The Pittsburgh Press (September 9, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
Ernie Pyle has arrived in the United States for a well-earned rest after 14 months in Europe and Africa. This column and others to follow were written by Ernie and wirelessed home before he left Sicily.
Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
It was an hour after daylight when I returned to the German-blown highway crater which our 3rd Division engineers had been working on all night.
It really didn’t look as though they’d accomplished much, but an engineer’s eye would have seen that the groundwork was all laid. They had drilled and blasted two holes far down the jagged slope. These were to set upright timbers into so they wouldn’t slide downhill when weight was applied.
The far side of the crater had been blasted out and leveled off so it formed a road across about one-third of the hole. Small ledges had been jackhammered at each end of the crater and timbers bolted into them, forming abutments. Steel hooks had been embedded deep into the rock to hold wire cables.
At about 10 a.m., the huge uprights were slid down the bank, caught by a group of men clinging to the steep slope below, and their ends worked into the blasted holes. Similar heavy timbers were slowly and cautiously worked out from the bank until their tops rested on the uprights.
A half-naked soldier, doing practically a wire-walking act, edged out over the timber and bored a long hole down through two timbers with an air-driven bit. Then he hammered a steel rod into it, tying them together.
Then they slung steel cable from one end of the crater to the other, wrapped it around the upright stanchions and drew it tight with a winch mounted on a truck.
Now came the coolie scene as 20 shirtless, sweating soldiers to each of the long, spliced timbers carried and slid them out across the chasm, resting them on the two wooden spans just erected. They sagged in the middle, but still the cable beneath took most of the strain. Big stringers were bolted down, heavy flooring was carried on and nailed to the stringers.
First, Maj. Gen. Truscott arrived again and sat on a log talking with the engineering officers, waiting patiently. Around dusk of the day before, the engineers had told me they’d have jeeps across the crater by noon of the next day.
High noon on the nose
But even they will have had to admit it was pure coincidence that the first jeep rolled cautiously across the miracle bridge at high noon, to the very second.
In that first jeep was Gen. Truscott and his driver, facing a 200-foot tumble into the sea if the bridge gave way. The engineers had insisted they send a test jeep across first. But when he saw it was ready, the general just got in and went. It wasn’t done dramatically but it was a sort of dramatic thing. It showed that the “Old Man” had complete faith in his engineers.
Jeeps snaked across the rickety bridge behind the general while the engineers kept stations beneath the bridge to watch and measure the sag under each load. The bridge squeaked and bent as the jeeps crept over. But it held, and nothing else matters. When the vital spearhead of the division got across, traffic was halted again and the engineers were given three hours to strengthen the bridge for heavier traffic by inserting a third heavy upright in the middle.
They had built a jerry bridge, a comical bridge, a proud bridge, but above all the kind of bridge that wins wars. The general was mighty pleased.