Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

The Pittsburgh Press (January 17, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
I was really starting to worry. Here I’d been in Italy a month and I was continuing to feel fine. What was going to become of my record of being sick in every country I’d ever set foot on? Could I be slipping in my old age?

But it’s all right now. I knew how to fix that. I just took a bath, and sure enough next day I started to sniffle. By neglecting the snuffles for the next two days, I promoted myself a first-class cold. And now everything is fine.

The only trouble with this cold is that I can’t find anything funny to write about it. I’ve moved into town for my convalescence, have a nice room in an apartment house, have good food and several friends, and don’t even feel too badly.

The only reason I’m mentioning it at all is just to let you know my record is intact. I’m ashamed not to have had a really bad sickness, but maybe I can do better when we hit Germany.

While sick I stayed at the apartment of some Air Force friends. Pilots from the various fields drop in there when they’re in town on leave. One of them is Maj. Edwin A. Bland Jr., commander of a bomber squadron.

Ed almost got his’n

Ed Bland is a tall, friendly fellow with blond haircut in crew style. He loves to fly and is torn between flying after the war or going back to Colorado and settling down to enjoy the mountains.

Ed almost got his’n a couple of weeks ago. These boys dive absolutely straight down at their target for about 8,000 feet and pull out at very low altitudes. This certain day, Ed couldn’t get his plane out of the dive.

The tab on his rubber had either been shot or torn loose by the pressure of the dive. The stick vibrated so violently that it flew out of his hands and he lost control.

The only chance of saving himself was to get hold of that stick again. I asked him if it was vibrating so fast he couldn’t grab it. He said, “Hell, it was going so fast I couldn’t even see it.” And he meant it.

So, Ed clasped his hands, reached clear up to the dash, then lowered his hands toward the cockpit floor and drew the, back toward him. He knew the stick had to be somewhere inside the circle of his arms.

As he gradually pulled back, the stick beat upon his hands and arms with killing pain, but he kept going back until finally he had hold of it. The infernally flailing stick hit with such fury it literally pulled a big hunk of flesh out of the palm of his hand, but he finally got the plane out of the dive, just by brute strength.

He was only 400 feet above the ground when he leveled off. It was as narrow an escape as a man ever wants to have. Ed said:

I thought it was my time. I figured my number had come up, and I sort of said goodbye to everybody.

In the summer of 1941, I decided to get a new car. As usual I wanted a convertible. The Pontiac dealer in Albuquerque didn’t have a convertible but said he could have one sent from the district agency in Pueblo, Colorado.

Memorable convertible

So, three days later the shiny convertible arrived. It was a beauty and is still a beauty, even though it has spent half its life sitting in storage. But I’m happy just to have to anyhow, and it is often in my thoughts the way your wife, or your fireplace at home, or your dog, is often in your thoughts.

Now what, you are probably asking, does a convertible coupe in Albuquerque have to do with a dive-bomber pilot in Italy?

Well, when Maj. Ed Bland came to our apartment, he told me about that car. It seems that in the spring of 1941 he was a salesman for the Pontiac people in Pueblo.

They had just one convertible left, and salesman Ed had it all sold and was ready to deliver it next day. And then came word that the Albuquerque dealer wanted that car to deliver to me. So, they took it away from Ed and he thereby lost his $80 commission. He was so disgusted he joined the Army a month later.

I said:

Well, it looks as if I owe you 80 bucks, to be real ethical about it.

But Ed just laughed, and I didn’t have 80 bucks with me anyhow. And one thing led to another until we became good friends, and it wound up that I’m going out to live with Maj. Bland’s dive-bomber boys for a few days.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 18, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
It has been more than a year since I last spent any time with our Air Forces overseas. So now for a little while I’ll try to tell you what a gigantic thing our “air” has become in this theater.

In the past year I have written so much about the ground forces that they have become an obsession with me. They live and die so miserably and they do it with such determined acceptance that your admiration for them blinds you to the rest of the war.

To any individual the war is seldom any bigger than the space of a few hundred yards on each side of him. All the war in the world is concentrated down into his own personal fight. To me all the war of the world has seemed to be borne by the few thousand frontline soldiers here, destined merely by chance to suffer and die for the rest of us.

All over the world other millions are fighting too, many of them under conditions as wretched as our infantry faces in Italy. But it is easy to forget them in your intentness upon your own hundred yards.

Death comes recently

But now, remembering once again, this column will do its stuff with the Air Forces. We may break it up with a short nostalgic jump back to the infantry now and then, but on the whole for the next few weeks we’ll be learning about the flying men.

You have to make some psychological adjustments when you switch from the infantry to the Air Forces. The association with death is on a different basis. You approach death rather decently in the Air Forces.

You die well-fed and clean-shaven, if that’s any comfort. You’re at the front only a few hours of the day, instead of day and night for months on end. In the evening you come back to something approximating a home and fireside.

In the Air Forces, you still have some semblance of an orderly life, even though you may be living in tents. But in the infantry, you must become half-beast in order to survive.

The subtle difference

Here is your subtle difference between the two: When I’m with the infantry I never shave, for anyone clean-shaven is an obvious outside and apt to be abused. But in the Air Forces if you go for three days without shaving you get to feeling self-conscious, like a bum among nice people, so you shave in order to conform.

I’m now with a dive bomber squadron of the 12th Air Force Command. There are about 50 officers and 250 enlisted men in a squadron.

They all live, officers and men too, in a big apartment house that the Italian government built to house war workers and their families. It looks like one of our own government housing projects.

It is out in the country at the edge of a small town. The Germans demolished the big nearby factories beyond, but left the homes intact. When our squadron moved into this building, it was their first time under a roof in six months of combat.

Stoves and dates

Now our airmen have wood stoves in their rooms, they sleep in sleeping bags on folding cots, they have shelves to put their things on, they have electric light, they eat at tables sitting on stools, and have an Italian boy to clear the dishes away.

They have an Italian barber, and their clothes are clean and pressed. They have a small recreation room with soldier-drawn murals on the walls. They can go to a nearby town of an evening and see American movies, in theaters taken over by the Army. They can have dates with nurses. They can play cards. They can read by good light in a warm room.

Don’t get the wrong impression. Their life is not luxurious. At home we wouldn’t consider it adequate. It has the security of walls and doors, but it is a dog’s life at that.

The toilets don’t work, so you have to flush them with a tin hat full of water dipped out of an always-filled bathtub. The lights go out frequently and you have to use candles.

Teamwork developed

It’s tough getting up two hours before daylight for a dawn mission. The floors are cold, hard tile. There are no rugs. Some of the windows are still blown out.

And yet, as the airmen unblushingly admit, their life is paradise compared with the infantry. They are fully appreciative of what the infantry goes through. There has recently been a program of sending pilots up to the front as liaison officers for a few days at a time. They come back and tell the others, so that the whole Air Corps may know the ground problem and how their brothers are living up there in the mud.

It has resulted in an eagerness to help out those ground kids that is actually touching. On days when the squadron divebombs the Germans just ahead of our own lines, it isn’t as academic to them as it used to be. Now the pilots are thinking of how much that special bomb may help the American boys down below them.

It is teamwork with a soul in it, and we’re fighting better than ever before.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 19, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
The dive bomber has never been fully accepted by the Allied armies. The British have always been against it – they call the German Stuka a vastly overrated instrument of war – and America has more or less followed suit.

Our Navy has used the dive bomber to good effect in the Pacific. But in the Mediterranean this weapon didn’t show up until the beginning of the Sicilian campaign, and it has never been built up in great numbers.

In the dive-bomber groups over here, we have several hundred pilots and mechanics who believe with a fanatical enthusiasm that the dive bomber is the most wonderful machine produced in this war. I don’t want to enter into the argument, when I’m in no position to know, but regardless I’m going to write a little about these dive-bomber boys. For they are probably the most spectacular part of our Air Forces.

The function of the dive bomber is to work in extremely close support of our own infantry. For instance, suppose there is a German gun position just over a hill which our troops cannot get at with our guns and which is holding us up.

They call on the dive bombers and give them the location. Within an hour, and sometimes much quicker, they come screaming out of the sky right on top of that gun and blow it up.

They can do the same to bunched enemy troops, bridges, tank columns, convoys, or ammunition dumps. Because of their great accuracy they can bomb much closer to our own troops than other planes would dare. Most of the time they work less than a thousand yards ahead of our frontlines, and they have had missions much closer than that.

Invaders earned name

The group I am with has been in combat six months. During that time, they have flown 10,000 sorties, fired more than a million rounds of .50-caliber ammunition, and dropped three million pounds of bombs. That’s more than the entire 8th Air Force in England dropped in its first year of operation.

Our dive bombers are known as A-36 Invaders. Actually, they are nothing more than the famous P-51 Mustang equipped with diving brakes. For a long time, they didn’t have any name at all, and then one day in Sicily one of the pilots of the squadron said:

Why don’t we call them Invaders, since we’re invading?

The name was carried home in newspaper dispatches, and today even the company that makes them calls them Invaders.

The pilot who originated the name was Lt. Robert B. Walsh of Felt, Idaho. He has since completed his allotted missions and gone back to the States. His younger brother is now in the same squadron as a replacement pilot.

The P-51 Mustang is a wonderful fighter. But when you transform it into an A-36 by the addition of diving brakes, it becomes a grand dive bomber as well.

The brakes are necessary because of the long straight-down dive on the target. A regular fighter would get to going too fast. The controls would become rigid, and the pilot would have to start pulling out of his dive so early that he’d have to drop his bombs from too great a height.

These boys dive about 8,000 feet before dropping their bombs. Without brakes, they would ordinarily build up to around 700 miles an hour in such a dive, but the brakes hold them to about 390.

The brakes are nothing but metal flaps in the form of griddles about two feet long and eight or 10 inches high. They lie flat on the wings during ordinary flights.

Wiggle wings and drive

The dive bombers approach their target in formation. When the leader has made sure he has spotted the target he wiggles his wings, raises his diving brakes, rolls on his back, then noses over and down he goes. The next man behind follows almost instantly.

They follow one right after the other, not more than 150 feet apart. There’s no danger of their running over the next one ahead, for the brakes hold them all at the same speed.

They’re so close together that as many as 20 dive bombers have been seen in a dive all at once, making a straight line up into the sky like a gigantic stream of water.

At about 4,000 feet the pilot releases his bombs. Then he starts his pullout. The strain is terrific, and all the pilots “black out” a little bit. It lasts only four or five seconds, and is not a complete blackout. It is more a heaviness in the head and a darkness before the eyes, the pilots say.

Once straightened out of the dive, they go right on down to “the deck,” which means flying close to the ground. For by this time everything in the vicinity that can shoot has opened up, and the safest place to be is right down close, streaking for home as fast as they can go.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 20, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
If you ever heard a dive bombing by our A-36 Invader planes, you’d never forget it.

Even in normal flight, this plane makes a sort of screaming noise, and when that is multiplied manyfold by the velocity of the dive, you can hear the wail for miles.

On the ground, it sounds as though they are coming directly down upon you. It is a horrifying thing. The German Stuka could never touch them for sheer frightfulness of sound.

Also, the Stuka has always dived at an angle. But these planes literally come straight down. If you look up and see one a mile above you, you can’t tell where it’s headed. It could strike anywhere within a mile on any side of you. That’s the reason it spreads its terror so wide.

But our pilots have to hand it to the Germans on the ground. They have steeled themselves to stand by their guns and keep shooting. Pilots say the Italians would shoot until the bombs were almost come out and start shooting again after the bombs had exploded. But not the Germans – they stick to their guns.

German truck in gunsights

Maj. Ed Bland, a squadron leader, was telling me about coming suddenly over a hilltop one day and finding a German truck right in his gunsights.

Now it’s the natural human impulse, when you see a plane come upon you, to dive for the ditch. But the German gunner in this truck swung a gun around and started shooting at Bland. German and American tracer bullets were streaming back and forth in the same groove in opposite directions, almost hitting each other. The German never stopped firing until Bland’s six machine guns suddenly chewed the truck into complete disintegration.

Our dive bombers don’t have much trouble with German fighters. The reasons are several. For one thing, the Luftwaffe is weak over here now. For another, the dive bombers’ job is to work on the infantry frontlines so they seldom get back where the German fighters are. And for another, the Invader is such a good fighter itself that the Jerries aren’t too anxious to tangle with it.

Some never caught in a fight

There have been pilots in this squadron who have finished their allotted missions and gone back to America without ever firing a shot at an enemy plane in the air. And that’s the way it should be, for their job is to dive-bomb, not to get caught in a fight.

For several months the posting period back to America was set at a certain number of missions. Then it was suddenly upped by more than a score. There were pilots here who were within one mission of going home when the order came. So, they had to stay and fly a few more months. Some of them never lived to finish the new allotment.

There is an odd psychological factor in the system of being sent home after a certain number of missions. When pilots get within three or four missions of the finish, they get so nervous they almost jump out of their skins. A good many have been killed on their very last mission.

The squadron leaders wish there were some way they could surprise a man and send him home with still six or eight missions to go, thus soaring him the agony of those last few trips.

Nowhere in our fighting forces is cooperation closer or friendship greater than between Americans and British in the air. I have yet to hear an American pilot make a disparaging remark about a British flier. Our pilots say the British are cooler under fire than we are. The British attitude and manner of speech amuse our pilots, but they’re never contemptuous.

Spitfires mother crippled Invader

They like to listen in on their radios as the RAF pilots talk to each other. For example, one day they heard one pilot call to another:

I say, old chap, there is a Jerry on your tail.

To which the imperiled pilot replied:

Quite so, quite so, thanks very much, old man.

And another time, one of our Invaders got shot up over the target. His engine was smoking and his pressure was down and he was losing attitude. He made for the coast all alone, easy meat for any German fighter that might come along. He was just barely staying in the air, and he was a sad and lonely boy indeed.

Then suddenly, he heard over his earphones a distinctly British voice saying:

Cheer up, chicken, we have you.

He looked around and two Spitfires, one on either side, were mothering him back to his home field.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 21, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
Although our dive-bomber pilots are largely spared the worry of German fighter planes, they are plenty concerned over the anti-aircraft flak and other ground fire. The German ack-ack over the frontlines is smothering. Here’s the way it works:

Suppose our planes make a big circle back of the German lines in order to approach the target from a new angle, which they do every day.

Well, the Germans may pick them up 40 miles from their target. Our men have to fly every inch of that through heavy flak.

It’s a game of wits. The pilots above and the gunners on the ground know each other’s actions so well by now that it’s almost impossible for either side to do anything new.

If our pilots do think of a new evasive maneuver one day, the Germans have it figured out by the next; and vice versa, if the German gunners shoot a different pattern one day, our pilots have it figured out before the next mission.

Constant evasive action

The planes have to fly in constant “evasive action,” which means going right, going left, going up, going down, all the time they are over enemy territory. If they flew in a straight line for as long as 15 seconds, the Germans would pick them off.

A pilot sits up there and figures this way:

Right now, they’ve got a bearing on me. In a certain number of seconds, they’ll shoot and in a few more seconds the shell will be up here. It’s up to me to be somewhere else then.

But he also knows that the Germans know he will turn, and that consequently they will send up shells to one side or the other or above or below his present position.

Thus, he must never make exactly the same move two days in a row. By constantly turning, climbing, ducking, he makes a calculated hit almost impossible. His worst danger is just flying by chance right into a shell burst.

I asked one of the pilots:

Why wouldn’t it be a good idea to fool them about once every two weeks by just flying straight ahead for a while?

He said:

Because they’ve got that figured out too. They always keep the air dead ahead of you full of shells, just in case.

Some freakish escapes

Pilots have some freakish escapes from shell blasts. Several have had shells explode within a foot or two of their plane without getting hurt.

They say it sounds as if you’d fired off a dozen shotguns in the cockpit. The concussion tosses the plane around like a cork, yet often these close bursts don’t damage the plane at all.

A friend of mine, Lt. Jimmy Groswold of Los Angeles, was thrown violently into a dive by a shell that must have exploded within a foot of a tail of his plane, yet there wasn’t a mark on it when he got home.

The German gunners are canny. For instance, on a bad day when there is a high layer of clouds with just a few holes through which the bombers might dive, they’ll fill up those holes with flak when they hear planes overhead.

It isn’t the heavy flak up above or the medium flak on the way down that worries the pilots as much as the small-arms fire from the ground after they’ve finished their dive.

If you’d ever been in a raid on either side, you’d understand. I know that when German planes come over our lines the whole valley for miles and miles becomes one vast fountain of flying lead with bullets going up by the thousands. It’s actually like a water spray, filling the air as far as you can see.

Our dive-bomber pilots have to fly through this every day. They “hit the deck” the minute they’ve pulled out of their bombing dive, for it’s harder to see a plane that is close to the ground. Also, when they’re almost down to earth the Germans firing at them may shoot their own troops – but even that doesn’t stop them, they keep banging away.

The pilots say it’s the accidental bullet they’re most afraid of. They say that nine times out of 10, it’s some goof standing out in the field shooting wildly into the air that gets a hit.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 22, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
If you hang around a fighter or dive-bomber airdrome for a while, you will constantly hear about low-flying missions.

That means jobs on which you fly so low you are practically on the ground. Often you are so low you would hit a man standing on the ground.

On such a mission a pilot goes out “looking for things.” He will shoot at practically anything he sees. He’ll come whipping up over a slight rise, then zip down the other side, and in his gunsights, there may be a gun, a truck, a train, a whole line of German soldiers, a supply dump. Whatever he finds he shoots up.

The squadron of A-36 Invader dive bombers that I’m with has had some freakish happenings on these missions.

For example, Lt. Miles C. Wood of Dade City, Florida, almost shot himself down the other day. He was strafing, and he flew so low that his bullets kicked up rocks and he flew into the rocks. They dented his propeller and punched holes in his wings. He was lucky to get home at all. Even a hunk of mud will dent a wing at that speed.

Flies through eight-strand cable

Another pilot flew right through an eight-strand steel cable the Germans had stretched on poles above some treetops. This is one of their many tricks, and this one almost worked. The pilot landed at his home field with the cable still trailing from his wing.

My friend Maj. Ed Bland, the squadron leader, is so interested in his strafing one day that he didn’t notice a high-tension line just ahead. When he did see it, it was too late to pull over it. So, he flew under it – at about 300 miles an hour.

And since I’ve been on this field one of the pilots was diving on a truck and got so interested in what he was doing that he ran into a tree. The plane somehow stayed in the air, although the leading edge of the wing was pushed up about eight inches and was crumpled like an accordion.

He got the plane back over our lines, but finally it went into a spin and he had to bail out. He broke his leg getting out of the cockpit, hit his head on the tail as he went past, and then smashed his leg further when he hit the ground.

Apologizes for losing plane

He is the luckiest man the squadron has had yet. Everybody was concerned about him, and grateful that he lived. Yet when his squadron commander went to see him in the hospital, the first thing the injured pilot did was to start apologizing for losing the plane.

Dive-bomber pilots fly so low that they even have German tracer bullets coming down at them, from the hillsides, instead of coming up as they usually do. They fly so low that Italians behind the German lines come running to their doors and wave, while now and then some dirty guy who has different sentiments will run out and take a shot at them.

As I have said, the Germans are full of tricks. They send up all kinds of weird things from their ack-ack guns. They have one shell that looks, when it explodes, as if you’d emptied a wastebasket full of turpentine. They shoot all kinds of wire and link “daisy chains” into the air to snag our propellers.

Bullets ricochet off haystack

But the weirdest one I’ve heard of was described by a pilot who was on the tail of a Messerschmitt one day. Just as he was pulling the trigger, the fleeing German released out of the tail of his plane a parachute with a long steel cable attached to it. The American pilot by fast maneuvering got out of its way, but he did lose his German.

On a low-flying mission you’re justified in shooting at anything. One day, one of our pilots, after a boring mission in which he saw nothing worth destroying, decided to set a haystack afire. He came diving down on it, pouring in bullets, when suddenly he saw his tracers ricocheting off the haystack. Now you know bullets don’t ricochet off ordinary haystacks, so our pilot gave it the works – and thus destroyed a brand-new pillbox.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 24, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
Our fighter and bomber pilots laugh about some of their accidental successes.

A light-bomber outfit was making a run with a brand-new replacement pilot, out on his first mission. Their target was very close to our own lines. As they were making their turn, this new pilot lost formation and swung way out on the outside of the others.

Realizing his mistake, and seeing he was about to get left behind, he just salvoed his bombs and went streaking to catch up with the formation.

The squadron leader saw it and felt sure this neophyte had dropped his bombs on our own troops. When he got home, he sat there by the telephone, sweating, waiting for the inevitable phone call.

Pretty soon the phone rang. A voice announced itself as Gen. So-and-So. The squadron leader’s heart sank. When a general phones, it bodes no good. The general boomed:

Say, who is that crazy pilot that left your formation and dropped his bombs off to the side?

The squadron leader got ready to faint. He knew the next sentence would be that those bombs had killed 300 American troops. But instead, the general shouted:

Well, whoever he was, give him my congratulations. He got a direct hit on a gun we’ve been trying to get for two weeks. Wiped it off. Excellent work.

Direct hits on straw stacks

Another time, one of our artillery observers saw three big German tanks pull into a field several mules back of the German lines. The crews jumped out and began pitching straw over them, and in a few minutes, they resembled a straw stack.

Not five minutes later, our dive bombers came over. Their target was a gun position in an adjacent orchard. But their aim was bad, and their bombs landed directly on the three straw-covered tanks.

It was just an accident, but the Germans probably winder what the world’s coming to when Americans can have planes over and blowing up your tanks five minutes after you’ve hidden them.

One time our dive bombers couldn’t find their principal target because of bad weather. They were on their way home when they picked up their alternate target, a supply dump at a crossroads.

The first plane dived in and dropped its bombs. Instantly a gigantic flame shot 1,500 feet into the air. Before the last plane had finished its dive – a matter of only a few seconds – the pillar of smoke was 4,000 feet high.

They really hit the jackpot, but they don’t know what the jackpot was. They can’t conceive of anything that would flame that high so quickly.

Lost pilot fires 12 planes

Another time a pilot went out on a reconnaissance mission. Because of hazy weather, and because two adjacent passes in the mountains looked exactly alike, he took the wrong one and got lost, although he didn’t know he was lost.

He kept on flying by his map for a long time, although actually he was far north of where his map ran out. At last it began to dawn on him that something was wrong.

Just as he was getting good and worried, he looked down and directly under him was a field with a dozen or more small German planes lined up alongside the runway. So down he went in a surprise dive, set the German planes afire, and then headed rapidly south.

He found his home field just as he ran out of gas. When the boys asked where he’d been, he didn’t know. It took the pilot and his squadron commander two hours of intense study of their maps to figure out what field he had shot up so beautifully. He had been 200 miles north of where he intended to be.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 25, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
The A-36 dive bomber squadron that I’m with is living well now but that hasn’t always been so. In fact, this is the first time they’ve been in a building since they went into combat six months ago.

They have flown from 10 different fields in those six months. They have lived in tents, under trees, and in foxholes. They have lived in mud so deep the planes had to be towed to the runway, and in dust so thick they had to take off by instruments.

They have flown from fields so close to enemy lines that they could fly a bombing mission and be back in 10 minutes. So close in fact that ground crews could stand on the fields and watch their own planes going into their bombing dives.

Once, here in Italy, the air over their field was so full of wounded planes from other stations that the squadron commander had to get out and act as traffic manager, deciding himself which planes were in greatest danger and should be allowed to come in first.

Pilot turnover is high

The turnover of pilots is high in any combat outfit – partly due to casualties, but mainly due to the system of relieving pilots after a certain number of missions. It would be unusual for a combat airman to be overseas more than a year, at the present rate.

Take this squadron of Invader dive bombers, for instance.

They came into combat just six months ago, yet today only three of the original 50 pilots are left. Twelve have been casualties, and the rest have finished their missions and gone home. The three originals will be homeward bound in a few days.

These dive bomber boys have compiled some statistics about their operations. They find that a new pilot, starting in to build up the required missions for going home, has about a 75% chance of coming through safety, and if shot down he has almost a 50-50 chance of becoming a prisoner.

A dozen times, during my stay with this squadron, pilots have voluntarily brought up the subject of how wonderful the enlisted men are. The men take a terrific personal pride in their planes and they work like dogs keeping them in good shape.

The enlisted men of this squadron are an extremely high-class bunch. Being trained technicians, they were mostly at least 25 at the beginning. You could put officers’ uniforms on half of them and never know the difference.

Yearn for news from home

While I was on the field, they pumped me about conditions and politics at home, and about the end of the war and the peace, as though I were an information bureau.

These mechanics are fully conscious of three things about their jobs – that their life is immeasurably better than that of the infantrymen and that they should be grateful; that the pilot who flies out to battle is the one of their family who really take it; and that pilots’ lives often depend on their work. The result is that they work with a great conscientiousness.

When a favorite pilot fails to come back the enlisted men take it as hard as do the officers, and mechanic whose plane has been shot down is like boy who has lost his dad.

The ground crews have quite a spirit of rivalry. Recently two ships were running a neck-and-neck race for the most missions flown. Then one of the ships came back so badly damaged it had to be worked on for several days and it fell way behind in the race. It almost broke the crew chief’s heart.

Examples of zeal

Here are two little examples of the zeal with which the enlisted men work:

  • As the planes were taxiing out one day for their daily mission, it was discovered that the tire on the tail wheel of one was flat. Ordinarily it would just have been left behind. But the crew came running, other crews pitched in to help, and they had a new wheel on the plane by the time the next-to-last ship of the squadron was taking off.

  • Often, during hot times, the squadron will fly two and three missions a day. One day a plane came in full of holes, but not basically damaged. Usually, it would take a day or two to patch the holes, but in their excitement and pride of accomplishment the crews had that plane patched and ready to go on the next mission an hour and a half later.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 26, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
Maj. Ed Bland, commander of the dive-bomber squadron I’ve been with, is the most envied man in the squadron. That’s because he acquired four cases of Coca-Cola.

Maj. Bland accomplished this remarkable feat by getting acquainted with a naval officer. The Navy often has such rarities as this, and is usually good about sharing them with Army friends.

The major is a very popular man ordinarily but now he has become doubly popular. The Coca-Cola is down to two cases already and going fast.

Speaking of Coca-Cola, do you remember the item in this column a month or so ago, about the soldier who got a bottle of it from home and decided to give it as first prize in a lottery? The proceeds were to be used for adopting the child of a soldier killed in this outfit.

When I left them, more than $1,000 had already been taken in. I haven’t had a chance to get back there and find out who won the bottle, but here’s the reason I bring the subject up again:

Rome radio’s version

It seems the Rome radio picked up the item, completely distorted it, and used it for home-front propaganda. The way it came out on the Rome radio was that our soldiers were so short of supplies they were paying as high as $10,000 for just one bottle of Coca-Cola. They not only gave the story a completely false meaning but they deftly added $9,000 to the kitty. Well, that’s one way to fight a war.

Back to Maj. Bland – he never knows what to say when people ask where he’s from. Sometimes he answers Oklahoma and sometimes Colorado.

He was raised in Waurika, Oklahoma, where his parents still live. But he married a girl from Fort Morgan, Colorado, and home to most soldiers is wherever their wife is. Ed’s plane is named Annie Jane for his wife.

He has seen their baby only once – he got home for a few hours when the baby was four days old, and then came right overseas.

His father is agent for the Rock Island Railway. Ed often thinks how ironic it is that his father has spent a lifetime making trains run and here his son is overseas shooting up trains as fast as he can so they won’t run.

Best friend down there

Ed has had one of the “small world” experiences, only it hasn’t finally culminated yet. His best friend back in Waurika was a doctor named Ralph S. Phelan. They haven’t seen each other for three years and had lost track of each other.

But just the other day Ed found out that his friend is Capt. Phelan of the Medical Corps and that for months he has been up in the frontlines here in Italy working right below the skies where Ed does his dive bombing every day. They haven’t yet got around to seeing each other.

The youngest pilot in the squadron is Lt. Robert L. Drew, who is 19. He comes from Fort Thomas, Kentucky, but as young as he is he outranks his own father, for young Drew is a first lieutenant while his dad is only a shavetail.

The father, Robert W. Drew, was in the Navy in the last war, ran a flying-boat service on the Ohio River in recent years, and is now a ferry-command pilot back home.

One of my friends in this squadron is Cpl. Adolph Seeger, who owns a farm two miles outside of Evansville, Indiana. Cpl. Seeger is a driver. Although most of the other enlisted men live in the same apartment building the pilots live in, Cpl. Seeger voluntarily sleeps in a tent at the motor pool in order to be near at hand in emergencies.

Cpl. Seeger thinks it is odd that he should be over here driving a car which doesn’t seem to him very important, while at home his 64-acre farm lies idle because there’s no one left to farm it. His mother lives there all alone.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 27, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
Around the airdrome they joke about how one pilot won his victory over an enemy plane.

It seems he caught a tiny observation plane, similar to our Cubs, while he was out on a low-level mission. As soon as the frightened little enemy saw our ships, he got as low to the ground as he could. One of our planes pulled up and came down at him in a dive. The little plane was so slow that our pilot misjudged its speed and completely missed him. But as he shot on past, his propeller blast caught the little ship, threw it upside down, and it dived into the ground – quite fatally.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say.

You laugh at some very sad things in wartime. For instance, the pilots tell with merriment about the fate of a German motorcyclist.

Our planes were strafing a mountain road one day. They saw this German motorcyclist, who in his terror kept looking back over his shoulder at the approaching planes, and consequently rode right off the highway and over the edge of a 400-foot cliff.

In describing what it feels like to fly one of our high-powered fighting planes, one of our pilots said:

You’re just sitting there with a thousand horses in your lap and a feather in your tail.

Mushily patriotic scenes booed

One night I went into a little Italian town with some pilots to see the movie This Is the Army. The Air Forces had taken over a local theater, and as long as you were in uniform all you had to do was to walk in and sit down. About a third of the audience were pilots and the rest mechanics. I couldn’t help but be interested in their reaction to the picture. On the whole they applauded, but every time the action got a little gooey or mushily patriotic, you could hear a combination boo and groan go through the audience. Soldiers at the front can’t stomach flag-waving from back home.

I’ve just had a letter from a couple of lieutenants in the Army Postal Service enclosing their plan for saving soldiers a lot of letter writing.

Novel idea, but it won’t work

Their plan is based on the theory that the soldier could write just one V-letter and have it mailed to eight or 10 different people back home. That would be accomplished by writing extra addresses on a special pad; then in the laboratory the letter could be photographed over and over, slipping on a new address each time.

It’s a novel idea, but I’ve inquired around among soldiers about it and I’ve yet to find one who wants to write the same thing to a lot of people.

Imagination still occasionally gets the best of some of our letter writers. I heard the other day of a soldier who wrote to his girl that he had been wounded, and then wrote his mother and tipped her off that he had just made it up.

Non-flier gets Zeros in Italy

And another one who doesn’t fly at all wrote home that he had just shot down three Zeros. That’s really good going, especially in Italy, and tops my own record. The most I’ve been able to destroy in one day was an Italian vegetable cart.

Geographical notes: Mt. Vesuvius has a couple of streaks of red lava running down the side from the cone. They show up wonderfully at night and are fascinating. The volcano smokes continually.

The other night in Naples, we had a couple of small earthquake shocks which shook our cots and scared us half to death.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 28, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
I’m sure the most interesting psychological thing around an American airdrome in Italy these days is the “rubbing out” process of the last few missions a combat airman goes on before he reaches that final one and returns to America.

It interests not only the man himself but everybody on the field from cook to crew chief. When a pilot gets within five missions of the finish, everybody knows and watches his total. If one plane is missing when the group gets back, the first thing on everybody’s mind is wonderment over whether or not it’s the guy who is about finished.

Most squadron leaders deliberately pick what are expected to be easy millions for the pilot nearing the finish. There have been so many ironic cases of pilots “getting it” on their last flight that the leaders are as nervous about it as the pilots.

In some outfits, pilots go home automatically after a certain number of missions. In others they go only if the flight surgeon thinks they are too battle-worn or nervous to continue for another 10 or so. I have yet to hear of a pilot who asked to fly beyond his allotted missions, although I am not saying there haven’t been such cases.

When a pilot comes back from his last trip, he turns out of formation as he nears the field and comes down wide open and screaming to “buzz” the field just above the ground. It is a gesture of elation similar to that of a fighter pilot doing a snap roll over the home field after shooting down a Nazi plane.

Even debt is cancelled

The pilots do all kinds of things after they finish. A friend of mine – Capt. Dean Schuyler of 144-55 87th Ave., Jamaica, Long Island, felt so good the night he got down that he cancelled a $300 debt another pilot owed him.

Another one who finished the same day – Lt. Swithin Shortlidge of West Grove, Pennsylvania – shaved off the beard he had been growing for months.

Last fall, Lt. Shortlidge fell down and knocked out his upper front teeth and cut his chin. He started the beard then because he couldn’t shave for a while, and he finally decided to keep it until he had finished his missions. The dentist made him a false plate to cover up the gaping hole in his mouth, but he refuses to wear it. With a long beard and a big grim and no teeth, he was a sight to behold.

Lt. Jimmy Griswold of Maywood, California, finished his missions while I was on the field. I asked if his last one was the hardest. He said:

No, it was all right once I got in the air, but thinking about it ahead of time almost had me in the asylum.

It’s just hard work

We were sitting around the mess-hall table, and Dan Schuyler said:

Yes, we thought it was going to be very romantic. And it was, for the first few missions when everything was new and strange and you were just learning. But since then, it’s been a job to do, just a job of muddy, hard work.

Most dive-bomber pilots go home without any enemy planes to their credit, for attacking enemy planes isn’t their job. Jimmy Griswold says the first thing his younger brother is going to ask him is how many planes he shot down, and when he says “None at all,” his brother is going to look at him awfully funny.

Some pilots finish and get home in as little as five months, while others are overseas more than a year before getting in their missions. Occasionally sickness or wounds will keep one out of the air for weeks, and he falls behind.

There is one hard-luck pilot – an excellent one too – who was laid up a long time with a bad flak wound in the leg. Then just after he started flying again, the jeep he was riding in was strafed by an enemy fighter and he went back to the hospital with another bad leg wound. As a result, he is far behind on his missions and is just now starting in again while all his pals have gone home.

The saddest thing about the strafing was that the pilot who was driving the jeep had just finished his last mission and had his orders home – and he was killed.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 29, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
The several Air Force units I’ve been with lately are lousy with Hoosiers. I thought I’d take down their names and put them in the column, but the list got so long I realized it would sound like discrimination and the 47 other states might get mad at me.

So I decided to compromise and name only one. He is Lt. James F. Short of Clinton, Indiana. He has been in the Army four years, and was a sergeant up until he got his commission a year ago. He calls himself “one of the 90-day wonders.” He’s only 22, and he is the assistant operations officer of his squadron.

The reason I picked Lt. Short out of all the Hoosiers is that he was born and raised five miles from that proud metropolis from which I sprang – Dana, Indiana.

Compass is enlarged

One afternoon on our field we had an exciting half hour. We had two full groups of dive bombers on the field plus a menagerie of night fighters, day fighters, photo planes, light bombers and cargo ships. We were all standing out waiting for our squadron to come back from a mission, when lo and behold the entire caboodle came back at once. It was the damndest melee in the sky you ever saw. It was as though somebody had broken open a hornet’s nest.

One group of dive bombers approached the field from one direction, and the other from the opposite, at exactly the same time. They both came over the field at about 400 feet, and when they met at mid-runway, they all chandelled off in a thousand directions.

Before that I had thought there were only 360 points on the compass, but now we all know better. Planes were going in at least three times that many directions.

And three to come

Of course, everybody knew what he was doing and it was actually well regulated, but it looked like a madhouse even to other pilots on the ground. Our squadron leader stood there putting on an act of alternately tearing his hair and hiding his face.

In the midst of all this confusion, a Flying Fortress flew over the field and we saw white parachutes begin to spring out behind it. At first, we thought they must be having a practice jump, but you don’t make practice jumps over a frontline. The plane was in trouble.

One by one these scores of dive bombers got themselves successfully landed, and in the meantime seven parachutes had come out of the Fortress. That meant three still inside, and she was still flying.

Finally, the air was clear and the Fortress approached for a landing. The entire complement of the field, several thousand men were standing on top of anything they could find to see the excitement, and the ambulance and firetrucks were all ready. As the Fort approached the field, we could see that the bomb-bay doors were still open.

A bomber is bombed

The big plane touched the runway as softly as down, rolled straight in and through and gradually came to a stop, and we all heaved sighs of relief. The fliers on the ground began acting comically exaggerated scenes of how the ambulance drivers’ faces would fall as they’d reach over in disgust and turn off their switches.

A little later we went around and got the story on the Fortress. One of those unbelievable things had happened that sometimes occur in the best regulated wars. A fellow Flying Fortress had dropped its bombs on this one in midair.

Fortunately, they were only carrying 25-pound fragmentation bombs that day instead of large ones. A couple of these bombs had blown the left wing full of great jagged holes, had knocked out one engine and the radio, and jammed the bomb-bay doors.

One bomb stays alive

But that’s the mildest part of the story. The payoff was that one bomb hadn’t gone off and was still lodged inside the Fortress’ wing, liable to explode at any moment and blow the wing clear off.

When we finally left the plane was roped off, the field engineering officer had got a tall stepladder, had climbed up to the wing, and had been standing there on the stepladder for an hour looking down at the bomb and wondering why he ever chose to be an engineer anyway.

Later that evening some of our pilots and I went to a neighboring field to see some friends. They were complaining about the traffic on their field and said they believed they’d bring their 50 planes over to our field. At which we all howled and said:

Sure, come on over. In the confusion over there you wouldn’t even be noticed.

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The Pittsburgh Press (January 31, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
One evening, Sgt. James E. Knight, a flight chief from McAlester, Oklahoma, took me in tow and we spent the evening gabbing with about 50 mechanics at this dive-bomber airdrome.

The men at this base live in the same big apartment building as the officers. Their quarters were exactly the same, except that the men have their places fixed up more comfortably and keep them neater than the officers.

You’ll find that true in almost any Air Force group in the combat area, because the men, being craftsmen, can make things the average officer doesn’t know how to make. They fix up stoves and lights and shelves, and make little gadgets that give a homey touch to their quarters.

Sgt. Charlie Bennett, a youngster on the maintenance crew from York, South Carolina, has made a beautiful ashtray from the base of a German 88mm shell, with American machine-gun bullets sticking out of it. It’s too heavy to lug around for a year or more of war, so Charlie thinks he’ll sent it home.

One of Charlie’s roommates is Sgt. Mintford Blair of Spokane, a crew chief in the dive-bomber squadron. In the same group is Blair’s uncle, Sgt. Ted Chapman, an electrical specialist. Uncle and nephew are about the same age. They enlisted together two years ago, and have been lucky enough to stay together ever since.

Superstitious about 7 planes

Sgt. Knight, being a flight chief, has charge of about six planes. Another flight chief is Sgt. Orville Reeves of Fittstown, Oklahoma. Sgt. Reeves is one of the few people I’ve run unto in the Air Forces who have superstitions. Superstitiousness is rare even among the pilots. The last war’s phobia against three-on-a-match is almost unheard of now.

Sgt. Reeves normally has six planes in his charge, but sometimes he will have more. His idiosyncrasy is that he won’t accept seven. he doesn’t mind the work, and he’ll accept two extra planes, but not one.

The reason is that three different times since they’ve come overseas, he has had an extra plane shoved onto him – making a total of seven – and every time his flight has lost a plane the following day. So he’ll have none of it anymore, and you can’t blame him.

Sgt. Knight carries a whole walletful of pictures of his wife and year-old baby. He saw his son only once, when he was a week old. Knight says he’s now “sweating out” a picture of his youngster in the Italian colonel’s suit he sent him for Christmas. Most of the boys have sent home shawls or cameos or lace or something.

A word about the 4-Fs

Sgt. Knight is one of the many mechanics who feel they are not personally doing enough to help win the war. For instance, Knight says all the men under him are now so well trained that he has almost nothing to do, and that he could go back and take flight warning and would hardly be missed around here.

You would think that after seeing what the combat pilots go through, the mechanics would be content to stay on the ground. Yet when applications for flight training were reopened, 10% of the squadron applied.

Always in the combat area you’ll hear soldiers on ground jobs talking earnestly along this line: Why couldn’t well-trained 4-Fs do their jobs and release them for combat?

They know that a guy doesn’t have to be a Samson to stand ordinary Army life, and they point out cases such as that of the soldier who was discharged from the Army on physical grounds; yet was capable of playing swell football when he got back to civil life.

Constantly, also, the Air Force boys pay tribute to the infantry. In two weeks around the airfield. I think I heard the subject brought up 200 times. Pilots and mechanics both feel the same way – their hats are off to the infantry.

One pilot said to me:

What must you think of us, anyhow, knowing as you do what the infantry goes through and then finding that all we talk about is when we can get our missions in and go home?

I told him I thought they were acting like very normal human beings, and that, furthermore, bad as infantry life is, I believed the average infantryman looked on the combat pilot’s job as too dangerous to be envied.

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The Pittsburgh Press (February 1, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
One night I was gossiping in a tent with a bunch of dive-bomber pilots, and one of them who was sitting next to me said in a sudden, offhand way:

I wonder what those Germans in that truck are doing tonight?

He was referring to a truck he had strafed and blown up the afternoon before. Such things sometimes sort of get under their skins. The pilots like to go on a hunt, and it’s thrilling to sweep down and shoot hell out of something, the same as it is to shoot a running deer, but underneath they don’t relish the idea of killing people who aren’t trying to kill then.

The pilot said to himself, “Some of them aren’t doing anything tonight,” and then the subject was changed.

Every time I go to an airdrome, it seems as if I always sleep n the cot of the last pilot who has been shot down. It’s quite natural, since there are usually just enough cots set up to go around, and you sleep on whichever one is empty. I don’t mind it, because I’m not superstitious. But it does impress you after it has happened several times in a row.

One is afraid of combat

I have found that almost every combat unit has (1) one pilot so nerveless that he thinks his narrow escapes are funny, and means it; (2) a majority who truly love to fly and at times find a certain real exhilaration in combat, but who on the whole exist only for the day when they can do their flying more peacefully, and (3) one pilot who absolutely hates airplanes and keeps going, if at all, only through sheer willpower.

In recent weeks, I’ve known of two pilots who developed such neuroses against airplanes that they had to be sent to a rest spot where they wouldn’t see a plane for six months.

The other night I was talking with a swell lieutenant who said frankly that although he liked planes and liked to fly, he was scared of combat. He admitted he had balled up a good many missions, and he said he was absolutely no good as a combat pilot.

If all this gives you the impression that pilots are worried to death and go around with long faced, then I’ve committed a crime. The pilot I’ve just spoken of is one of the happy-go-lucky type. I suppose pilots as a class are the gayest people in the Army. When they come back from a mission, they’re usually full of high spirits. And when they sit around together of an evening, nine-tenths of their conversation is exuberant and full of howling jokes. There is nothing whatever of the grimness in their conduct that you get in the infantry while it is in the line.

Oklahoman hilarious actor

As an example, one night during supper we heard some terrific shouting in the adjoining room, as though a politician were making a Fourth of July speech. Finally, we moved to the door to see what it was all about, and there sat a roomful 0f pilots before their finished supper plates, giving rapt attention to another pilot who was on his feet delivering a burlesque harangue on the merits of snake-oil hair tonic.

This pilot was Lt. Robert J. Horrigan of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has an infectious grim and a perpetual sense of mimicry. It turned out that his father, now a banker in Tulsa, for many years was on the stage as a magician and his uncle was a famous juggler. The two even toured Europe with their act.

Bob Horrigan would like to go on the stage himself after the war, but he supposes he won’t. his current ambition is to land an airplane on the Tulsa Airport with his family and friends all out to meet him. He wouldn’t even object to a small brass band.

The nicest thing about Horrigan’s impromptu acting is that he gets as tickled as his audience does. His final act is a 100% sound imitation of the unconventional scene of a Messerschmitt shooting down a Spitfire. The audience of pilots yells its delight as though there wasn’t a care in the world.

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The Pittsburgh Press (February 2, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
In the past our Army has worried some because the soldiers didn’t have a very good idea of what the war around them was all about. This was largely because the Army never told them. But several months ago, a definite program of making our combat troops better informed was inaugurated, and it is taking effect now in many phases of our operations overseas with which I am not acquainted. But I have seen one example of it in the Air Forces.

In the bomber group which I have been visiting, pilots come down to the enlisted men’s mess hall every evening and tell them what happened on their missions that day. Our squadron flew three missions on this particular day so three pilots came down that night – one to describe each mission.

They brought maps with them and told the soldiers exactly what they were trying to bomb, how successful they were, how much flak they ran into, how many enemy fighters they saw, and what road strafing they did on the way home. They also told the men why each point was selected to bomb, and what its destruction would mean.

The pilots made it informal, and one of them who had had a rather tough mission wound up by saying:

I think I earned my pay today.

The next one got up and said:

Well, I didn’t earn mine.

His flight had had an easy ride, encountering no fighters and little flak.

Receive summary of ground war

Later I was with a squadron of 20 bombers and sat in on their early-morning briefing. The briefing officer, before starting on the details of the forthcoming mission, gave the crews a complete summary of the ground war throughout the Italian and Russian fronts in the previous 24 hours, as brought in over the teletype system.

All this is a good thing. It’s easier to fight when you know what the other fellow is doing and how he is getting along.

At this 20-bomber field one of the enlisted gunners finished his allotted number of missions the day I got there. He was Sgt. Lester C. Eadman of Weyauwega, Wisconsin. Sgt. Eadman has been overseas 15 months and was wounded in the leg by flak last winter in one of the raids over Tunis. Eadman just cleaned up and loafed all the next day after his last mission, and he looked mighty satisfied with everything.

A lot of pilots and enlisted men who have finished their missions get married as soon as they hit home. Three gunners in this same group went home together recently and all three were married within two days after they got to the States.

Pin-ups vs. girl back home

There has been a controversy in the Stars and Stripes over the pin-up girls vs. the girl back home. One soldier wrote in and said the picture of his one-and-only was good enough for him and to hell with pin-up pictures. but he had a lot of dissenters. Personally, I don’t see that there’s much conflict. I’ve ever heard of a soldier writing to his real girl to break off the engagement because he had fallen in love with a picture.

Looking at a pin-up girl is pleasant, and sort of academic. Everybody carries pictures of his own family, anyway, and gets them out on the slightest pretext. I’ve looked at thousands of pictures of wives and three-month-old babies of soldiers, and have said “Hmm!” and “Ah, beautiful!” and “My, what a strapping youngster!” until I’m red in the face. Don’t get the idea that I mind it. Not at all. It gives me an excuse to haul out my own pictures and show them right back.

My, how many women look alike!

But from this vast experience of looking at pictures of other men’s wives, I’ve got one definite cross-section impression, and that is how much alike so many women in the world look. Don’t shoot, boys, I didn’t mean YOUR wife.

The reason I have brought up the subject of pin-up girls is to tell of a pin-up gallery in one room occupied by six mechanics of my dive-bomber squadron. Tacked on their walls are three dozen of the most striking pin-ups you ever saw.

Before long the squadron will have to move and give up its present nice quarters. When it does I think the pin-ups should be left there and the room roped off by the Italian government as a monument to the American occupation. I’ll bet the place, if given a few centuries’ time, would become as historic as Pompeii.

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The Pittsburgh Press (February 3, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Italy – (by wireless)
The British Army recently announced a new system of wound and foreign-service stripes, similar to ours of the last war. I’ve wondered for a long time when we would get around to doing it ourselves, and if you ask me the sooner the better.

The new British wound insigne is to be straight up-and-down gold strip an inch and a half long on the left forearm. There will be one for each wound. Similar stripes of red will be granted for each year of service in the war.

Ours of the last war was a golden “V” on the right sleeve for each wound, and the same on the left sleeve for each six months of service abroad.

A little thing like a stripe can do wonders for morale. And certainly it’s pointless to wait till everybody gets home, for the average soldier will get into civvies the moment he gets his discharge. Over here and right now is when wound and service stripes would give a guy a chance to get a little kick out of wearing his record on his sleeve.

In fact, I wouldn’t mind parading a few stripes myself. Very shortly I’ll have a total of two years overseas since World War II began, and since I’m now at the age where hardening of the arteries may whisk me off at any moment. I’d like somebody to see my stripes before it’s too late.

Typewriter breaks down

A thing I’ve always feared in war zones has at last happened – my typewriter has broken down.

A certain metal bracket has cracked right in two, and you can no longer turn the cylinder and make a new line by hitting the little lever on the side.

Fortunately, you can still turn the cylinder the old-fashioned way, but that’s like a soldier with a machine gun who has to stop and load every bullet separately. It will be possible to get the little gadget welded the next time I get to an airfield, but jumping around as we d that may the weeks away.

Still, all in all, breakdown could be much worse, and I don’t know that a broken typewriter makes so much difference anyhow to a correspondent who is unable to think of anything better than his broken typewriter to write about.

That bet on beer bottles

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the boys in a certain artillery battery were betting on whether Schlitz beer ever came in green bottles or not.

Well, R. Ray Parsons of Indianapolis writes that the Schlitz bottle was brown for many years but that because of the wartime bottle shortage it is now often put in green bottles. That settles the argument but the best part is yet to come.

Mr. Parsons was a private in the AEF in the last war and he is a Schlitz salesman. He now has and his enthusiasm for the ripe quality of his own suds, that he offers to buy the two artillerymen all the beer they can drink in a week after they get back to America. If they’ll write him, he’ll make the date.

That would be fine but, Mr. Parsons, what the artillerymen and everybody else want is beer over here right now. Everybody but me, of course.

Must cut voting red tape

All America seems to be worrying about whether the soldiers are going to get to vote. It sounds as though Congress is practically in fistfights about it.

Well, if you’ll met have the platform a moment, I think I can tell you how it is. I can’t answer for the Army which is either in training or in behind-the-lines routine jobs, but I think I can answer for the frontline combat soldier, and the answer is this:

Sure he wants to vote, if you ask him he’ll say yes. But he actually thinks little about it, and if there’s going to be any red tape about it, he’ll say nuts to it.

The average combat soldier is so consumed with the job of merely keeping alive, and with contributing what bare little he can to his own miserable existence, that he has little room in him for thinking about the ballot. If you offered him his choice between voting in November and finding a dirty cowshed to lie down in out of the rain tonight, the cowshed would win.

Won’t fuss with questionnaires

If the Army could set up the machinery and some day all of a sudden tell every soldier in the combat zone to step up and mark his “X” if he wanted to, then 99% of the frontline troops would vote.

But if soldiers have to full out long questionnaires from their home states, sign affidavits, and fuss around with reading and writing out complicated lists, then I think 99% of those same frontline troops would say:

To hell with it, he’d rather have a cigar ration at suppertime instead.

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The Pittsburgh Press (February 4, 1944)

erniecold

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