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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