The Pittsburgh Press (December 23, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
At the frontlines in Italy – (by wireless)
Our artillerymen in the frontlines don’t try to keep themselves looking very pretty. As they say:
There ain’t nobody going to see you that amounts to a damn unless the colonel should happen to come around.
Their clothes are muddy and greasy and often torn. Some of them wear coveralls, but most of them wear regular o.d. pants, jackets and leggings.
It’s funny to see them when they’re routed out just before dawn on a firing mission. They jerk on their shoes and wade through the mud to their guns. Naturally they don’t take time to put on their leggings. Then when it gets light and the firing mission is over, they sit around scraping the mud off their shoes and putting on their leggings.
It is a very strict military regulation in the combat zones that everybody must wear leggings, but the average soldier, just like myself, is careless about it. Along this line, one of the boys said the worst trouble they had was with new officers.
One morning we were firing and one of them asked over the telephone if we had our leggings on. It made me so mad that I just called the gun out of commission while we all sat down and put on our leggings.
Baths are few
The artillerymen are also indifferent about wearing their corporal’s and sergeant’s stripes. Everybody knows everybody else in the battery so it seems a waste of time to put stripes on your ordinary work clothes.
One day while I was with them, an order came around that everybody had to get his stripes on, so all that day during the lulls, the men would be sitting around on piles of shells or water cans sewing at their shirts and jackets like a bunch of old women.
The men don’t get a chance to take a bath very often. Once in a while, the Army gets some portable showers set up in the woods a few miles away and the gunners can go a few at a time in a truck and get a bath. But most of them haven’t had a bath in more than two months now.
The other night, the battery commander, Capt. Robert Perrin of Union, South Carolina, got to arguing with one of his officers, Lt. Heath Stewart of Columbia, South Carolina, about how the home front should be conducted.
What of civilization?
Lt. Stewart said he thought labor should be drafted for the defense plants and Capt. Perrin said:
Why, that’s just what we’re fighting for, the freedom not to be drafted for labor. That’s slavery the way Germany does it. If you feel that way about it, there’s no use fighting at all.
He saw he had Lt. Stewart whipped, so then they changed to the subject of civilization.
Capt. Perrin said:
I don’t know whether we’ve advanced so much or not. Take baths, for instance. We think we’re civilized because we take so many baths at home. Well, I’ve just had my first bath today in two months and I can’t see a bit of difference in the way I feel.
Next day all the argument was relayed, as such things usually are, down to the gun pit, and the soldiers themselves got into the same discussion.
Soldiers divided 50-50
They were divided about 50-50 on whether we should draft labor or not. On the bathing question, I think they must agree with the captain, because I noticed that when the call came for the men to go on the truck to take showers nobody went.
Then I told them about my bath experience back in America. For months I had dreamed about how wonderful it would be to take a hot bath every day in a real bathtub in a warm bathroom. Yet when I got there, I found myself almost allergic to baths. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I don’t think I averaged more than one bath a week all the time I was home.
Pvt. Frank Helms said:
Taking baths is just a habit. If our mothers hadn’t started giving us baths when we were babies, we would never have known the difference.
So maybe what we’re fighting for is the right to be as dirty as we please. It suits me.