who was proclaiming how he’d run things:

Well, I figure that Captain up there in the cabin has got a little more in his noggin than you have or he wouldn’t be Captain, so I’ll put my money on him.

And another sailor voice chimed in with:

Hell, yes, that Captain has slept through more watches than you and I have spent time in the Navy.

And so it went on that last night of safety. I never heard anybody say anything patriotic like the storybooks have people saying. There was philosophizing but it was simply and undramatic. I’m sure no man would have stayed ashore if given the chance. There was something bigger than the awful dread that would have kept them there. With me, it was probably an irresistible egotism in seeing myself part of the historic naval movement. With others, it was, I think, just the application of plain, ordinary, unspoken, even unrecognized, patriotism.


Ernie beautifully captures that gut feeling men have experienced just before battle for centuries and everyday since.


The Pittsburgh Press (July 16, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Aboard a U.S. Navy ship of the invasion fleet – (by wireless, delayed)
Before sailing on the invasion, our ship had been lying far out in the harbor tired to a buoy for several days. Several times a day, “General Quarters” would sound and the crew would dash to their battle stations but always it was a photo plane or perhaps one of our own.

Then we moved into a pier. That very night, the raiders came and our ship got its baptism of fire. I had got out of bed at 3 a.m. as usual to stumble sleepily up to the radio shack to go over the news reports which the wireless had picked up.

There were several radio operators on watch and we were sitting around drinking coffee while we worked. Then around 4 a.m., all of a sudden, “General Quarters” sounded. It was still pitch dark. The whole ship came to life with a scurry and rattling, sailors dashing to stations before you’d have thought they could get their shoes on.

Big guns let loose

Shooting had already started around the harbor so we knew this time it was real. I kept on working and the radio operators did too, or rather tried to work. So many people were going in and out of the radio shack that we were in darkness half the time since the lights automatically went off when the door opened.

Then the biggest guns of our ship let loose. They made such a horrifying noise we thought we’d been hit by a bomb every time they went off. Dust and debris came drifting down from the ceiling to smear up everything. Nearby bombs shook us up, too.

One by one the electric lightbulbs were shattered from the blasts. The thick steel walls of the cabin shook and rattled as though they were tin. The entire vessel shivered under each blast. The harbor was lousy with ships and they were all shooting. The raiders were dropping flares all over the sky and the searchlights on the warships were fanning the heavens.

Four enemy planes downed

Shrapnel rained down on the decks making a terrific clatter. All this went on for an hour and a half. When it was over and everything was added up, we found four planes had been shot down. Our casualties were negligible and no damage was done the ship except little holes from near-misses. Three men on our ship had been wounded.

Best of all, we were credited with shooting down one of the planes!

Now this raid of course was only one of scores of thousands that have been conducted in this war. Standing alone it wouldn’t even be worth mentioning. I’m mentioning it to show you what a little taste of the genuine thing can do for a bunch of young Americans.

As I wrote yesterday, our kids on this ship had never been in action. The majority of them were strictly peacetime sailors, still half-civilian in character. They’d never been shot at, never shit one of their own guns except in practice and because of this they had been very sober, a little unsure and more than a little worried about the invasion ordeal that lay so near ahead of them.

And then, all within an hour and a half, they became veterans. Their zeal went up like one of those shooting graph lines in the movies when business is good. Boys who had been all butterfingers were loading shells like machinery after 15 minutes when it became real. Boys who had previously gone through their routine lifelessly were now yelling with bitter seriousness:

Dammit, can’t you pass them shells faster?

Sailors compare notes

One of my friends aboard ship is Norman Somberg, aerographer third class, of Miami. We had been talking the day before and he told how he had gone two years to the University of Georgia studying journalism and wanted to get in it after the war. I noticed he always added:

If I live through it.

Just at dawn, as the raid ended, he came running up to me full of steam and yelled:

Did you see that plane go down smoking! Boy, if I could get off the train at Miami right now with the folks and my girl there to meet me, I couldn’t be any happier than I was when I saw we’d got that guy.

It was worth a day’s pay to be on this ship the day after the raid. All day long, the sailors went gabble, gabble, gabble, each telling the other how

This crew of sailors had just gone through what hundreds of thousands of other soldiers and sailors had already experienced – the conversion from peaceful people into fighters. There’s nothing especially remarkable about it but it is moving to be on hand and see it happen.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 17, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Southern Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
At the end of the first day of our invasion of Sicily, we Americans looked about us with awe and unbelief and not a little alarm.

It had all been so easy it gave you a jumpy, insecure feeling of something dreadfully wrong somewhere. We had expected a terrific slaughter on the beaches and there was none.

Instead of thousands of casualties along the 14-mile front of our special sector, we added up a total that was astonishingly small.

By sunset of the first day the Army had taken everything we had hoped to get during the first five days.

Even by midafternoon the country for miles inland was so saturated with American troops and vehicles it looked like Tunisia after months of our habitation instead of a hostile land just attacked that morning.

And the Navy which had the job of bringing the vast invading force to Sicily was three days ahead of its schedule of unloading ships.

Convoys had started back to Africa for new loads before the first day was over.

The invading fleet had escaped without losses other than normal, mechanical breakdowns. Reports from the other two sectors of the American assault front indicated they had much the same surprising welcome we got.

Americans are wondering

It was wonderful and yet it all was so illogical. Even if the Italians did want to quit, why did the Germans let them? What had happened? What did the enemy have up its sleeve?

As this is written on the morning of the second day, we don’t yet know. Nobody is under any illusion that the battle of Sicily is over. Strong counterattacks are inevitable. Already German dive-bombings are coming at the scale of two per hour but whatever happens we’ve got a head start that is all in our favor.

For this invasion I was accredited to the Navy. I intended writing mainly about the seaborne aspect of the invasion and had not intended to go ashore at all for several days, but the way things went I couldn’t resist the chance to see what it was like over there on land, so I hopped an assault barge and spent all the first day ashore.

When we got our first look at Sicily, we were all disappointed. I for one had always romanticized it in my mind as a lush green, picturesque island. I guess I must have been thinking of the Isle of Capri.

Wind slows landing

Instead, at any rate, the south coast of Sicily is a drab, light-brown country. There aren’t many trees. The fields of grain had been harvested and they were dry and naked and dusty. The villages are pale gray and indistinguishable at a distance from the rest of the country. Water is extremely scarce.

Good-sized hills rise a half mile or so back of the beach and on the hillsides grass fires started by the shells of our gunboats burn smokily by day and flamingly by night.

It is cooler than North Africa; in fact, it would be delightful were it not for the violent wind that rises in the afternoon and blows so fiercely you can hardly talk in the open. This wind, whipping our barges about in the shallow water delayed us more than the Italian soldiers did.

The people of Sicily on that first day seemed relieved and friendly. They seemed like people who had just been liberated rather than conquered. Prisoners came in grinning, calling greetings to their captors. Civilians on the roads and in the towns smiled and waved. Kids saluted. Many gave their version of the V sign by holding up both arms. The people told us they didn’t want to fight.

It’s as bad as Africa

Our soldiers weren’t very responsive to the Sicilians’ greetings. They were too busy getting all possible equipment ashore, rounding up the real enemies and establishing a foothold, to indulge in the hand-waving monkey business.

After all, we are still at war and these people though absurd and pathetic are enemies and caused us misery coming all this way to whip them.

On the whole the people were a pretty third-rate-looking lot. They were poorly dressed and looked like they always had been. Most of them hadn’t much expression at all and they kept getting in the way of traffic just like the Arabs. Most of our invading soldiers, at the end of the first day in Sicily, summed up their impressions of their newly-acquired soil and its inhabitants by saying:

Hell, this is just as bad as Africa.


The Pittsburgh Press (July 19, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Southern Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
When I went ashore on the south coast of Sicily about six hours after our first assault troops had landed, the beach was already thoroughly organized.

It was really an incredible scene – incredible in that we’d done so much in just a few hours. It actually looked as if we’d been working there for months. Our shore troops and Navy gunboats had knocked out the last of the enemy artillery on the hillsides shortly after daylight.

From then on, that first day was just a normal one of unloading ships on the beach as fast as possible. The only interruptions were a half dozen or so lightning-like dive bombings.

The American invading fleet was divided into separate fleets and each invaded a certain section of the coast and operated independently from the others. The fleet I was with carried infantry and was on the western end of the invasion. Our designated territory covered about 15 miles of beachfront.

Invasion fleet blankets the sea

Our fleet had hundreds of ships in it, all the way from tiny sub-chasers up to powerful cruisers. The bulk of it, of course, was made up of scores of new-type landing craft carrying men, trucks, tanks, supplies of all kinds.

Perhaps you visualize our whole force having been unloaded from big boats into tiny ones, then taken ashore. This happened only to the big transports which used to be ocean liners, and we had none of these in our special fleet. Actually, every ship in our fleet, except the gunboats, was capable of landing right on the beach. They were flat-bottomed and could beach themselves anywhere.

When daylight came, this immense fleet lay like a blanket over the water extending as far out in the Mediterranean as you could see. There wasn’t room to handle them all on the beach at once so they’d come in at signals from the command ship, unload, and steam back out to wait until enough were unloaded from the convoy to go back for a second load.

Little craft, carrying about 200 soldiers, could unload in a few months, but the bigger ones with tanks and trucks and heavy guns took much longer. It was not as especially good beach for our purposes, for it sloped off too gradually, making the boats ground 50 yards or more from ashore.

Most of the men had to jump into waist deep water and wade in. the water was cold, but a high wind dried off your clothes in less than half an hour. Your shoes kept squishing inside for the rest of the day. As far as I know, not a man was lost by drowning in the whole operation.

Not a single traffic jam

The beach itself was organized immediately into a great metropolitan-like docks extending for miles. Hundreds of soldiers wearing black and yellow armbands with the letters SP, standing for shore Police, directed traffic off the incoming boats.

Big white silken banners above five feet square tied to two poles and with colored symbols on them gave the ships at sea the spot where they should land. On the shore, painted wooden markers were set up immediately, directing various units to designated rendezvous areas.

Our whole, vast organization on shore took form so quickly it just lefty you aghast. By midafternoon, the countryside extending far inland was packed with vehicles and troops of every description. There were enough tanks sitting on the hillside to fight a big battle. Jeeps were dashing everywhere. Phone wires were laid on the ground and command posts set up in orchards and old buildings. Medical units worked under trees or in abandoned stone sheds.

Amazed natives stare in wonder

The fields were stacked with thousands of boxes ammunition. Field kitchens were being set up to replace the K rations the soldiers had carried on with throughout the first day.

The Americans worked grimly and with great speed. I saw a few cases of officers being rather excited, but mostly it was a calm, determined, efficient horde of men who descended on this strange land. The amazed Sicilians just stood and started in wonder at the swift precision of it all.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 20, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Southern Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
The American assault upon the southern coast of Sicily was divided into sections, each operating independently under sub-commanders and with the troops brought here in separate fleets, each commanded by an admiral.

I traveled with the section that was assigned to the western third of the Americans’ designated territory. We had to take about 14 miles of beachfront. This force itself was subdivided into sections, each with an equal amount of beach to take.

The assault troops found nobody at all. The thing was apparently a complete surprise. Our troops had been trained to such a point that instead of being pleased with no opposition, they were thoroughly disgusted.

At two beaches, the opposition was trivial and soon over. On a fourth beach, it was stronger and the beach wasn’t occupied until after daylight, but even so, it was minor league defense in every sense of the word. Our sector covered the territory on each side of the city of Licata.

When I went ashore, I landed about two miles east of the city, waded ashore, and hitchhiked a ride into town with some engineers in a jeep. Licata is a city of about 35,000 with a small river running through it. It has a wide main street and a nice little harbor.

The buildings are of local stone, dull gray and old, but very substantial. The city is so colorless it blends into the surrounding dry countryside and you can’t see it a few miles away. A hill rises right behind the city and there is a sort of fort on the top.

Sicilians plenty bomb-jittery

When daylight came, we looked at the city from the boat deck and could see the American flag flying from the top of this fort, although the city itself had not surrendered yet. Some Rangers had climbed up there before daylight and hoisted our flag. The city hadn’t been bombed. The only damage came from a few shells we threw into it from the shops just after daylight. The corners were knocked off a few buildings and some good-sized holes were gouged in the streets, but the city got off pretty nicely.

Apparently, most of the people got out the night before, although we did see two or three hundred on the streets during the day. All the stores had their Latin-type shutters pulled down tightly. Although we hadn’t bombed right around here, the people certainly were bomb-jittery.

During an air raid by the Germans, I saw two soldiers herding about 100 civilians down the road to a prison camp, and when the shooting started at the German planes overhead, the people all took to an adjacent field and lay there cowering beside the little rows of grain that gave no protection at all.

They looked terrified and wouldn’t move when the soldiers ordered them up, and finally one soldier had to fire into the ground beside them to make them move.

Ernie laughs at defenses

Their defenses throughout our special sector were almost childish. They didn’t bother to mess up their harbor, nor to blow out the two river bridges which would have cut our forces in half. They only had a few mines on the beaches, and practically no barbed wire.

We’d come prepared to fight our way through a solid wall of mines, machine guns, artillery, barbed wire and liquid fire and we even expected to hit some new fiendish devices. Yet there was almost nothing to it. It was like stepping into the ring to meet Joe Louis and finding Caspar Milquetoast waiting there.

The Italians didn’t even leave many boobytraps for us. I almost stepped into one walking through a field, but it obviously had been dropped rather than planted. At the docks, we found whole boxes full of them that hadn’t even been opened.

The roadblocks outside town were laughable. They considered merely of light wooden frameworks about the size of a kitchen table around which barbed wire had been wrapped. These sections were laid across the road and all we had to do was pick them up and lay them aside. They wouldn’t have stopped a cow, let alone a tank.

The civilians in town told us they were sick of being starved by the Germans and didn’t want to fight us. It was obvious they didn’t, but in these early days we have little contact with other American forces so it’s possible maybe that the Italians laid down here in order to fight harder somewhere else.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 21, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Southern Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
On our first morning in Sicily, I stopped to chat with the crew of a big howitzer which had just got dug in and camouflaged. The invasion was only a few hours old but in our sector, it was nearly over.

This gun crew was digging foxholes. The ground was hard and it was very tough digging. Our soldiers were mad at the Italians. One of them said in real disgust:

We didn’t even get to fire a shot.

Another one said, “They’re gangplank soldiers” – whatever that means.

Their attitude expressed the disappointment of lots of our soldiers. Our troops had been through such keen and exhaustive training they were worked up to a violent pitch and it was an awful letdown to find nothing to take it out on.

Dieppe veteran sore

I talked with one Ranger who had been through Dieppe, El Guettar and other tough battles, and he said this was by far the easiest of all. He said it left him jumpy and nervous to get trained to razor-edge and then have the job fizzle out, the poor fellow, and he was sore about it!

That Ranger was Sgt. Murel White, a friendly blond fellow of medium size, from Middlesboro, Kentucky. He has been overseas a year and a half. Back home he has a wife, and a five-year-old daughter. He used to run his uncle’s bar in Middlesboro and he says when the war is over, he’s going back, drink the bar dry, and then just settle down behind it for the rest of his life.

Sgt. White and his commanding officer were in the first wave to hit the shore. A machine-gun pillbox was shooting at them and they made up hill for it, about a quarter of a mile away. They used hand grenades. White said:

Three of them got away, but the other three went to Heaven.

Since the invading soldiers of our section didn’t have much battle to talk about, they looked around to see what this new country had to offer, and you’d never guess the most commented-upon discovery among the soldiers that first day.

No, it wasn’t signorinas, or beer, or Mt. Etna. It was that they found fields of ripe tomatoes! And did they eat them! I heard at least two dozen men speak of it during the day, as though they’d located gold. Others said they found some watermelons, but I couldn’t find any.

I hitched a ride into the city of Licata with Maj. Charles Monnier, of Dixon, Illinois, Sgt. Earl Glass, of Colfax, Illinois, and Sgt. Jaspare Taormina of 94 Starr St., Brooklyn. They are all engineers.

Sgt. Taormina was driving and the other two held Tommy guns at ready, looking for snipers. Taormina himself was so busy looking for snipers that he ran right into a shell hole in the middle of the street and almost upset our jeep.

Sick of Nazi browbeating

Taormina is of Sicilian descent. In fact, his father was born in a town just 20 miles west of Licata and for all he knows his grandmother is still living there. The sergeant can speak good Italian, so he talked to the local people on the streets. They told him they were sick of being browbeaten and starved by the Germans and the reason they put up such a poor show in our sector was that they didn’t want to fight.

They said the Germans had lots of wheat locked in granaries in Licata and they hoped we would unlock the buildings and give them some of it.

Before the sun was two hours high our troops had built a prisoner-of-war camp, out of barbed wire, on the rolling hillsides, and all day, long groups of soldiers and civilians were marched up the roads and into the camps.

At the first camp I came to, about 200 Italian soldiers and the same number of civilians were sitting around on the ground inside the wire. There were only two Germans, both officers. They sat apart in one corner, disdainful of the Italians. One had his pants off and his legs were covered with Mercurochrome where he had been scratched. Civilians even brought their goats into the cages with them.

After being investigated, those who were harmless would be turned loose. The Italian prisoners seemed anything but downhearted. They munched at biscuits, asked their American guards for matches. As usual, the area immediately became full of stories about prisoners who’d lived 20 years in Brooklyn and who came up grinning, asking how things were in dear old Flatbush.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 22, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean – (by wireless, delayed)
Now while you follow the progress of our Sicilian war on the front page, let’s backtrack in this column. Let me try to draw you a picture of our vast waterborne invasion from the time it left Africa until it disgorged upon the shores of Sicily.

It is a story of the American Navy. The mere process of transporting this immense invasion force and protecting it on the way is one of the most thrilling things I’ve experienced in this war.

I was on one of the fleet’s headquarters ships. We’d been lying in the harbor for a week, waiting while all the other ships got loaded. Finally, without even being told, we knew big day had come, for all that day slower troop-carrying barges had filed past us in an unbroken line heading out to sea.

Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the harbor was empty and our ship slipped away from the pier. A magnificent sun was far down the arc of the sky but it was still bright and the weather warm. We steamed out past the bomb-shattered city, past scores of ships sunk earlier in the battle for North Africa, past sailors and soldiers on land who weren’t going along and who waved their goodbyes to us. We waved back with a feeling of superiority we all felt inside without saying it; we were part of something historic – almost men of destiny, you might call us.

A final tribute is paid

Our vessel slid along at half speed, making little sound. Everybody not working was on deck for a last look at African soil. The mouth of the harbor was very narrow. Just as we were approaching the neck, a voice came over the ship’s loudspeaker:

Port side, attention!

All the sailors snapped upright and I with them, facing shoreward. And there at the harbor mouth on the flat roof of the bomb-shattered Custom House stood a rigid guard of honor – British tars and American bluejackets – with our two flags flying over them. The bugler played as all stood at attention. The officers stood at salute. The notes died out and there was not a sound. No one spoke. We slid past, off on our mission into the unknown. They do dramatic things like that in the movies, but this one was genuine – so dearly true, so old in tradition, so vital with realism that you could not control the tensed cords in your throat and you felt deeply proud.

We sailed on past the stone breakwater with the waves beating against it and out onto the dark-blue of the Mediterranean, where the wind was freshening. Far away, the mist began to form on the watery horizon. Suddenly we were aware of a scene that will shake me every time I think of it the rest of my life. It was our invasion fleet, formed there far out at sea, waiting for us.

PT boats roar past fleet

There is no way of conveying the enormity of that fleet. I can only say that on the horizon it resembled a distant city. It covered half the skyline, and the dull-colored camouflaged ships stood indistinctly against the curve of the dark water as a solid formation of uncountable structures blending together. Even to be part of it was frightening. I hope no American ever has to see its counterpart sailing against us.

We caught up with the fleet and in the remaining hours of daylight it worked slowly forward. Our ship and the other command ships raced around herding their broods into proper formation, signaling by flag and signal light, shooing and instructing and ordering until the ships sea began to break into small globules and take course in their right manner.

We on board stood at the rails and wondered how much the Germans knew of us. Surely a force of this immensity could not be concealed. Reconnaissance planes couldn’t possibly miss us. Axis agents on the shore had but to look through binoculars to see the start of the greatest armada ever assembled in the history of the world. Allied planes flew in formation far above us. Almost out of sight, great graceful cruisers and wicked new destroyers raced on our perimeter to protect us. Just at dusk a whole squadron of vicious little PT boats, their engines roaring in one giant combination like a force of heavy bombers, crossed our bow and headed for Sicily.

Our guard was out. Our die was cast. Now there was no turning back and we moved on into the enveloping night that might have a morning for us or might not. But nobody, truly nobody, was afraid now, for we were on our way.

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I can clearly see the ship departing the harbor as Ernie describes it because I once was a sailor. There is a finality one feels because it is not guaranteed you will return.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 23, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Aboard a U.S. ship of the invasion fleet – (by wireless, delayed)
In the week that we were aboard ship before we set out on the invasion, I naturally was not permitted to send any columns. So, I spent the days reading and gabbing with the sailors.

Every now and then I would run in to take a shower bath, like a child playing with a new toy.

I got to know a great many of the sailors personally and almost all of them by nodding acquaintance. I found them to be just people, and nice people like the soldiers. They are fundamentally friendly. They all want to get home. They are willing to do everything they can to win the war. They all would kind of like to have their names in the paper and deep down they’re all a little afraid.

I did sense one rather subtle difference between sailors and soldiers, although many of the sailors will probably resent it, and that is – the sailors aren’t hardened and toughened as much as the soldiers. It’s understandable.

Lived like animals

The frontline soldier has lived for months like an animal, and is a veteran in the cruel, fierce world of death. Everything has been abnormal and unstable in his life for months. He has been filthy dirty, has eaten if and when, has slept on hard ground without cover.

His clothes have been greasy and he has lived in a constant haze of dust, pestered by flies and the heat, moving constantly, deprived of all the things that once meant stability. Things such as walls, chairs, floors, windows, faucets, shelves, and the greatly important little matter of knowing that you’ll go to bed tonight in the same place you got up this morning.

The frontline soldier has had to harden his inside as well as his outside or he would crack under the strain. Sailors aren’t sissies – either by tradition or by temperament – but they aren’t as rough and tough as the Tunisian soldiers, at least the gang I was with.

Death just as horrible

A ship is a home, and the security of home has kept the sailors more as they were. They don’t cuss as much or as foully as soldiers. They don’t bust loose as riotously when they hit town. They aren’t as all-round hard in outlook.

They’ve not drifted as far from normal life as the soldiers – for they had world news every morning in mimeographed sheets, radios, movies nearly every night, ice cream. Their clothes, their beds are clean. They walk through the same doors, up the same steps every day for months. They sleep every night in the same beds.

Of course, when they die, death for them is just as horrible – and sometimes they die in greater masses than soldiers. But until the enemy comes over the horizon a sailor doesn’t have to fight. A frontline soldier has to fight everything all the time. It makes a difference in a man’s character.

Along this line, a very subtle and I’m sure very temporary change came over the soldiers who came aboard for the invasion. They were no longer the rough-and-tumble warriors I knew on the battlefield. They were quiet, almost meek, aboard ship. From all I can figure they were awed by their sojourn back into the American way.

There was no quarreling aboard between soldiers and sailors, as you might expect. Not even any ridicule or words of the traditional contempt for each other. One night I was talking with a bunch of sailors on the fantail and they spoke thoughts you could never imagine coming from sailors’ mouths.

‘They really take it’

One of them said:

Believe me, after seeing these soldiers aboard, my hat’s off to the Army, the poor bastards. They really take it and they don’t complain about anything. Why, it’s pitiful to see how grateful they are just to have a hard deck to sleep on.

And another one said:

Any little thing we do for them they appreciate. We’ve got more than they have and, boy, I’d go three miles out of my way to share something with a soldier.

A third said:

Yes, they live like dogs and they’re the ones that have to take those beaches, too. A few of us will get killed, but a hell of a lot of them will.

And a fourth said:

Since hearing some of their stories, I’ve been down on my knees every night thanking God I was smart enough to enlist in the Navy. And they’re so decent about everything. They don’t even seem to resent all the things we have that they don’t.

The sailors were dead serious. It almost brought a lump to my throat to hear them talk.

You folks back home know how I feel about the infantry. I’m a rabid one-man movement bent on tracking down and stamping out everybody in the world who doesn’t fully appreciate the common frontline soldier. Now that even the sailors are on my side, you’d better watch out.


The Pittsburgh Press (July 24, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean – (by wireless, delayed)
The fleet of 2,000 ships that carried the Allied invasion forces to Sicily was by all odds the most gigantic ever assembled in the world’s history, many, many times the size of the great Spanish Armada.

In reading of this invasion, you must remember that at least half of it was British. The planning was done together and our figures lumped together, but in the actual invasion we sailed in separate fleets, landed in separate areas.

So, when you read of 2,000 ships in this fleet, you can figure half of it or more was British. The 2,000 figure also includes convoys that were at sea en route from England and America which arrived with reinforcements a few days later. But either section of the invasion, American or British, was a gigantic achievement. It was originated, planned, organized and put into effect in the five short months since the Casablanca Conference. The bulk of our own invasion fleet came into existence since November.

The U.S. Navy had the whole job of embarking, transporting, projecting and landing American invasion troops in Sicily, then helping to fight the shore battle with their warships and afterwards keeping the tremendously vital supplies and reinforcements flowing in steadily.

Spitting into wind did it

After being with them throughout this operation I must say my respect for the Navy is great. The personnel for this great task had to be built as quickly as the fleet itself. We did not rob the Pacific of anything. We created from whole cloth. There were 1,000 officers staffing the new-type invasion ships and fewer than 20 of them were regular Navy men. The rest were all erstwhile civilians trained into sea dogs almost overnight. The bulk of the assault craft came across the ocean under their own power. They are flat-bottomed and not ideal for deep-water sailing. Their skippers were all youngsters of scant experience. Some of them arrived here with hardly any equipment at all. As one Navy man said, this heterogeneous fleet was navigated across the Atlantic “mainly by spitting into the wind.”

The American invading force was brought from Africa to Sicily in three immense fleets sailing separately. Each of the three in turn was broken down into smaller fleets. It had been utterly impossible to sail them all as one fleet. That would have been like trying to herd all the sheep in the world with one dog. The ships sailed from every port in North Africa down to the tiniest ones. It was all worked out like a railroad schedule.

One comes from America

Each of the three big fleets had a command ship carrying an admiral in charge of that fleet, and an Army general in command of the troops being transported. Each command ship had been specially fitted up for the purpose, with extra space for “war rooms,” which contained huge maps, officers at desks and scores of radio operators. It was through these command ships that the various land battles were directed in the early stages of the invasion, before communication centers could be set up ashore.

Our three fleets were not all alike. One came directly from America, stopping in Africa only long enough for the troops to stretch their legs, then right on again. The big transport fleets were much easier to get here, but once here their difficulties began. Everything had to be unloaded into the lighter craft which the big ships carried on their decks. It meant a much longer process of unloading than ours. When your assault troops are being attacked by land, and your waiting ships are catching it from the air, believe me, the speed of unloading is mighty important.

In addition to the big transports and our hundreds of oceangoing landing craft, our fleet consisted of seagoing tugs, mine sweepers, subchasers, submarines, destroyers, cruisers, minelayers, repair ships and self-propelled barges mounting big guns.

Thousands of civilians help

We had practically everything that floats. Nobody can ever know until after the war just what planning this thing entailed, just what a staggering task it all was. Huge staffs worked on it in Washington until the last minute, then moved bag and baggage over to Africa. Thousands of civilians worked day and night for months. For months, over and over, troops and ships practiced landings. A million things had to be thought of and provided. That it all could be done in five months is a modern miracle.

One high naval officer said as we talked about the invasion details on the way over:

And yet, the public will be disappointed when they learn where we landed. They expect us to invade Italy, France, Greece, Norway – and all of them at once. People just can’t realize that we must take one step at a time, and this step we are taking now took nearly half a year to prepare.


The Pittsburgh Press (July 26, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean – (by wireless, delayed)
Once we left port and headed for Sicily, our whole ship’s crew was kept on what’s known as “Condition Two” – which means all battle stations manned with half crews while the other half rests, but nobody slept much.

Our ship was packed to the gills. We were carrying extra Army and Navy staffs and our small ship had about 150 people above normal capacity. Table sittings went up to four in the officers’ mess and the poor colored boys who waited tables were at it nearly every waking hour. All bunks had at least two occupants and many officers slept on the deck rolled up in blankets. You couldn’t move without stepping on somebody.

LtCdr. Fritz Gleim, a big regular Navy man with a dry good humor, remarked one morning at breakfast:

Everybody is certainly polite on this ship. They always say “Excuse me” when they step on you. I’ve got so I sleep right ahead while being walked on, so now they shake me till I wake up so they can say “Excuse me.”

Chooses a ‘Mae West’

The sailors’ white hats were forbidden on deck during the operation, so several sailors dyed their hats blue except that they turned out a sort of sickly purple. It was also the rule that everybody had to wear steel helmets during “General Quarters.” Somehow, I had it in my head that Navy people never wore lifebelts but I was very wrong. Everybody wears them constantly in the battle zone. It became one of the ship’s strictest rules the moment we left that you dare not get caught without a lifebelt on.

Most everybody wears the kind which is about four inches wide and straps around the waist, like a belt. It is rubberized, lies flat. It has two little cartridges of compressed gas – exactly the same things you use in soda-water siphons at home – and when you press, they go off and fill your lifebelt with air.

My lifejacket was one of the aviation Mae West type. I took that kind because it holds your head up if you are unconscious and I knew that at the first sign of danger I’d immediately become unconscious. Furthermore, I figured there’s safety in numbers, so I took one of the regular lifebelts too. I was so damned buoyant that if I’d ever jumped into the water I would have bounced right back out again.

Bets are settled

A mass of 2,000 ships couldn’t move without a few accidents. I have no idea of what the total was for the fleet as a whole, but for our portion it was very small. About half a dozen assault craft had engine breakdowns and either had to be towed or else straggled along behind and came in late – that was all.

Allied planes flew over us in formation several times a day. We couldn’t see them most of the time but I understand we had an air convoy the whole trip. The first morning out the sailors were called on deck and told where we were going. I stood with them as they got the news, and couldn’t see any change of expression at all, but later you could sense a new enthusiasm, just merely from knowing.

That news, incidentally, was the occasion for settling up any number of bets. It seems the boys had been wagering for days among themselves on where we would invade. You’d be surprised at the bad guesses.

Many thought it would be Italy proper, some Greece, some France, and one poor benighted chap even thought we were going to Norway. One man on the ship has a hobby of betting. He is George Razevich, aerologist’s mate first class, of 1100 Douglas Ave., Racine, Wisconsin. George is a former bartender and beer salesman. He will bet on anything. And if he can’t get takers he will bet on the other side of the ship never leaves port.

Tenseness disappears

George had few bets on where the ship was going, but he practically always guesses wrong and he’s more than $100 in the hole. But what he loses by his bad sense of direction he makes up with dice. He’s $1,000 ahead on craps since leaving the States. George didn’t make any invasion bets as he says anybody with any sense knew where we were going without being told. His current bet is $10 that the ship will be back in the United States by Sept. 1.

During the trip, we carried two jeeps on the deck to be used by Army commanders when we went ashore. They had signs on them forbidding anyone to sit in them, but nobody paid any attention to the signs.

Every evening after supper the sailors not on duty would gather on the fantail – which seems to be equivalent to the quarterdeck – and talk in jovial groups. Once underway, there didn’t seem to be the slightest tenseness or worry. Even the grimness was gone.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 27, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean – (by wireless, delayed)
Our first day at sea on the way to invade Sicily was truly like a peacetime Mediterranean cruise. The weather was something you read about in travel folders, gently warm and sunny, and the sea as smooth as velvet.

We were kept at a sharp alert, for at any moment we could be attacked by a submarine, surface ship or airplane and yet, any kind of attack – even the fact that anybody would want to attack anybody else – was so utterly out of keeping with the benignity of the sea that it was hard to take the possibility of danger seriously.

I had thought I might be afraid at sea, sailing in this great fleet that by its very presence was justification for attack, and yet I found it impossible to be afraid. As we sailed along, I couldn’t help but think of a paragraph of one of Joseph Conrad’s sea stories which I had read just a few days before. It so perfectly expressed our feeling about the changeless sea that I’m going to quote it here.

Conrad sets the scene for Pyle

It was in a story called “The Tale,” written about the last war. In it, Conrad said:

What at first used to amaze the Commanding Officer was the unchanged face of the waters, with its familiar expression, neither more friendly nor more hostile. On fine days the sun strikes sparks upon the blue; here and there a peaceful smudge of smoke hangs in the distance, and it is impossible to believe that the familiar clear horizon traces the limit of one great circular ambush. One envies the soldiers at the end of the day, wiping the sweat and blood from their faces, counting the dead fallen to their hands, looking at the devastated fields, the torn earth that seems to suffer and bleed with them. One does, really. The final brutality of it – the taste of primitive passion – the ferocious frankness of the blow struck with one’s hand – the direct call and the straight response. Well, the sea gave you nothing of that, and seemed to pretend that there was nothing the matter with the world.

And that’s how it was with us; it had never occurred to me before that this might be the way in enemy waters during wartime. Why it remained that way we shall never know, but throughout our long voyage and right up to the final dropping anchor, we never had one single attack from above, from below, nor from over the horizon.

Excitement in the dark

Dusk brought a change. Not feeling of fear at all but somehow an acute sense of the drama we were playing at that moment on the face of the sea that has known such a major share of the world’s great warfare. In the faint light of the dusk, forms became indistinguishable. Ships nearby were only heavier spots against the heavy background of the night. Now you thought you saw something and now there was nothing. The gigantic armada was on all sides of us, there only in knowledge.

Then out of nowhere, a rolling little subchaser took on a dim shape alongside us and with its motors held itself steady about 30 yards away. You could not see the speaker but a megaphoned voice came loudly across the water telling us of a motor breakdown of one of the troop-carrying barges farther back.

We megaphoned advice back to him. His response came back. Out in the darkness the voice was young. You could picture a boyish skipper over there in his blown hair and his lifejacket and binoculars, rolling to the sea in the Mediterranean dusk. Some young man who had so recently been so normally unaware of any sea at all – the bookkeeper in your bank, perhaps – and now here he was, a strange new man in command of a ship, suddenly transformed into a person with awful responsibilities, carrying out with great intentness his special, small part of the enormous aggregate that is our war on all the lands and seas of the globe.

All for one – one for all

In his unnatural presence there in the rolling darkness of the Mediterranean, you realized vividly how everybody in America has changed, how every life suddenly stopped and suddenly began again on a different course. Everything in this world has stopped except war and we are all men of new professions out in some strange night caring for each other.

That’s the way you felt as you heard this kid, this pleasant kid, bawling across the dark waters strange nautical words with a disciplined deliberation that carried in them the very strength of the sea itself, the strong, mature words of the captain on his own ship, saying:

Aye, aye, sir. If there is any change, I will use my own judgment and report to you again at dawn. Good night, sir.

Then the whole darkness enveloped the American armada. Not a pinpoint of light showed from those hundreds of ships as they surged on through the night toward their destiny, carrying across this ageless and indifferent sea tens of thousands of young men of new professions, fighting for… for… well, at least for each other.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 28, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean – (by wireless, delayed)
Now it can be told that we had a couple of horrible moments as we went to invade Sicily.

At the time they both looked disastrous for us, but in the end, they turned out with such happy endings that it seemed as though Fate had deliberately waved her wand and plucked us from doom.

The weather was the cause of the first near-tragedy on the morning of the day on which we were to attack Sicily. That night, the weather turned miserable. Dawn came up gray and misty, and the sea began to kick up. Even our fairly big ship was rolling and plunging and the little flat-bottomed landing craft were tossing around like corks.

As the day wore on, it grew progressively worse. By noon, the sea was rough even to professional sailors. By midafternoon, it was breaking clear over our decks. By dusk, it was absolutely mountainous. The wind howled at 40 miles an hour. You could barely stand on deck, and our far-spread convoy was a wallowing, convulsive thing.

High command worried

In the early afternoon the high command aboard our various ships had begun to wrinkle their brows. They were perplexed, vexed and worried. Damn it, here the Mediterranean had been like a millpond for a solid month, and now on this vital day, this storm had to come up out of nowhere! Conceivably it could turn our whole venture into a disaster that would take thousands of lives and prolong the war for months.

High seas and winds like this could cause many things such as:

  1. The bulk of our soldiers would hit the beach weak and indifferent from seasickness, two-thirds of their fighting power destroyed.

  2. Our slowest barges, barely creeping along against the high waves, might miss the last rendezvous and arrive too late with their precious armored equipment.

  3. High waves would make launching the assault craft from the big transports next to impossible. Boats would be smashed, lives lost, and the attack seriously weakened.

There was a time when it seemed that to avoid complete failure the landings would have to be postponed 24 hours and we’d have had to turn around and cruise for an extra day, increasing the chance of being discovered and heavily attacked by the enemy.

I asked our commanders about it. They said, “God knows.” They would like to change the plans, but it was impossible now. We’d have to go through with it, regardless (Later I learned that the Supreme High Command did actually consider postponement).

Many ships in the fleet carried barrage balloons against an air attack. The quick snap of the ship’s deck when it dropped into a trough would tear the high balloon loose from its cable. The freed silver bag would soar up and up until finally in the thin, high air it would burst and disappear from view. One by one we watched the balloons break loose during the afternoon. Scores of them dotted the sky above our convoy. That night, when the last light of day failed, only three balloons were left in the entire fleet.

In the early afternoon we sent a destroyer back through the feet to find out how all the ships were getting along. It came back with the appalling news that 30% of all the soldiers were deathly seasick. One Army officer had been washed overboard from one craft but had been picked up by another about four ships behind.

The little subchasers and the infantry-carrying assault craft would disappear completely as you watched them. Then the next moment they would be carried so high they seemed to leap clear out of the water. By late afternoon, many of the sailors on our vessel were sick. Surely 50% of our troops must have been flat on their backs.

Officers try to joke

During the worst of the blow, we hoped and prayed that the weather would moderate by dusk, but it didn’t. The officers tried to make jokes about it at suppertime. One said:

Think of hitting the beach tonight, seasick as hell, with your stomach upside down, and straight off you come face to face with an Italian with a big garlic breath!

At 10 o’clock, I lay down with my clothes on. There wasn’t anything I could do and the rolling sea was beginning to take nibbles at my stomach, too.

I have never been so depressed in my life. I lay there and let the curse of a too-vivid imagination picture a violent and complete catastrophe for America’s war effort before another sun rose. The wind was howling and the ship was pounding and falling through space.

The next thing I knew a loud voice over the ship’s loudspeaker was saying:

Standby for gunfire. We may have to shoot out some searchlights.

I raised up, startled. The engines were stopped. There seemed to be no wind. The entire ship was quiet as a grave. I grabbed my helmet, ran out onto the deck, and stared over the rail. We were anchored, and you could see dark shapes in the Sicilian hills not far away. We had arrived. The water lapped with a gentle, caressing sound against the sides of the motionless ship.

I looked down and the green surface of the Mediterranean was slick and smooth as a table top. The assault boats were already skimming past us toward the shore. Not a breath of air stirred. The miracle had happened.

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The Pittsburgh Press (July 29, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

With the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean – (by wireless, delayed)
As long as this ship of ours sails the high seas, even after every member of the present crew has been transferred away, I’m sure the story of the searchlights will linger on in her wardroom and forecastle like a written legend.

It is the story of a few minutes in which the fate of this ship hung upon the whim of the enemy. For some reason which we probably will never know, the command to obliterate us was never given.

Our great, bad moment occurred just as we had ended our long invasion voyage from North Africa and stopped at our designated place off the south coast of Sicily. Our ship was about three and a half miles from shore which in the world of big guns is practically hanging in the cannon muzzle.

Two or three smaller ships were in closer than we, but the bulk of our invasion fleet stood far out to sea behind us. Our admiral had the reputation of always getting up close where he could have a hand in the shooting and he certainly ran true to form throughout the invasion.

We’d been stopped only a minute when big searchlights blinked on from the shore and began to search the waters. Apparently, the watchers ashore had heard some sounds at sea. The lights swept back and forth across the dark water and after a few exploratory sweeps one of them centered dead upon us and stopped. Then, as we held our breaths, the searchlights one by one came down with their beams down upon our ship. They had found their mark.

Just like sitting ducks

All five of them, stretching out over a shoreline of several miles, pinioned us in their white shafts as we sat there as naked as babies and just as scared. I would have been glad to bawl like one if it would have helped, for this searchlight business meant the enemy had us on the block. Not only were we discovered, we were caught in a funnel from which there was no escaping.

We couldn’t possibly move fast enough to run out of those beams. We were within simple and easy gunning distance. We were a sitting duck. We were stuck on the end of five merciless poles of light. We were utterly helpless.

One of the officers said later:

When that fifth searchlight stopped on us, all my children became orphans.

Another one said:

The straw that broke my back was when the anchor went down. The chain made so much noise you could have heard it in Rome.

A third one said:

The fellow standing next to me was breathing so hard I couldn’t hear the anchor go down. Then I realized there wasn’t anybody standing next to me.

We got all set to shoot at the lights, but then we waited. Our admiral decided there was some possibility they couldn’t see us through the slight haze although he was at a loss to explain why all five lights stopped on us if they couldn’t see us.

We had three alternatives – to start shooting and thus compel return fire; to up anchor and run for it; or to sit quiet like a mouse and wait in terror. We did the latter.

Lights blink out

I don’t know how long the five lights were on us. It seemed like hours. It may have been five minutes. At any rate, at the end of some unbelievably long time one of them suddenly blinked out. Then one by one, seemingly erratically and with no purpose in mind, the others went out too. The last one held us a long time as though playing with us. Then it too went out and we were once again in the blessed darkness. Not a shot had been fired.

Assault boats had been speeding past us all the time and a few minutes later they hit the beach. The searchlights flashed on again but from then on, they were busy fanning the beach itself. It didn’t take our attacking troops long to shoot the lights out from close range.

I’m not sure some of them weren’t just turned out and left off for good. We’ve never yet found out for sure why the Italian big guns on the shore didn’t let us have it. Several of us inquired around when we got ashore after daylight. We never found the searchlight men themselves, but from other Italian soldiers and citizens of the town we learned that the people ashore were so damn scared by whatever was about to attack them from out there on the water that they were afraid to start anything.

I guess I’m always going to have to love the Italians, for had anybody else been behind those searchlights and guns that night, we of this ship would be telling our searchlight yarn to St. Peter by now.