Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

The Pittsburgh Press (November 22, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle is describing his impressions of the home front is a short series of columns before shoving off again on assignment to the battlefronts.

Albuquerque, New Mexico –
One of the few souvenirs I brought back from the Mediterranean was a snappy German infantry cap I’d picked up in Sicily. It just happened to fit me perfectly.

So, I took to wearing it when I drove That Girl to work every day at Kirtland Field, the big Army air base here, and thought it might cause some amusement by befuddling the sentries at the gate. But nobody paid any attention to it; in fact, I guess nobody knew what it was. I was disappointed.

That went on for a couple of weeks, and then one evening as I was on the way in, the sentry, instead of smiling and waving me through as usual, said very severely:

Pull over to the side and park, sir.

I protested I’d be late to pick up That Girl, but he repeated his order, and I’ve been around the Army enough to know an order when I hear one. He took my pass, went into the booth, and had a long conversation on the telephone. When he came out, he said, “Come with me, sir.” I knew the sentry and he’d always been friendly, but now he was so official and firm he had me scared stiff.

We started for the provost marshal’s office. I got so weak I could hardly walk. I couldn’t imagine what I’d done, but there was no doubt in my mind that whatever crime I’d committed was plenty bad.

Just getting acquainted

We went into the big provost marshal’s building and were ushered right on through to the provost’s office, in a manner which indicated that my execution was to be immediate. And there sat the provost, laughing fit to kill.

He said:

I understand you’ve been going in and out of here wearing a German cap.

I said:

I sure have, but it took somebody around here a hell of a long time to recognize it.

The provost had authorized my pass originally, but we had never met. This was just his way of getting acquainted.

So, we all laughed, the sentry gave my pass back, a little of my strength returned, and I got back in the car swearing to wear only caps made in America, preferably by Indians, after this.

Provosts are good guys

I like provost marshals. I don’t know whether it’s because they’re usually nice guys, or whether it’s just because it’s a good idea to know them. But I do think I’m friends with the provost of every division and corps I ever served with. And while in Washington I got invited to lunch one day with the chief provost of all provosts – Maj. Gen. Allen Gullion.

I’ve had some nice experiences with provosts. For example, in Tunisia and Sicily there was a regulation that everybody had to wear his steel helmet and leggings at all times.

Now the steel helmet makes me top-heavy, and hurts my neck, and the wind blows through it and I can’t hear, so I never wear mine unless actually under fire. As for the leggings, I can’t stand them except in very cold weather.

Faces fines of $120

Just before the end of Sicily, while I was riding along gaily in a jeep, I was stopped and ticketed three times in one day for not wearing my helmet and leggings. The MP’s ticket you just like traffic cops, and the tickets go through channels to headquarters, and you’re called up and fined. Each count against me called for a $40 fine, which would have socked me $120 for my day’s misdemeanors.

I didn’t think anything about it for a couple of days, and then one evening an Army messenger rode up to our little camp in the woods, handed me an official-looking envelope, and rode off. The envelope was from the provost marshal.

My heart sank. I could hardly bear to open the envelope. Of course, I knew the provost marshal, but you never can tell.

Inside the envelope were the official conviction papers. The charges were typed out, and the MP’s tickets were clipped to it. And then I saw the sentence, and almost fainted with relief. It said:

You are hereby sentenced to recite 10 times a night for the next 30 nights, as follows:

I am a good soldier, and will try to conduct myself as such by wearing my helmet and leggings at all times.

Major – Provost Marshal

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The Pittsburgh Press (November 23, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle is describing his impressions of the home front in a short series of columns before shoving off again on assignment to the battlefronts.

Albuquerque, New Mexico –
I know another provost marshal story (or are you tired?). Just after Sicily was all over, we correspondents straggled back into Palermo. On the first night there, correspondent Chris Cunningham and photographer Chuck Corte parked their jeep on the street against regulations, and the MPs impounded it.

They spent all next day trying to get it back. They made innumerable phone calls, but the Military Police would have none of them. The only thing left to do was go plead with the provost marshal himself.

Several officers told them:

You’re just wasting your time. The colonel is a tough egg. You won’t get your jeep back, and he’ll probably throw you out of the office besides.

But they had to be have the jeep, so they decided to brave the colonel in his den. They asked if I would go along, just to bolster up their courage.

So, we marched around to the provost’s office. A long line of Army culprits was standing before the colonel’s desk, and it took about an hour for us to work up to him.

For once I had plenty of courage, as I wasn’t involved in any way, and was merely a spectator, you might say. But Chuck and Chris were having the shakes.

Finally, the colonel looked up at us, as if to say “Well, what, you swine?” And then he got up, came around the desk, and headed straight for me, with his hand out and a big smile on his face. He said:

Hello. Haven’t seen you since we met at Dakar last spring.

We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. “What trouble are you in?” he asked. I said:

Oh, I’m personally innocent of all things, but I’ve taken up associating with criminals.

I introduced the other boys and they explained their mess.

“What’s the number of your keep?” he asked. They told him.

The colonel said:

Sergeant, get this jeep out of the lot and bring it around.

And that was that. The provost in question was Claude O. Burch from Petersburg, Indiana, and it turned out he knew a Petersburg boy I used to go to school with named “Leaky” Harris. He’s been in the Army for 27 years, and he’s a nice guy despite the warnings we had. We all sat down on his desk and talked for 15 minutes.

Still wears G.I. socks

Most of the time here at home I have kept on wearing my heavy gray G.I. socks, because I’ve got used to them and they are comfortable. But they aren’t any bargain to look at.

Which takes us back to a remark a passenger made on the Clipper coming home a couple of months ago. My socks are always tumbled halfway down to my ankles, because they are too high and heavy to wear garters with, so I just let them sprawl.

A naval lieutenant had been sitting for three days across the aisle from me, where he couldn’t help but stare at my socks. Finally, on the third afternoon, when we’d all had time to get friendly and fresh with each other, he said:

You know, I’ve spent the whole trip trying to figure it out. Are those G.I. socks going up, or long underwear coming down?

A friend in the 1st Infantry Division has written to me of a post-war reunion plan that he and some of his fellow officers have. A code has been worked out, so they’ll all know when and where to meet.

Membership in the reunion group will be open only to men who have been officers in the 1st Quartermaster Company of the 1st Infantry Division at any time between March 17, 1942, and the end of the war.

The reunion is to be held on the first 17th of March after the war ends. It is to be at 1700 hours (5:00 p.m.) on the 17th floor of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City, and headquarters will be in Room 1717.

Maj. Harlan W. Hendrick wrote me about it. A few people who have associated with the 1st Division have been invited as guests. I think the best plan would be for me to go up to Room 1717 right now, and just wait for them.

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The Pittsburgh Press (November 24, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle is on his way overseas again. His column will be resumed shortly after he arrives at an unannounced point somewhere in the Mediterranean Theater.

Washington –
When I came east from New Mexico, I thought it might be nice to ride the train for a change, since I’d traveled only by auto, air and water for the past six years.

When I went to the depot, I found that getting on a train these days is about as hard as getting on a plane. They had orders not to make any reservations out of Albuquerque for two months. But the agent did have one lone space which he’d been hoarding – it was for a bedroom on the Santa Fe Chief. I decided to take it.

In the first place, I’d never had anything so flossy on a train as a bedroom. That’s really getting classy, and I enjoy a shot of class once in a while to break the monotony. Further, I thought a private bedroom would be just the thing for me to do some writing during the 27-hour journey to Chicago.

The train was fine and the bedroom was fine. Nothing was the railroad’s fault. But the next time I take a trip, I’m going to ride the rods. I’m apparently just not the train-bedroom type. For at night, I couldn’t sleep because of the air-conditioning, and in the daytime, I got so lonesome, all shut in there by myself, that I sat in the club car all the time. On my next splurge of railroad class, I guess I’d better hire a whole car and ask a few friends to come along.

Barber’s last haircut is silent

I had one experience on the train I hadn’t counted on. I got a haircut. Yep, right on the train, while crossing Illinois at 70 miles an hour. The Chief has practically everything.

The barber was a sleight, grayish man of upper middle age. He never said a word during the whole operation. And then just as he finished, he said:

You’ve had the distinction, slight as it is, of getting my last haircut in 55 years of barbering!

Now that is a distinction, so I asked for the details. It seems he was retiring from the railroad forever when we hit Chicago a few minutes later. He was going to give away all his barber tools, keeping only one razor, a hone and a strop for himself.

The barber’s name is William F. Obermeyer, and his home is in Los Angeles. He is 69 and therefore has been barbering since he was 14. He has spent 41 of those 55 years on the railroad, 30 of them with the Santa Fe.

He didn’t seem excited about the impending end of such a long career, but I guess he was, for several other passengers said he told them about it, too.

Oregon man shows appreciation

This next item falls under the “virtue is its own reward” department.

Do you remember last fall in Sicily when I was writing about the 3rd Division’s engineers repairing the Point Calava demolition, and how two soldiers especially worked on and one with more fervor and sincerity than anybody need expect of them?

Well, now comes a letter from a man in Hillsboro, Oregon, wanting to know how he could get in touch with them so he could send them $100 apiece, just out of gratitude.

His letter says:

Such men are not common, and I want to show them that I appreciate such actions and perseverance.

I’m not giving the man’s name, because I haven’t time to write and fine out whether he would object to being named. Then the two boys were Cpls. Gordon Uttach of Merrill, Wisconsin, and Alvin Tolliver of Alamosa, Colorado. I hope the Samaritan finds them, and that they enjoy their $100.

Ernie expresses his thanks

We’ve had some amusing instances of how sketchily people read these days.

While I was on vacation, some of the papers reprinted old columns starting back as far as eight years ago. In one month, those reprint columns roamed all the way from Alaska to Argentina. Each one carried an editor’s note above it, and told what year the column was written.

Yet we’ve had dozens of remarks indicating that readers hadn’t read the editor’s noted at all, and thought I was literally jumping from Dutch Harbor to Pearl Harbor to French Guiana overnight. There was even one advertising agency man in New York who, after reading the reprint of a 1938 Guatemala column, called up Washington and wanted to know how soon I’d be back from Central America.

That’s all for now. There will be a pause in the columns while I get to where I’m going. Take care of yourselves here in America, and thanks for being so nice to me during my two-month respite from war.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 4, 1943)



The Pittsburgh Press (December 6, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, Algiers, Algeria – (Dec. 6, by wireless)
We flew two nights and three days and then we were here. It was my fourth flight across the Atlantic. I’ve got to the point where I imagine I can see tracks in the sky from my previous crossings.

My good luck held out for the whole trip and we never had a single air bump worth mentioning in 8,000 miles. We came in Army planes all the way – some of them big, comfortable stratoliners, some of them workhorse planes with tin bucket seats. Only three of us who left the original airports in the States came clear through together.

At various times during our trip, we had as fellow passengers an American general, a Chinese major, some French fliers, a Yugoslavian and a half-dozen American girls going to far-scattered places to work as government secretaries.

Everybody thought the girls were a show troupe, and at one stop the commanding colonel was going to take them off the plane and make them give a show for his troops.

Initiated by Chinese major

The girls were good travelers and didn’t seem to mind the discomforts of flying all day and all night without rest. As soon as the plane would get off the ground, they would take off their shoes. On one of the big planes, the pilots took them up one by one and gave them the thrill of sitting in the pilot’s seat.

When we crossed the equator, the Chinese major, who was quite a cutup, got a tumbler of water and sprinkled the heads of everybody who never crossed before. Also, first-timers got themselves initiated into the Shortsnorters and started collecting bills from every country.

There were some fantastic collections of Shortsnorter bills along the ferry route. I even saw one with both Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s names on it. People paste their bills together with Scotch tape and as the string gets longer and longer, they make a roll out of it. Last spring, I saw a role in Cairo 35 feet long, but they say Adolph Menjou on a recent African trip build up one to 52 feet. Being a non-hobbyist, I hardly ever ask anybody to sign mine, but on the way over I’m sure I must have signed 500 for other people.

The man from Nebraska

In the five-day trip, we spent three nights on the ground and flew all night on two nights. At one midnight stop, American Army hostesses met us, took us to their quarters for a 15-minute refresher and some Cuba libres. At another stop in the hot tropics we were given breakfast by Maj. Bill Marsh, who asked me to put in the paper that at last I’d met somebody in the Army from Nebraska, and not only from Nebraska but Tekamah, Nebraska.

Believe it or not, Maj. Marsh couldn’t produce any proof there really is such a place, but he did have an honest face.

At another field, the starter on one of our motors broke down so they just wrapped a rope tightly around the propeller hub, tied the loose end of the rope to a jeep and then started the jeep driving away at right angles to the plane thus spinning the motor. Just the old spool-and-string principle on a larger scale. Worked beautifully every time, too.

A day’s quota of bombers

The Army’s vast ferry route to Africa is now beautifully organized. It runs with almost the precision of commercial airlines. Much of the scheduled flying is actually done by airlines on contract to the government while flying along side by side is a great flow of combat planes being taken to the front by their youthful Air Corps crews.

For security reasons, I can’t tell you the route we took or name any of the places along the way although it is already fairly well known to the public. You’d be impressed if you could see the hordes of bombers along the way. At one tropical airdrome, the field was covered by big planes and I asked the commandant why they needed so many bombers stationed there.

He said:

Oh, they’re not stationed here. They just came in this morning and are about ready to leave. That’s just our daily quota going through the front.

He sleeps to Africa

Of my four ocean crossings, this last one was the simplest and quickest. We made the actual overwater hop in a converted bomber and in only 10 hours, crossing against headwinds.

We passengers sat in old-fashioned hard seats like the first airlines used to have. The plane was cold and draughty so we all wrapped up in blankets. The front cabin was stacked full of cargo. There was a small toilet in the tail, right out in the open. Since there were two girls aboard, nobody ever went to the toilet.

It was nighttime when we took off. The dispatcher gave us a lecture on what to do in case we crashed at sea and made us put on Mae West lifejackets which we had to wear for 10 minutes after the takeoff. As soon as the 10 minutes were up, I took off mine and went sound asleep. When I awakened, we were only half an hour from Africa. That’s the way to cross the ocean.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 7, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, Algiers, Algeria – (by wireless)
All along the endless American ferry network that stretches in a dozen entwining lines around the globe one main worry obsesses our troops. And that is they feel they are not doing enough to help win the war.

At these posts, so far from enemy action, life becomes pleasantly routine and monotonous, and finally a sense of frustration sets in. the men live in usually excellent permanent quarters. They have good food and all the physical comforts – and nothing ever happens. Gradually they get a feeling of backwash.

They’re ashamed of fighting the war so comfortably and so many thousands of miles from danger. they are worrying about facing the homefolks after the war, and saying they served throughout the war in a place where they bathed every day, slept on mattresses and never missed a meal.

It’s orders, sir!

There’s a saying all along the route of the Air Transport Command which expresses their feelings about being where they are.

The saying goes:

Take down your service flag, mother, your boy is in the ATC.

In one camp the boys felt this so keenly that the editor of the camp newspaper asked me if I could say something to sort of reassure them that they really were contributing their share. And I could say so honestly. Manning these fields that hand our flow of bombers and fighters on toward the combat zone is just as vital as manning a frontline field. Without it, the planes would never get there.

Soldiers are sent; they aren’t asked. It’s not these boys’ choice or fault they happen to be where they are. And as for what the people at home think, I’ve found they don’t really distinguish much between frontline and some remote area. I’ve known soldiers stationed for a year in Morocco, nearly a thousand miles from the fighting, whose parents and friends thought they were bleeding and dying.

A quick and sure cure

Just so long as you’re overseas the folks at home give you all the credit. Somebody has to man these remote outposts, and it’s just the fall of the cards that brought some soldiers there instead of into the frontlines. I see nothing shameful about living well as long as you’re not depriving somebody else. I see no virtue in suffering unless it helps somebody else.

Now and then you get a groucher who complains bitterly about the place he is, how tough life is there and how he’s like to be back home.

One officer along the way said when he got a fellow like that, he just assigned him a job unloading hospital planes bringing wounded back from Africa, and the fellow was soon cured.

Other boys themselves usually shut up a groucher pretty quickly for it is their consensus that fighting monotony and sometimes malaria is still better than fighting bullets and bombs. And that although they’d rather be at the front, they’re actually mighty lucky to be where they are and should be grateful even though a little ashamed.

The mere fact that this worry and sense of shame is so universal throughout the ferry fields seems to be unarguable proof that the average American soldier is still an alright guy.

A heritage of the war

Actually, in many parts of the world where our troops are stationed, malaria is almost as great an enemy as the Germans or Japs. The wounded will not be the only aftermath of the war.

Scores of thousands of our men will return home to be sick for years from disease picked up despite all medical precautions in these steaming, filthy corners of the globe.

On this trip we came into one field in the American tropics at the tail end of a malaria scourge. For some reason it has been much worse this fall than the previous year. Fifty-five percent of the personnel had been down with malaria. Tropical Africa is swarming with medical sanitary specialists sent over from America to see it doesn’t happen again next year.

They’d rather speed peace

On the Central African coast, soldiers who have been overseas a year are now getting 10-day furloughs. They are flown to rest camps in the north. It isn’t so much that they need rest as a change from the monotony. The rest camps are lovely places, but dull.

What the average American soldier wants on leave is female companionship and a little bottled stimulation, both of which are very limited in these parts. I’ve heard lots of soldiers overseas say they would rather not have a furlough or go to a rest camp if by not going they could get home that much sooner.


The Pittsburgh Press (December 8, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, Algiers, Algeria – (by wireless)
The government is scattering a lot of American girls out over the world now to work in government offices.

They are not WACs, but civilians. Their destinations read like an itinerary of Marco Polo. They wear civilian clothes, and everywhere they stop as they fly about the work they create a warmth and a glow among the women-starved men out in the outposts.

We had five girls with us a good part of the way from America to Africa. At all the stops the soldiers, and officers too, would stand and stare, and you could sense them sort of smiling to themselves. Often, they’d wave or whistle, not in a smart-alecky fashion, but just hungry and friendly-like. And the girls would wave back.

A time or two, when we went into Officers’ Clubs at the camps, the girls would be surrounded so quickly and deeply you completely lost sight of them.

Our men on foreign soil miss desperately the companionship of white women. The mere sight of one thrills them. One day in a small South American city I was walking along the crowded sidewalks with two of our female passengers when a couple of soldiers tagged along behind us for blocks and kept saying to me in a friendly fashion:

Congratulations, soldier, you lucky dog. How we envy you.

And at one field, I heard a young officer say to one passenger:

Lady, just stand still a minute and let me stare at you.

Yes, a man without a woman is a sorry spectacle.

Perfect partnership

All the way from America to Algiers I traveled with a young lady from Los Angeles named Mrs. Peggy Pollard. In addition to a pleasant traveling companionship, we both soon saw the advantage of forming ourselves into a sort of team, for we had the perfect combination. I had friends all along the route from previous trips, and Mrs. Pollard was beautiful.

Brother, between the two of us, there wasn’t anything we couldn’t get. If I got invited somewhere, I’d suggest Mrs. Pollard be invited, too. She worked the same principle in reverse. Thus, we traveled over three continents and one ocean like a pair of Oriental potentates. We bask in the rankest sort of special privilege.

We got better quarters than other passengers, we rode special cars instead of buses, we were taken on sightseeing trips and to cocktail parties. People paid us lavish and luxurious attention. I think it’s a great tribute to the tolerance of humankind that the other passengers didn’t get sore at us.

I don’t know what I’m going to do without Mrs. Pollard when I got on from Algiers. If I could only take her to the front with me the soldiers would undoubtedly lay a red carpet through the mud for us. But it’s all over now so goodbye, dear Mrs. Pollard.

Battle of the Hotels

At one big field in Northwest Africa, we fell into the hospitable hands of two very engaging officers – Maj. Charlie Moore of Inglewood, New Jersey, and Capt. David Miller of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. They room together in a hotel where many officers of the field are billeted and it is probably the finest hotel in Africa.

Living there is pretty close to what living would be like in a very fine resort hotel back home. Both these officers have lived in hotels ever since coming to Africa a year ago. They are both doing important vital work, yet they deride and bemoan themselves for the comfort in which they live although neither asked for it, nor was responsible for it.

They call their war, “The Battle of the Hotels.” Both would much rather be a thousand miles closer to the front, in a barn.

Capt. Miller is an unusual character. He is gray-haired, 52, and has a wife and three teenage children, yet when the war came along, he would up everything and went in – and has never been out of a hotel. In the last war, he was overseas 22 months and never once in a hotel. He said:

I liked the last one better.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 9, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, Algiers, Algeria – (by wireless)
We flew again over the Sahara. The desert air for a thousand feet above the ground was thick with blowing sand and you could not see the earth from your plane window.

At one place, we came down through a veil of sand to land on the outpost of a field that was isolated, bare and remote from anything in the world.

The passengers said as we got out for a few minutes’ stretch:

What an awful place to have to serve.

On the field, I got to talking to one of the soldiers, Pvt. Bob Goldy of St. Albans, Long Island, and asked how long he’d been there. He said, “Five months.”

I said in astonishment:

Five months! Why, I thought they sent you to these places for just a few weeks and then relieved you.

He said:

They do. We are supposed to come for only six weeks, but everybody who comes asks for an extension. I’m on my third extension now. We all like it here. It’s healthy and we have good quarters, good food and movies, but the main thing is that it’s small and everybody is close together.

It’s informal here and we’ve got swell officers. There are only about three dozen of us and it’s sort of the same spirit as a submarine crew has. Everybody is for everybody else. No more big camps for me if I can help it.

Goldy was very proud of their recent Thanksgiving dinner. He said their menu that day had 29 items on it, including turkey. The turkey, incidentally, won him $10. He’d made several bets with other soldiers who didn’t think any turkey would ever arrive.

Goldy said:

But I had faith in the government, so that’s just $10 more to send home to buy bonds with.

Pilots killed in sandstorm

The boys may like the desert, but still, it is an insidious place. At one of these remote Sahara fields a few months ago, a flight of fighter planes came in during a 90-mile-an-hour sandstorm. Their leader found the field but, even at an altitude of just a few feet, he couldn’t see the runway so they went their own ways and landed all over the desert.

Two of the pilots were killed. Other straggled in days later. One was saved by an Arab who ran for help across the desert, 20 miles in four hours. There are many ways to die in wartime and they are all bad.

Couple of helpful hints, free

Among the odd items a professional traveler is likely to pick up on a trip like this are these two gems:

  1. At one stop in the tropics, I met an American civilian who said he always gave his chickens a spoonful of gin shortly before killing them. He said it relaxed their muscles and made them much more tender and succulent. It’s probably true, except that most of the chickens I’ve met over here would need half a pint, and gin is scarce in these parts.

  2. In hot tropics, postage stamps always glue themselves together. They even glue themselves to oiled paper. The way to prevent this is to rub stamps on your hair. The oil from the hair coats the stamps and they won’t melt into anything until licked. The trick actually works, except that I always have to hire somebody with hair to go along to the post office with me.

One morning in Northwest Africa, I was routed out of bed at 6:30 by a caller who turned out to be an old Army friend – Capt. Wayne Akers of Memphis, a pilot on the ferry line with whom I flew from the Gold coast to Cairo last spring.

Capt. Akers says that after he was mentioned in this column, he got more than 50 letters from people in the States. He has just been flying transports back and forth, back and forth, all the way from India to Italy. In one year overseas, he has put in 1,200 flying hours. He’s due to go home now. He says they’re given a choice between two weeks at home and then returning to Africa, or a 30-day furlough and then reassignment for at least six months in the States.

He says everybody is taking the latter. As who wouldn’t?

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 10, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, Algiers, Algeria – (by wireless)
Ever since leaving America on the long trip back over, I’d had a vague feeling that something bad was going to happen. It wasn’t exactly a premonition, and I didn’t really worry about it. Yet a slight fear was there.

So, when at least we came over Algiers, after 8,000 miles of probably the most perfect long trip I ever had, I thought to myself:

Well, we crack up when we land here. I suppose it’s our last chance for anything to happen.

I was pretty tense when we skimmed down the runway. It seemed the pilot would never get the wheels on the ground. But finally, they did touch, lightly as a feather; we ran smoothly and straight. And nothing happened at all.

We sighed and were at the end of the trail. As we stepped out of the plane, the lieutenant who took the travel orders looked up and said:

How does it feel to be back?

The airport was thronged with British, American and French travelers in uniform, hundreds of them. As we were waiting for a jeep to come for us, a British captain I’d known months ago came up and asked if he could ride into town with us.

‘Welcome home!’

Pretty soon Dick Hottelet from London came past and said a startled hello. Shortly after him came Fred Clayton of the Red Cross, just landed from Italy. Then a young naval lieutenant I’d known in Morocco and an officer I’d never seen before yelled across the crowd. “Welcome home!”

Then I knew that the old fraternity of war had enmeshed me once more.

Algiers has changed some since I left it nearly three months ago. The blackout has been lifted in favor of a dimout. Everybody feels very far from the war. The barrage balloons still fly over the harbor, but they are fewer. The streets are so thick with soldiers of three nationalities you can hardly walk.

There are some American civilian women where before there were none. There are more WACs now, too. Soldiers were always saluting us correspondents, so there must be new troops in town. Great rows of boxed engines line the roads, supply dumps fill the fields, the road in from the airport is rougher from much convoying.

You have a feeling that North Africa from the Atlantic to Cairo has become a war depot of unprecedented proportions.

Everybody is friendly and terribly anxious to know how things are at home.

They ask:

Can you get enough to eat? Can you still have any fun? Have things changed much? Can you go up to a bar and buy a drink? Is there any traffic in the cities? Can you still get a glass of milk? Can you buy eggs? Are prices terribly high?

A dozen soldiers have told me their families had intimated we were probably better off here for food than they were at home. Some even wonder whether they should go home if they got a chance.

Ernie has stock answer

To all of which I answer something like this in composite:

Can you get enough to eat? You certainly can. There are a couple of meatless days a week in many places and steaks are very scarce. Yet I know places in Washington where you can get steak every night. They are not black-market, either. It’s almost impossible to buy liquor by the bottle, but you can still get plenty by the drink. Sure, you can get milk and eggs, too.

Most of your circle of men friends have gone. Gas rationing makes it a little hard to get around, but you manage. The shortage of domestic help is dire. Prices are high, but nothing compared to what the French and Italians charge us over here.

Train travel is sometimes difficult, but certainly not impossible. You can’t get a new telephone installed now, and laundry takes a long time. People are starting to hoard cigarettes. You can still telephone long distance and talk as non-essentially as you like.

The famed Pentagon isn’t so hard to get around in and is actually very handsome. Taxis won’t come to your house on call in some cities, but if you are downtown, you can still pick them up. Everybody has money, and entertainment of all kinds goes full blast. Ninety percent of the people you meet say, “I think we’re too complacent here at home.”

The people are talking a lot of Republican talk, but from what I could see of the tenor of the people, the President will stay in next year.

I found absolutely no criticism of the grand strategy or the conduct of the war, although there is plenty of it about the conduct of the home front.

And I wind up telling my overseas questioners:

The country hasn’t changed as much as you dream it has. Go ahead and go home if you ever get the chance. You’ll have the time of your life. I certainly had.

The Pittsburgh Press (December 11, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, Algiers, Algeria – (by wireless)
The Army mess where I used to eat during infrequent visits to Algiers was staffed at one time by soldier-waiters. Then later we had French girls, and now upon my return our waiters are Italian prisoners. And they are in fact the best we’ve had.

They’re terribly attentive, and grin all the time, apparently because they’re so happy with their jobs. They don’t speak English, and very few of us speak Italian, so a very neat system of dining-table communications has been devised.

Each place has a little typed menu with each dish numbered. With it is a tiny slip of paper with numbers running up to 15. So you simply take a pencil and circle the number of whatever you want and hand the slip to the waiter.

Pretty soon he comes back with exactly what you ordered no matter how illogical your appetite may have been. They simply never make a mistake that way. I think we ought to try it at home.

Pvt. George McCoy used to do a daily buttonhole broadcast for WEAF on the steps of the Astor Hotel in New York. The program was called The Real McCoy. Now he’s on the staff of the Stars and Stripes doing the same thing – buttonholing soldiers on the streets and having them talk into the microphone.

Ernie is buttonholed

He calls the present program The Sidewalks of North Africa. Just before I went home last fall, George buttonholed me and got me up to his studio and made some kind of record for broadcasting to the soldiers.

I don’t know what I said because it was the second time in my life I’d ever done such a thing, and I was so scared I can’t remember.

I ran into Pvt. McCoy again yesterday and he was all aflutter. Seems he’d read in a clipping from the States how I’d turned down an offer of $1,500 for one broadcast. So he’s been running around all over Algiers telling people what a wonderful person I am because I turned down $1,500 at home but did one for nothing over here.

It’s nice of George, but the truth is I’m just plain silly.

Transient correspondents at Algiers stay in six rooms set aside for us at the Aletti Hotel. A newcomer just goes from one of the rooms to another until he finds either an empty bed or some floor space for his bedroll, and moves in. The first I stayed with John Daly of CBS. The second I slept on a balcony in the new sleeping bag That Girl bought me as a farewell gift. And now I’m in a room with Red Mueller of NBC, who is about to start home for the first time in 20 months.

Tireder and tireder

My battle friend, Chris Cunningham of the United Press, is still here after nearly two years at war. Here too are Hal Boyle and Boots Norgaard of AP, Don Coe of UP and Graham Hovey of INS, all old pals of last winter in Tunisia and all of them getting tireder and tireder of war.

Chris and Hal have been put to writing war columns similar to this one for their press associations. Hal, who always has a funny remark, says:

I’m writing for the people who look over the shoulders of the people reading Ernie Pyle’s column.

On the second day back in Algiers, I went up to Allied headquarters to give Gen. Eisenhower a copy of my book. In the outer lobby, you had to show credentials to a soldier behind the desk. After the soldier had made out my entry pass, he said:

I’m almost from your hometown.

“Where’s that?” I asked.

“Montezuma, Indiana,” he said.

The soldier was Luther C. Manwaring. He is a quiet and gentlemanly young man of 25, who hasn’t been home in nearly two years. I was through Montezuma about a month ago, so I was able to tell Pvt. Manwaring that our respective hometowns were still there and thriving and hardly mussed him or me at all.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 13, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Allied HQ, Algiers, Algeria – (by wireless)
Fredric March and his camp-show crew came into town the other day on the last leg of an exhausting three-month grind through the Persian Gulf area entertaining our troops.

March has one man and two girls with him. The man is Sammy Walsh, a veteran café entertainer who professes to call himself a saloon worker. He carries off the light end of the show. This is his fourth tour for the USO.

The two girls are Jeanne Darrell, a singer, and Evelyn Hamilton, who plays the accordion. Both these girls know plenty about war. Jeanne’s husband is Lt. Maries of New Zealand. Evelyn has already done one tour of 11 months in the Aleutians, she has had malaria in the Near East, and her fiancé, a paratrooper, was killed in Sicily.

Usually, these camp shows are very light. Fredric March brings the first serious role to soldiers’ entertainment I’ve run onto. It’s a pretty touchy business, but he gets it over. He reads a stirring part of a Roosevelt speech of a couple of years ago, then he does some of Tom Paine’s patriotic pronouncements, then he gives a little talk of his own.

Since he has played mostly to non-combat troops in isolated areas, he does some morale building by telling them their jobs are as necessary and contributory as anybody else’s.

Tennis and prayer rugs

March played tennis with the King of Iran and proudly shows off a magnificent silken prayer rug the King gave him. He wears a blue camp-show uniform and a leather, fleece-lined jacket of the Air Force.

He keeps a framed photo of his wife and two children on the desk wherever he goes. His brother is in Italy and he hopes to see him before leaving this theater.

My telephone rang. The man on the other end said he was from Albuquerque. When he arrived, he turned out to be a sailor. His name is Hoyt Tomlinson and his mother and sister live at 510 W Roma. Hoyt has been in the Navy for two years and is on his ninth roundtrip across the Atlantic, with a couple of invasions thrown in.

He’s a cook, first class, and likes it.

Tomlinson loves to see people from Albuquerque. One time while on liberty in New York, he was sitting in a doughnut place on Broadway when he recognized a man’s back among the sidewalk crowd. He dashed out and chased the man down the street, knocking people over as he went. The man was a Mr. Baccachi of the Sunny State Liquor Company, Albuquerque.

Sailor Tomlinson says he was so homesick at the time he started to cry. And he was so delighted at seeing somebody from home he kept Mr. Baccachi up until 3:00 a.m.

Chicken: Pro and con

Tomlinson is clean-cut and big-hearted, and he insisted on going back to his ship and bringing me stuff like a baking chicken, canned ham and so on. But since I was just leaving for the front and already overloaded, I had to forego his Western hospitality. In a few days, I’d probably give a week’s pay for half a baked chicken.

The Special Service Branch of the Army recently had an artists’ competition in the North African Theater to give art-inclined soldiers something to do. The contest brought in 500 pictures painted by 127 artists or aspiring artists, 30 of them British soldiers.

The pictures have recently been exhibited, with 1,500 people a day visiting the show. The Army got a committee of professional judges and gave a $50 War Bond for first prize, and $25 bonds for second and third. Then all through the show, they furnished ballots for soldiers and sailors in the audience to vote their choices for prizes.

The most interesting thing to me about the show was that the first three chosen by the judges weren’t even in the running on the servicemen’s list. The judges weighed intellectually while the soldiers chose on the basis of I-don’t-know-anything-about-art-but-I-know-what-I-like.

My favorite picture was a sketch of President Roosevelt which looked no more like him than I do. I think the guy who drew it ought to be given $25 just for trying.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 14, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontline in Italy – (by wireless)
The war in Italy is enough. The land and the weather are both against us.

It rains and it rains. Vehicles bog down and temporary bridges wash out. The country is shockingly hard to capture from the enemy. The hills rise to high ridges of almost solid rock. You can’t go around them through the flat peaceful valleys because the Germans look down upon you and would let you have it.

So, you have to go up and over. A mere platoon of Germans, well dug in on a high, rock-spined hill, can hold out for a long time against tremendous onslaughts.

Having come from home so recently, I know you folks back there are disappointed and puzzled by the slow progress in Italy. You wonder why we move northward so imperceptibly. You are impatient for us to get to Rome.

Well, I can tell you this – our troops are just as impatient for Rome as you. But they all say such things as this:

It never was this bad in Tunisia.

We ran into a new brand of Krauts over here.

If it would only stop raining.

Every day we don’t advance is one day longer we get home.

Living like prehistoric man

Our troops are living in a way almost inconceivable to you in the States. The fertile black valleys are knee-deep in mud. Thousands of the men have not been dry for weeks. Other thousands lie at night in the high mountains with the temperature below freezing and the thin snow sifting over them.

They dig into the stones and sleep in little chasms and behind rocks and in half caves. They live like men of prehistoric times, and a club would become them more than a machine gun. How they survive the winter misery at all is beyond us who have the opportunity of drier beds in the warmer valleys.

It is not the fault of our troops, nor of their direction, that the northward path is a tedious one. It is the weather and the terrain and the weather.

If there were no German fighting troops in Italy, if there were merely German engineers to blow the bridges in the passes, if never a shot were fired at all, our northward march would still be slow.

The country over here is so difficult we’ve created a great deal of cavalry for use in the mountains. Each division has hundreds of horses and mules to carry it beyond the point where vehicles can go no farther. On beyond the mules’ ability, mere men – American men – take it on their backs.

Here is a little clue to the war over here. I flew across the Mediterranean in a cargo plane weighted down with more than a thousand pounds beyond the normal load. The cabin was filled with big pasteboard boxes which had been given priority above all other freight.

In those boxes were pack boards, hundreds of them, for husky men to pack – 100, even 150, pounds of food and ammunition on their backs – to comrades high in the miserable mountains.

They’ll get to Rome, all right

But we can take consolation from many things. The air is almost wholly ours. All day long, Spitfires patrol above our fighting troops like a half-dozen policemen running up and down the street watching for bandits. During my four days in the lines, just ended, I saw German planes only twice, then just two at a time, and they skedaddled in a hurry.

Further, our artillery prevails, and how! We are prodigal with ammunition against these rocky crags, and well we should be, for a $50 shell can often save 10 lives in country like this. Little by little, the fiendish rain if explosives upon the hillsides softens the Germans. They’re always been impressed by, and afraid of, our artillery, and we have concentrations of it here that are demoralizing.

And lastly, no matter how cold the mountains, or how wet the snow, or how sticky the mud, it’s just as miserable for the German soldier as for the American.

Our men will get to Rome all right. There’s no question about that. But the way is cruel. Right this minute, some of them are fighting hand-to-hand up there in fog and clouds so dense they can barely see each other – one man against another.

No one who has not seen this mud, these dark skies, these forbidding ridges and ghost-like clouds that unveil and then quickly hide your killer, should have the right to be impatient with the progress along the road to Rome.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 15, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontline in Italy – (by wireless)
It had been my intention to work back into the war gradually by doing maybe a couple of weeks’ columns about how things were in Naples, what Italian women looked like, and whether the island of Capri was as pretty as they say.

But I don’t know what happened. I hadn’t been in Naples two hours before I felt I couldn’t stand it, and by the next evening there I was – up in the mud again, sleeping on some straw and awakening throughout the night with the old familiar crash and thunder of the big guns in my ears.

It was the artillery for me this time. I went with an outfit I had known in England a year ago last fall, made up largely of men from the Carolinas and Eastern Tennessee.

This regiment shoots 155mm howitzers. They are terrifically big guns and, Lordy, do they make a noise! The gun weighs six tons, and the shell itself is so big it’s all an ammunition carrier can do to lug one up to the gun pit.

The regiment has all new guns now. I can’t tell you how far they shoot, but as the Carolina boys said, “It’s awful fur.”

The colonel is pleased

This retirement’s commander is a good-natured former textile-plant executive who fought all through the last war and has already spent nearly a year in the frontlines in this one.

He is humorous, as Southern as magnolia, and he loves being alive. He calls every soldier around him by his first name.

He lives in a two-man tent with his executive officer. Right now, it’s pitched on a hillside, and they have put big rocks under the lower legs of their cot to make it level. They wash from gasoline tins, and slog a quarter of a mile through deep mud for their meals.

Both are men of refinement and accustomed to fine living back home.

When I came pulling up the muddy hillside late one afternoon between showers, the colonel was sitting in a canvas chair in the door of his tent, reading a magazine. When I got within about 50 yards he looked up, let out a yell, and called out:

Well, I’ll be damned if it ain’t my old friend Ernie Pyle! Goshamighty, am I glad to see you! Ansel, this calls for a drink.

He reached under his cot and brought out a square bottle of some white Italian fluid all full of what looked like sugar Christmas trees. It was a very thick, sweetish substance, which shows what a Southerner can come to who’s been without mint juleps for a year.

Conversation valued

This colonel’s tentmate is Lt. Col. Ansel Godfrey, who used to be principal of the high school at Abbeville, South Carolina, and now calls Clinton his home. He and I and the colonel sat for two hours while they pumped me about America and told me about Italy.

The colonel said:

Boy, are you a welcome sight! You don’t know how wonderful it is to have somebody new to talk to. Ansel and I have been boring each other to death for months. Today we tell each other what we are going to do tomorrow, and then tomorrow we tell each other we did it. That’s what we’ve been driven to for conversation.

After supper and a couple of hours with these friends I told them I wanted to go live with one of their gun crews. They said all right, but since it was raining again there might not be much shooting. They said if they did get any orders during the night, they’d have whatever battery I was with do the firing.

So, I went down and introduced myself to a gun crew and warned them I probably was going to cause them to overwork, for which I apologized. Then I settled gradually in mud up to my knees.

It wound up that I stayed three days and three nights with these boys and got so I felt like a cannoneer myself.

Only once did I hear anybody singing the famous artillery song about the caissons rolling along. One cannoneer hummed it one day during a lull. You could recreate the words in your mind as he was humming:

Over hill, over dale, as we hit the dusty trail…

What a sardonic line that is in Italy, with our guns hub-deep in black, sloshy, gooey, all-encompassing mud.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 16, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
We will call it “Battery E” that I’ve been living with. Within the limits of security, I’ll try to tell you in these next few columns how we work, live and play so you can have some idea of how American artillery operates in this war.

Our artillery has played a huge part all through the Mediterranean fighting. It was good even last spring, and it has grown better all the time. The Germans fear it almost more than anything we have.

We’ve got plenty of it, and plenty of ammunition too. The artillery is usually a few miles back of the frontline infantry, although there have been cases right here in Italy where artillerymen have actually been under machine-gun fire.

One hill after another

In 99 cases out of 100, an artilleryman never sees what he’s shooting at, and in nine cases out of 10 he never knows what he’s shooting at. Somebody just gives him a set of figures over his telephone. He sets his gun by those figures, rams in a shell, pulls the lanyard and gets ready for the next one.

He usually shoots over a hill, and here in Italy the men say they’re getting sick of going around one hill and always finding another one just like it ahead of them. They sure wish they could get out in the open country and shoot at something just once that didn’t have a hill in front of it.

This country where we are fighting now is fertile in the valleys and is farmed up on the lower slopes of the hills, but is wild and rocky on the upper ridges. The valleys are wide, very flat, well populated and well farmed. You never saw more beautiful country. I had no idea southern Italy was so beautiful.

Cows and cannon

It rains almost constantly and everything is vivid green. When you look out across our valley rimmed all around in the distance by cloud-bound mountains, all so green in the center and lovely, even the least imaginative soldier is struck by the uncommon beauty of the scene. Little stores, farmhouses and sheds dot the valley and the hillsides.

Refugee Italians return to their homes as soon as the fighting moves on beyond them, and resume their normal business right under the noses of the big guns. Women drive huge gray hogs past the gun pits, and the crews have to yell at them when they are about to fire.

Small news of gray cows that look like Brahmans, except that they have no humps, wander up and down the trails. Little children stand in line at the battery kitchen with tin pails to get what is left over.

Italian men in old ragged uniforms mosey through the arbors. Now and then, we stop one and question him, but mostly they just come and go and nobody pays any attention.

Like the Arabs, they seem unconscious and unafraid of the warfare about them. That is, all except the planes. When German planes come over, they run and hide and quiver with absolute terror. It was that way in Sicily too. They remember what our bombers did.

His sleep is fitful

These lovely valleys and mountains are filled throughout the day and night with the roar of heavy shooting. Sometimes there are uncanny silent spells of an hour or more. Then it starts up again across the country with violent fury.

On my first night at the front, I slept only fitfully – never very wide awake, never deeply asleep. It seemed almost impossible to make the transition from a place like America to the depth of war-strewn Italy. All night long the valley beside us, and the mountains and the valleys over the hill, were dotted and punctured with the great blasts of the guns.

You could hear the shells chase each other through the sky across the mountains ahead, making a sound like cold wind through the leaves on a winter night. Then the concussion of the blasts of a dozen guns firing at once would strike the far mountains across the valley and rebound in a great mass sound that was prolonged with the immensity and the fury of an approaching sandstorm.

Between day and the dreaming

Then the nearer guns would fire and the ground under your bedroll would tremble and you could feel the awful breath of the blast push the tent walls and nudge your whole body ever so slightly. And through the darkened hodgepodge of noise, you could occasionally pick out, through experience, the slightly different tone of German shells bursting in our valley.

It didn’t really seem true. Three weeks ago, I was in Miami, eating fried chicken, sleeping in deep beds with white sheets, taking hot baths and hearing no sound more vicious than the laughing ocean waves and the laughter of friends. One world was a beautiful dream and the other a horrible nightmare, and I was still a little bit in each of them.

As I lay on the straw in the darkness, they became mixed up and I was confused and not quite sure which was which.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 17, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
Artillery batteries are “laid in,” as artillerymen say, in all kinds of positions, but my “Battery E” is probably typical.

Our four guns are set in a grape arbor. On one side a ridge rises steeply 400 or 500 feet. A broad valley spreads out below us. It is very pretty.

The four guns form a rough square about the size of a city block, and they are so close under the brow of a hill that it’s almost impossible for the German artillery to reach us. Each gun is planted in a pit about three feet deep, and the front of the pit is lined, shoulder high, with sandbags.

Over the entire pit is stretched a camouflage net on poles. The net, just head high, gives you the sense of having a roof over you. When the guns are quiet, you can yell from one gun pit to another.

A few feet on one side of the gun pit is a stack of black cases about three feet long, clipped together in triple clusters. These are the powder charges.

On the other side of the pit lies a double row of rust-colored shells. The ammunition carriers keep a supply of 10 or 12 shells inside the pit, but the powder charges are brought in one at a time, just before the shooting, because of the danger of fire.

Sergeant said ‘hush’

The floor of the gun pit is muddy and you have to move carefully to stay on your feet. One day, one of the ammunition carriers, a slight fellow, slipped with his heavy shell and let out an irritated oath. Whereupon the sergeant said sarcastically:

Hush. The devil will get you for talking like that.

Several times a day, an ammunition truck comes plowing through the muddy field, backs up to the gun pit and unloads another truckload of shells. it’s a game with a gun crew to try to get the truckers to carry the shells inside the pit instead of stacking them outside, and sometimes, when in good humor, they’ll do it.

All four guns are connected to the battery’s executive post by telephone, and the chief of each crew wears a headphone all the time he’s in the pit. An executive post may be anything from a telephone lying on the ground under a tree, clear up to the luxury of an abandoned cowshed. But it is always within a few yards of the battery.

An officer in the executive post gives the firing directions to the four guns of his battery. He gets his instructions from the regimental command post half a mile or so to the rear, which in turn receives its firing orders from the division command posts and from its own observers far ahead in the mountains.

The men of a gun crew live in pup tents a few feet from the gun pit. Since an artillery unit usually stays in one place for several days, the men have time to pitch their tents securely and dig little irrigation ditches around them.

Pyramidal poker parlor

They cover the floors of the tents with straw and make themselves dry inside the tents, at least. For each two gun crews, there is also a larger pyramidal tent, empty except for the straw on the ground. Nobody lives in here, but the ground crews use it for a loafing place in the daytime when they aren’t firing, and for playing poker at night by candlelight. They just sit or lie on the ground while they play, since there is no furniture.

There is a kitchen truck for each battery. Our truck is full of battle scars. There are holes in the walls and roof from bomb fragments, and the stove itself has a huge gash in it, yet nobody in the kitchen has ever been hurt.

The battery’s three officers eat standing up at a bench inside the truck while the men eat outside, either sitting on their steel helmets in the mud or standing up with their mess kits resting on a farmer’s stone wall. Three go at a time from each crew, since the guns are never left, day or night, without enough men to fire them.

Our crew claims it can fire faster with three men than the others can with 10, but of course all crews say that. The crews don’t actually stay at the alert inside the gun pit all the time. But they are always close enough to get there in a few seconds when the whistle blows.

Most of the cannoneers have got so they can sleep through anything. Steady firing, even fairly close, doesn’t keep you awake after you’ve used to it. It’s the lone battery that suddenly whams away after hours of complete silence that brings you awake practically jumping out of your skin.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 18, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
I’ve been living with a gun crew that has fought through four big Mediterranean campaigns. These men have been away from America for nearly 17 months.

It has been more than a year since any of them has slept in a bed. When they turned in their old gun a few weeks ago for a new one, it had fired more than 6,000 rounds.

Originally the whole crew was from South Carolina and they were a closely knit bunch, but transfers and illnesses over the months have whittled the Carolinians down to five. People from such strange and unorthodox places as California and Missouri have infiltrated.

But Carolina still sets the pace, and a year of rassling with French and Italian hasn’t changed their accent a bit. Practically everybody has a nickname. You hear such odd ones as “Rabbit” and “Wartime” and “Tamper” and “Mote.” I’ve noticed that most of the crew call their gun “howzer” instead of “howitzer,” and they say “far” instead of “fire.”

The officers are mostly Southern too, and I must say this outfit comes the nearest to being a real democracy of any I’ve seen in the Army. The battery officers work, live and play with their men. It is a team, rather than a case of somebody above giving orders and somebody below taking them.

They bow to the infantry

Most of the men are from small towns or farms. They are mostly hill people. As I wrote of them more than a year ago in England, there is something fundamentally fine and sound about their character that must have been put there by a closeness to their hills and their trees and their soil.

They are natively courteous. Most of them have little education, and their grammar is atrocious, but their thinking is clear and they seem to have a friendliness toward all people that much of America doesn’t have. They have an acceptance of their miserable fate and a sense of gaiety and good humor, despite their hardships, that you seldom find in other Army outfits.

The artillery lives tough, but it, too, like nearly every other branch of the Army, bows in sympathy and admiration to the infantry. One day we were sitting on our steel hats, planted in the mud around a bonfire made of empty pasteboard powder cases, when one member of the gun crew said:

We live like kings in comparison to the infantry.

“What’s that you say?” burst in another cannoneer. The sentence was repeated.

The questioner said:

Oh, I thought you said we live like kings. I thought you must be crazy in the head. But if you compare us with the infantry, that’s all right. Those poor guys really have to take it.

The average artilleryman’s outlook on life, I think, can be summed up by saying he’s uncompromisingly proud of his battery, he’s thankful and appreciate of being in the artillery, and he wants to go home so bad he talks about it nearly 20% of the time.

The artillery doesn’t live in as great danger as the infantry. For example, not a single officer out of this regiment has been lost in more than a year of combat. They always try to lay in their guns behind a hill where the enemy’s long-range guns can’t reach. Also, they are heavily protected by anti-aircraft concentrations to drive off German bombers.

Tragedy strikes twice

But casualties are bound to happen regardless. Tragedy has struck twice in my battery of four guns since it came to Italy only a few weeks ago. No. 2 gun blew up from a premature explosion as they were putting in a shell. Three men were killed and half a dozen wounded.

Not long before that some German raiders did get through and a bomb explosion killed three men and wounded nearly a dozen others. I was told over and over the story of one of the three who died. His legs were blown off clear up to his body. He stayed conscious, but couldn’t possibly live long.

When the medical men went to help him, he raised what we left of himself up on his elbows and said:

I’m done for, so don’t waste time on me. Go help the other boys.

He lived seven minutes, conscious all the time.

Things like that knock the boys down for a few days. But if they don’t come too often, they can take it without serious damage to their fighting spirit.

It’s when casualties become so great that those who remain feel they have no chance to live, if they must go on and on, that morale in an Army gets low.

The morale is excellent in this battery I’ve been living with. They gripe, of course, but they are never grim or even mad about the toughness of their life. The only thing is they’re important for movement – they’d fire all day and move all night every day and every night if they could only keep going forward swiftly.

Because everywhere in our army “forward,” no matter what direction, is toward home.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 20, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
The conversation in a gun pit during a lull in the firing line everywhere from the number of flies in a bottle of local vino clear up to what the war’s all about.

Although profanity is a normal part of their language, the boys in the artillery seem to be less profane than the infantry. The rougher a man lives the rougher he talks, and nothing can touch the infantry for rough and horrible living.

The impending arrival of galoshes forms a good part of the conversation in our howitzer crew. Galoshes have been promised for weeks, actually from day to day, but the rains are two months old and galoshes aren’t here yet.

One soldier said:

I’d give my payroll for a pair of galoshes.

Another cannoneer said:

They’re supposed to be on a ship already in the harbor. And sure as hell the Jerries will sink it before they get them unloaded.

One soldier said:

My feet haven’t been dry for six weeks.

And another one spoke up:

If you take a shot of that lousy cognac they sell in Naples, it will dry your socks as soon as it hits bottom.

Peewee likes to talk

Little Cpl. John C. Graham from Dillon, South Carolina, sits on a water can before a bonfire scraping the mud off his shoes before putting on his leggings. He gets off onto the subject of overshoes, of course, and one of the other boys says:

Oh, for God’s sakes, stop talking about overshoes, that’s all I’ve heard for weeks and I’m sick of listening to it.

Cpl. Graham says:

Well, you got to talk about something and it might as well be overshoes. You just can’t sit around all day with your trap hanging open.

Cpl. Graham is nicknamed “Peewee.” He is short and chubby and round-faced, and his eyes squint with good humor and friendliness. He is only 20 now and has been in the Army since he was 17. He weighed 117 when he went in and now weighs 160.

Peewee lived on a farm before he enlisted. He is very conscientious and always on the job. He is called the gunner, which means second in command to the sergeant. When the sergeant is away, he runs the gun. The other boys like to kid Peewee about swearing mildly and smoking occasionally when he is so young.

Three boys in this crew are only 20. They’ve got nothing but fuzz on their faces and only shave once a week – and don’t need it then.

One of the crew is Pvt. Lloyd Lewman from Ottumwa, Iowa. He goes by the nickname of “Old Man.” That’s because he is 35, which to most of the crew is ancient.

Actually, he doesn’t look much older than the rest and it seems odd to hear him called Old Man. He used to be a farmer and then worked for a long time as a section hand on the railroad. He is quiet and pleasant and everybody likes him.

Gamble on anything

Like soldiers everywhere, the gun crews kill time by gambling. Our battery got paid for the first time in two months while I was with them, and immediately a poker game started in every crew.

Our crew even brought a shelter half and spread it on the floor of the gun pit and played right there while waiting for further firing orders. As Sgt. McCray said, the best way to bring on a firing mission is to start a hand of poker. And sure enough, they hadn’t played five minutes till the firing order came and everybody grabbed his cards and money and scrambled for the shells.

While they were playing one of the boys said:

I wonder if the Germans got paid today.

And another one said:

Do you suppose the Germans play poker too?

To which another answered, “Hell no, them guys ain’t got enough money to play poker,” which was probably a little misconception on his part, since most of the prisoners I’ve seen had money in their pockets.

The boys will bet on anything. I’ve heard of one bet on whether I would come back to this theater or go to the Pacific. They’ve got bets on when we’ll get to Rome, and when the war will be over, and a couple of them were betting on whether Schlitz beer was sometimes put in green bottles instead of brown. They came to me to settle this, but I didn’t know.

This is the regiment, incidentally, that had a payday just before leaving America more than a year ago. They left the States with around $52,000, and when they arrived in England and turned in their money for foreign exchange, they had $15,000 more than they started with. They had taken it away from other outfits on the ship at poker.

Dunno, these hillbillies.


Ernie often describes the gambling by soldiers but was it really that rampant or is it the type of units he was observing? Maybe it’s a generational thing.


The Pittsburgh Press (December 21, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
Every morning a medical-aid man makes the rounds on all the gun pits in our battery. He carries a little satchel of bandages and has some instruments hooked to his belt. When he arrived at our pit one day, he said:

Any sick, lame or lazy in this crew today?

Nobody was sick but they all admitted to being lazy.

The only business the medic could drum up was to dole out some cotton for their ears and to paint the cracked fingers of one boy. He carefully spread the vivid purple ointment around the cracked cuticle, and then with a big grin proceeded to pain the entire nail on all 10 fingers, as though he were a manicurist.

Despite the dampness the boys’ fingers are cracking open from the dirt and from washing always in cold water. One of the crew said his fingers had hurt so the night before that he couldn’t sleep.

The medic, incidentally, eats razor blades. He is a farmer from Statesville, North Carolina, named Pvt. Clarence C. Upright. He says for $25 he’ll eat a double-edged razor blade, wash it down with a glass of water, and let you examine his mouth afterwards.

He says he used to do it for less, but since the Italians have raised the price on everything, he decided he would also. He tried to get me to buy a performance, but I told him I’d wait till I got home again and see it in a carnival for two bits.

War, friend, is silly

One night about eight of our crew were lying or kneeling around a blanket in a big tent playing poker by the light of two candles. Our battery wasn’t firing, but the valley and the mountains all around us were full of the dreadful noise of cannon.

There was a lull in the talk among the players, and then out of the clear sky, one of the boys, almost as though taking in his sleep, said:

World war, my friends, is a silly business. War is the craziest thing I ever heard of.

And another one said also, mainly to himself:

I wish there wasn’t so blankety blank war no more at all.

Then complete silence, as though nobody had heard. And when words were spoken it was something about the game and no one talked about war. Weird little snatches like that stand out in your mind for a long time.

We were sitting in the gun pit one dark morning when word came over the field telephone that a delegation of Russian officers might be around that day on an inspection trip. Whereupon one of the cannoneers said:

Boys, if they show up in a fighting mood I’m taking out of here. They’re fighters.

And another one said:

If Uncle Sam ever told me to fight the Russians, I’d just put down my gun and go home. I never could fight people who have done what they have.

Those poor war workers

The powder charges for our guns come in white sacks about the size of two-pound sugar sacks. Three of them tied together make one charge, and that is the way they arrive in their cases. The type and number of each charge are printed on the bag.

One day the sergeant in calling out his instructions asked for a charge of a certain size. When the powderman brought it, it was only half as big as it should be.

The whole crew gathered around and studied it. They read the printing, and there it was in black and white just as it should be, and yet it was obviously a short charge. So, the boys just threw it aside and got another, and that started a long run of conversation and wisecracks along this line:

They’d say:

Some defense worker who had to work on Sunday made that one. He was just too tired to fill it up, the poor fellow.

If we’d shot that little one the shell would have landed on the battery just ahead.

Guess somebody had worked eight hours already that day and made 20 or 30 dollars for it and had to work overtime at time-and-a-half and was just worn out.

Or somebody who had to drive all of three or four miles after work to a cocktail bar and he was in too big a hurry to finish this one. It sure is tough on the poor defense workers.

The boys were more taken with their own humor than by any bitterness. It’s as “Peewee” Graham says:

You can’t stand around all day with your trap hanging open, so you got to talk about something. And practically anything new for a subject is mighty welcome.

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The Pittsburgh Press (December 22, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
Late one dark night we were all in the gun pit on a firing mission, and during one of those startling silences that sometimes come in the midst of bedlam, you could hear ever so faintly a few lovely, gentle strains of music.

One of the cannoneers said:

Hey, listen! That’s music! It can’t be we’re all going crazy.

And another one said:

Sure, it’s music. Don’t you know – it’s one of those musical shells the Germans send over one in a while.

None of us really believed we had heard music, but a little nosing around next morning disclosed that an anti-aircraft gun crew high up the hillside had a portable radio and we had heard it playing.

One night in the tent a soldier brought out a box from home and passed around some pecans that had been sent from his own farm.

He said:

Just think. Three years ago, I had my hands on the very trees these nuts came from.

Another one said:

If you’re lucky, you can have your hands on them again in another three years – maybe.

That’s the way conversation at the front goes all the time. Ten minutes hardly ever go by without some nostalgic reference to home, how long you’ve been away, how long before you get back, what you’ll do first when you hit the states, what your chances are for returning before the war is over.

Round peg in square hole

In one gun crew I ran onto there is a cannoneer who used to be a photographer for Harris & Ewing in Washington, back in the days when I worked in Washington. He is Pvt. Francis J. Hoffman. He has just been in the Army since March, and overseas only two months. He is a perfect example of the queer things the Army can do.

Hoffman had 18 years’ experience as a photographer, yet they listed him as a cook at first and then changed their minds and made him a cannoneer. He doesn’t think he’s a very good cannoneer, but if they want him to be a round peg in a square hole, he’ll do the best he can at it.

If you wanted to be romantic you could drum up in your imagination as artillery crew absolutely falling in love with its gun. You could imagine a gunner who wouldn’t sleep anywhere but in the gun pit.

I think I’ve seen it that way in the movies, and of course it has undoubtedly happened, but I don’t think very often. Certainly not with my crew.

One of our boys said one day during a lull:

That damn gun is driving me crazy.

And another one said:

I even dream about the damn thing at night.

At least half of the gun crews, I’d say, would like to get transferred to some other kind of work in the battery, such as cooking, running the switchboard, or driving.

Pfc. Frank Helms from Newburg, West Virginia, is one of the more articulate members of our crew. He is 28 and married and has a two-year-old baby at home. He is a coalminer.

Has ideas on everything

Frank has ideas on everything, and comment to make. He calls this Italian campaign a “mudaneering” campaign. He carries a four-leaf clover inside the plastic disk about the size of a watch. Somebody from home sent it to him.

Frank thinks the government ought to take over the coalmines and end the strike trouble. He says he’d like working in a government-operated mine.

He says he has the damnedest quirk – he doesn’t smoke a great deal, but the moment the crew is called to the guns and gets just about ready to put the shell in he goes crazy for a cigarette. It is all right to smoke in the gun pit, and everybody does, but when that urge hits him, he can’t always take time to light one right away.

Helms is one of the boys who say the gun is driving them crazy, but if that’s true he’s mighty good-natured about it.

The one who dreams about the gun is Pfc. Raymond Wilson of 29 E General Robinson St., North Side, Pittsburgh. He is the No. 1 cannoneer, the one who closes the breech and pulls the lanyard. He is about the only one of the crew who doesn’t play poker. He says he’d rather waste his money some other way. He is only 20.

It’s an odd thing about the both these boys hating the gun, for they seem to be almost the two most conscientious ones in the crew.

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