Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

The Pittsburgh Press (May 17, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A U.S. bomber station, England – (by wireless)
These are some of the boys who have been blasting out our invasion path on the continent of Europe. For nearly a year they have been hammering at the wall of defense the Germans have thrown up. How well they have blasted we will know before the summer is over.

They are a squadron of B-26 Marauder bombers. They are representative of the entire mighty weight of the tactical bombers of the 9th Air Force. I have come to spend a few days with them because I wanted to get a taste of the pre-invasion assault from the air standpoint before we get a mouthful of the invasion proper from the ground.

The way I happened to come to this certain squadron is one of those things. One night in London I was sitting at a table with some friends in a public house when two boys in uniform leaned over from the next table and asked if I weren’t so-and-so.

I said yes, whereupon we got to talking and then we got to be pals and eventually we adjourned from one place to another, as Damon Runyon would say, and kept on adjourning throughout the evening, and a good time was had by all.

These boys were B-26 bombardiers, and in the course of the evening’s events they asked if I wouldn’t come and live with their squadron awhile. Being nothing if not accommodating, I said sure, why not. And here we are.

The two boys were Lt. Lindsey Green of San Francisco and Lt. Jack Arnold of East St. Louis, Illinois. Being redheaded, Lt. Arnold goes by the name of “Red Dog.” They are both very nice people indeed.

A comfortable station

This airdrome is a lovely place. Everything around it is wonderfully green, as is all England now.

The station is huge, and its personnel is scattered in steel Nissen huts and low concrete barracks for a couple of miles.

The living quarters are spread through an old grove of giant shade trees. You walk from one barracks to another under elms and chestnuts, big-trunked and wide-branched, and it gives you a feeling of beautiful peace and contentment. The huts and barracks are painted green and everything blends together.

This is a permanent station, and very comfortable. Our B-26 group has been at this field ever since coming overseas nearly a year ago.

Within cycling or hitchhiking distance there are several English villages – the lovely kind you read about in books – and our fliers have come to know them intimately. They like the people, and I’m sure the people like them.

There is more of understanding and harmony between these fliers and the local people than in any outfit I’ve ever seen. If you don’t believe it listen to this – 15 of the boys from just one squadron have married English girls since coming over here.

The boys say this is the best squadron in England. Nine out of 10 squadrons, or infantry companies, or quartermaster battalions, will say the same thing about themselves. It is a good omen when they talk like that.

This station seems to me to have about the finest spirit I’ve run onto in our Army. It is due, I think, largely to the fact that the whole organization has been made into a real team.

The boys here don’t especially hate the Germans, and they certainly don’t like war, yet they understand that the only way out of the war is to fight our way out, and they do it willingly and with spirit and all together.

The commander of this group is Col. Wilson R. Wood of Chico, Texas. Five years ago, he was an enlisted man. Today, at 25, he is a full colonel. He is a steady, human person and he has got what it takes to blend thousands of men together into a driving unit.

The job of the B-26s is severalfold. For one thing, they had to rid upper France and the Low Countries of German fighters as far as possible, to clear the way for our heavy bombers on their long trips into Germany.

Enemy’s reserves blasted

They have done this not so much by bombing airdromes, which can be repaired immediately, as by blasting the enemy’s reserve supplies of planes, engines and propellers.

Their second job is to disrupt the enemy’s supply system. Much of their work of late has been on railroad marshaling yards, and along with A-20s and fighter-bombers, they have succeeded to a point where British papers say Germany cannot maintain a western front by raids.

And third, they work constantly on the enemy’s military installations along the Channel Coast. They feel that they have done a good job. If they haven’t, I’m going to be plenty sore at them one of these days, because I might be in the vicinity and if there’s anything that makes me sick at the stomach, it’s an enemy military installation in good working order.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 18, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A B-26 base, somewhere in England – (by wireless)
The B-26 is a bomber which is very fast and carries a two-ton bombload. In its early stages it had a bad name – it was a “hot” plane which took great skill to fly and which killed more people in training than it did in combat.

But the B-26 has lived down the bad name. the boys of this squadron wouldn’t fly in anything else. They like it because it can take quick and violent evasive action when the flak is bothersome, and because it can run pretty well from fighters.

Its record over here is excellent. Bombing accuracy has been high and losses have been extremely low. And as fir accidents – the thing that cursed the plane in its early days – they have been next to nonexistent here.

The boys so convinced me of the B-26s invulnerability that I took my courage in my hand and went on a trip with them.

They got us up at 2:00 in the morning. Boy, it was cold getting out of our cots and into our clothes. We had gone to bed about 11, but I couldn’t get to sleep. All night long the sky above us was full of the drone of planes – the RAF passing over on its nightly raids.

“Chief” Collins (the pilot), “Red Dog” Arnold (the bombardier), and I were the only ones in our hut who had to get up. We jumped into our clothes, grabbed towels and ran out to the washhouse for a quick dash of cold water on our faces. The moon was brilliant and we needed no flashlights.

Red Dog gave me an extra pair of long drawers to put on. Chief gave me his combat pants, as I had given mine away in Italy. Also I put on extra sweaters and a mackinaw.

Then we walked through the moonlight under the trees to the mess hall. It was only 2:30 a.m., but we ate breakfast before the takeoff. And we had two real fried eggs too. It was almost worth getting up for.

Sat on benches for briefing

We drove out to the field in a jeep. Some of the boys rode their bicycles. There were a couple of hundred crewmen altogether. At the field we went into a big room, brightly lighted, and sat on benches for the briefing.

The briefing lasted almost an hour. Everything was explained in detail – how we would take off, how we would rendezvous in the dark, where we would make the turn toward our target.

Then we went to the locker room and got our gear. Red Dog got me a pair of flying boots, a Mae West life preserver, a parachute and a set of earphones. We got in the jeep again and rode out to the plane. It was still half an hour before takeoff time. The moon had gone out and it was very dark.

We stood around talking with the ground crew. Finally, 10 minutes before takeoff time we got into the plane. One of the boys boosted me up through a hatch in the bottom of the plane, for it was high, and with so many clothes I could hardly move.

I sat back in the radio compartment on some parachutes for the takeoff. Red Dog was the only one of the crew who put on his chute. He said I didn’t need to put mine on.

We were running light, and it didn’t take long to get off the ground. I never had been in a B-26 before, the engines seemed to make a terrific clatter. There were runway markers, and I could see them whiz past the window as we roared down the runway. A flame about a foot long shot out of the exhausts and it worried me at first, but finally I decided that was the way it was supposed to be.

It’s a ticklish business assembling scores of planes into formation at night. Here is how they do it:

We took off one at a time, about 30 seconds apart. Each plane flew straight ahead for four and a half minutes, climbing at a certain rate all the time. Then it turned right around and flew straight back for five minutes. Then it turned once again, heading in the original direction.

Almost jumps out of seat

By this time, we were up around 4,000 feet. We had not seen any of the other planes.

The flight leader had said he would shoot flares out his plane frequently so the others could spot him if they got lost. Red Dog was half turned around, talking to me, when the first two flares split the sky ahead of us. He just caught them out of the corner of his eye, and he almost jumped out of his seat. He had forgotten about the flares and thought they were the running lights of the plane ahead of us and that we were about to collide.

“I haven’t been so scared in months,” he said.

The leader kept shooting flares, which flash for a few moments and then go out. But we really didn’t need them. For we were right on his trail, just where we should have been, and everybody else was too. It was a beautiful piece of precision groping in the dark.

As we caught up to within half a mile or so, we could finally see the running lights of other planes, and then the dark shapes of grouped planes ahead silhouetted against a faintly lightening sky. Finally, we too were in position, flying almost wing to wing up there in the English night.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 19, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A B-26 base, somewhere in England – (by wireless)
At 12,000 feet up, it begins to get daylight before it does on the ground, and while we could not see each other plainly in our B-26, things were still darkly indistinct in England, far down there below us.

Now and then a light would flash on the ground – some kind of marker beacon for us. We passed over some airdromes with their runway lights still on. Far in the distance we could see one lone white light – probably a window some early-rising farmer had forgotten to black out.

“Red Dog” Arnold, the bombardier, was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat, since we weren’t carrying a co-pilot. The boys got me a tin box to sit on right behind Red Dog so I could get a better view. The sunrise was red and beautiful, and Red Dog kept pointing and remarking about it. “Chief” Collins, the pilot, got out some cigarettes and we all lit up except Red Dog, who doesn’t smoke.

We climbed higher, and at a certain place the whole group of B-26s made a turn and headed for the target. This wasn’t a mission over enemy territory, and there was no danger to it.

As we neared the target, Red Dog crawled forward through a little opening into the nose, where the bombardier usually sits. The entire nose is Plexiglas, and you can see straight down and all around. He motioned for me to come up with him.

I squeezed into the tiny compartment. There was barely room for the two of us. The motors made less noise up there. By now daylight had come and everything below was clear and spectacular.

I stayed in the nose until we were well on the way home, and then crawled back and sat in the co-pilot’s seat beside Chief Collins. The sun came out, and the air was smooth, and it was wonderful flying along there over England so early in the morning.

Down below the country was green, moist and enchanting in the warmth of the early dawn. Early-morning trains left rigidly straight trails of white smoke for a mile behind them. Now and then we would see a military convoy, but mostly the highways were empty and lonesome looking. The average man wasn’t out of bed yet.

Somehow you always feel good being up early in the morning. You feel a little ahead of the rest of the world and a little egotistical about it.

Lose altitude gradually

We lost altitude gradually, and kept clearing our ears by opening our mouths. Gradually it got warmer and warmer. Chief Collins talked now and then on the interphone to the rest of the crew. Other times I would notice his mouth working, and I think he must have been singing to himself. Two or three times, he leaned over and remarked on what an unusually nice formation they were flying this morning.

Once Red Dog turned and yelled back through the little door: “Did you see that supply dump we just passed? Biggest damn thing I ever saw in my life.”

Suddenly I remembered I had seen only four men in our crew, when I knew there were supposed to be five. I asked one of the gunners about it. He said, “Oh, Pruitt, he’s the tail gunner. He’s back there. He’s probably sound asleep.”

We came back over our home airdrome, peeled off one by one, and landed. Red Dog stayed up in the nose during the landing, so I stayed in the co-pilot’s seat. Landing is about the most dangerous part of flying, yet it’s the one sensation I love most, especially when riding up front.

Chief put the big plane down so easily we hardly knew when the wheels touched. I was shocked to learn later that we landed at the frightening speed of more than 100 miles an hour.

Asleep most of trip

We sat in the plane for a couple of minutes while Chief filled out some reports, and then opened the hatch in the floor and dropped out. I was the first one to hit the ground. As I did so a man in flying clothes looked at me startled-like and said:

Good Lord, I didn’t know you were with us. I’m the tail gunner. I recognize you from your picture, but I didn’t know you were along. I’ve been asleep most of the trip.

That was Sgt. Pruitt, and I’ll tell you more about him later.

A jeep carried us back to the locker room where we had left out gear. Then we headed for the mess hall.

“We’ll have another breakfast now,” Chief said.

It was just 7:30 a.m. So, for the second time in five hours we ate breakfast. Had real eggs again, too.

“It’s a tough war,” one of the boys laughed. But nobody is qualified to joke like that who hasn’t been scores of times across the Channel coast, in that other world of fighters and flak. And these boys all had. You felt good to be with them.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 20, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A B-26 base, somewhere in England – (by wireless)
The men in the B-26 squadron I have been visiting live exceedingly well for wartime. It realizes it, too, and it full of appreciation. You almost never hear an airman griping about things around here.

This is an old station, and well established. Our men are comfortably housed and wonderfully fed. The officers have a club of their own, with a bar and a big lounge room, and the Red Cross provides a big club right on the station for the enlisted men.

There are all kinds of outdoor games, such as baseball, badminton, volleyball, tennis, and even golf at a nearby town. One of the pilots came back from golfing and said, “I don’t know what they charged me a greens fee for I was never anywhere near the greens.”

At first, I lived with the younger officers of the squadron, then I moved over with the enlisted gunners, radiomen and flight engineers. They live only a little differently. And the line between officers and enlisted men among the combat crews is so fine that you are barely aware of any difference after a few days’ acquaintance with them.

Two little holes in roof

First, I’ll try to tell you how the officers live. I stayed in the hut of my friends Lts. Lindsey, Greene and Jack Arnolds. There is usually a spare cot in any hut for there is almost always one man away on leave.

This barracks is a curved steel Nissen hut, with doors and windows at each end but none along the sides. The floor is bare concrete. Eight men live in a hut. Three are pilots, the others bombardiers and navigators. One is a captain, the others are lieutenants.

The boys sleep on black steel cots with cheap mattresses. They have rough white sheets and Army blankets. They are all wearing summer underwear now, and they sleep on it. When the last one goes to bed, he turns out the light and opens one door for ventilation. Of course, until the lights are out, the hut has to be blacked out.

Each cot has a bed lamp rigged over it, with a shade made from an empty fruit-juice can.

The boys have a few bureaus and tables they bought or dug up from somewhere.

On the tables are pictures of their girls and parents, and on the corrugated steel walls they have pasted pinup girls from Yank and other magazines.

In the center of the hut is a rectangular stove made of two steel boxes wielded together. They burn wood or coal in it, and it throws out terrific heat.

In the top of the hut, when the lights go out, you can see two holes with moonlight streaming through. One of these is where one of the boys shot his .45 one night, just out of exuberance. One of the other boys then bet he could put a bullet right through that hole. He lost his bet, which accounts for the other hole.

‘Poker Seats by Reservation Only’

The latrines and wash basins are in a separate building about 50 yards from the hut. The boys and their mechanics have built a small shower room out of packing boxes and rigged up a tank for heating water. They are proud of it, and they take plenty of baths.

All around my hut are similar ones, connected by concrete or cinder paths. The one next door is about the fanciest. Its name is Piccadilly Palace.

In here is where the biggest poker game is usually going. A sign on the front of the hut says, “Poker Seats by Reservation Only.” On the other side of the door is another sign saying, “Robin Hood Slept Here.” They put that up when they first came because somebody told them this station was in Sherwood Forest. They found out later they were a long way from Sherwood Forest but they left the sign up anyhow.

That in general is how the boys live. They are warm, they are dry, they are clean, they are well fed. Their life is dangerous and not very romantic to them, and between missions they get homesick and sometimes bored. But even so they have a pretty good time with their live young spirits and they are grateful that they can live as well and have as much pleasure as they do have. For they know that anything good you get in wartime is just that much velvet.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 22, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A B-26 base, England –
“My crew” of two officers and three enlisted men have been flying together as a team in their B-26 bomber since before leaving America more than a year ago.

Every one of them is now far beyond his allotted number of combat missions.

Every one of them is perfectly willing to go through another complete tour of missions if he can just be home for a month. I believe the same thing is true of almost everybody, at this station. And it’s a new experience for me, because most of the combat men I’ve been with before wanted to feel finished forever when they went home.

Every one of “my crew” has the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal, with clusters. They have had flak through their plane numerous times, but none of them has ever been hit. They expect it to be rough when the invasion starts, but they’re anxious to get it over with.

In the past they have usually flown one mission a day over France, with occasionally two as the tempo of spring bombings increased. But during the invasion they will probably be flying three and sometimes four missions a day.

They will be in the air before daylight and they will come home from their last mission after dark. They will go for days and maybe weeks in a frenzied routine, eating hurriedly between missions, snatching a few hours of weary sleep at night, and being up and at it again hours before daylight to shuttle back and forth across the Channel. They and thousands of others like them.

Fighting purely an air war – as this one here has been up to now – is in some ways so routine that it is like running a big business.

Usually a B-26 crewman “works” only about two hours a day. He returns to a life that is pretty close to a normal one. There is no ground war to confuse him with its horror. His war is highly technical, highly organized, and in a way somewhat academic.

Because of this, it is easy to get bored. An air crewman has lots of spare time on his hands. Neither the officers or the enlisted fliers have any duties whatever other than flying.

When not flying they either loaf around their own huts, writing letters or playing poker or just sitting in front of the fire talking, or else they take leave for a few hours and go to the nearby villages. They can go to dances or sit in the local pubs and talk.

And every two weeks they get two days’ leave. That again is something new to us who have been in the Mediterranean. Down there fliers do get leave to go to rest camps, and even to town once in a while if there is a town, but there’s nothing regular or automatic about it. These boys up here get their two days’ leave twice a month just like clockwork. They can do anything they want with it.

Most of them go to London. Others go to nearby cities where they have made acquaintances. They go to dances at nightclubs and shows. They paint the town and blow off steam as any active man who lives dangerously must do now and then. They make friends among the British people, and they look up those same friends on the next trip to town.

They do a thousand and one things on their leave, and it does them good. Also, it gradually creates an understanding between the two people that the other is all right in his own peculiar way.

After a certain number of missions, a crew is usually given two weeks’ leave. Most of them spend it traveling. Our fliers often tour Scotland on these leaves. It’s amazing the number of men who have been to Edinburgh and who love the place. They have visited Wales and North Ireland and the rugger southwestern coast, and they know the Midlands and the little towns of England.

These two-week leaves don’t substitute in the fliers’ mind for a trip back to America. That’s all they live for. That’s what they talk about most of the time.

A goal is what anyone overseas needs – a definite time limit to shoot for. Naturally it isn’t possible right at this moment to send many people home, and the fliers appreciate and accept that fact. But once the invasion is made and the first period of furious intensity has passed, our veteran fliers hope to start going home in greater numbers.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 23, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A B-26 base, England –
Lt. Bill Collins, who goes by the name of Chief, is what is known as a “hot pilot.”

He used to be a fighter pilot, and he handles his Marauder bomber as though it were a fighter. He is daring, and everybody calls him a “character,” but his crew has a fanatical faith in him.

Chief is addicted to violent evasive action when they’re in flak, and the boys like that because it makes them harder to hit.

They’ve had flak through the plane and within a foot of them, but none of them has been wounded.

When they finished their allotted number of missions – which used to give them an automatic trip to America, but doesn’t anymore – Chief buzzed the home field in celebration of their achievement.

He got that old B-26 wound up in a steep glide, came booming down the runway, leveled off a foot above the ground and went screaming across the field at 250 miles an hour – only a foot above the ground all the way. And at the same time, he had to shoot out all the red flares he had in the plane. They say it looked like a Christmas tree flying down the runway.

Chief used to be a clerk with the Aetna Life Insurance Company back in his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut. He is 25 now and doesn’t know whether he will go back to the insurance job or not after the war. He says it depends on how much they offer him.

Lt. Jack Arnold is the one they call Red Dog. He is only 22, although he seems older to me. He enlisted in the Army almost four years ago, when he was just out of high school. He was an infantryman for a year and a half before he finally went to bombardier school and got wings for his chest and bars for his shoulders.

He figures that as a bombardier he has killed thousands of Germans, and he thinks it is an excellent profession. He says the finest bombing experience he has ever had was when they missed the target one day and quite accidentally hit a barracks full of German troops and killed many of them.

Red Dog is friendly and gay and yet he is fundamentally serious man who takes the war to heart. The enlisted men of the crew say that he isn’t afraid of anything, and that the same is true of Chief Collins. They are a cool pair, yet both are as hospitable and friendly as you could imagine.

The plane’s engineer-gunner is Sgt. Eugene Gaines of New Orleans. He is distinct from the rest because he married a British girl last December.

They have a little apartment in a town eight miles from the field. Every evening Gaines rides his bicycle home, stays till about midnight, then rides back to the airdrome. For you never know when you may be routed out at 2:00 a.m. on an early mission, and you must be on hand.

It takes him about 45 minutes to ride the eight miles, and he has made the roundtrip nightly all winter, in the blackout and through indescribable storms. Such is the course of love.

Gaines is a quiet and sincere young man of 24. He was a carpenter before the war, and he figures that will be a pretty good trade to stick to after the war. But if a depression does come, he has an ace in the hole. He has a farm at Pearl River, Louisiana, and he figures that with a farm in the background you can always be safe and independent.

Gaines wears a plain wedding ring on his left hand. I’ve noticed that a lot of the married soldiers over here wear wedding rings.

In flight, it is Gaines’ job to watch the engine temperatures and pressures and to help with the gadgets during landings and takeoffs. As soon as they reach the other side of the Channel he goes back and takes over the top turret gun. He has shot at a few planes but never knocked one down.

The radio gunner is Sgt. John Siebert of Charlestown, Massachusetts. He learned to fly before the war, although he is only 23 now. He had about 800 hours in the air as pilot. Yet because of one defective eye, he couldn’t get into cadet school.

He had two years at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he hopes to go back and finish when the war is over.

Siebert too is quiet and sincere. His closest escape was when his waist gun was shot right out of his hand. The thing just suddenly wasn’t there. Yet he didn’t get a scratch.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 24, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A B-26 base, England –
Sgt. Kermit Pruitt, whom I spoke of the other day, is the tail gunner in “my crew.” He’s an old cowboy from Arizona – looks like one, acts like one, talks like one. But he’s no hillbilly in the head.

Pruitt is the talking kind. He talks and sings on the slightest provocation. He likes old cowboy songs. They say that every once in a while, he will start singing some cowboy song over the interphone while they’re actually in a bomb run, and the pilot will have to yell at him to shut up.

He likes to tell stories about cowpokes in Arizona. He was telling the other day about one old cowboy who went to the city and registered at a hotel for the first time in his life. The clerk asked him if he wanted a room with running water, and the cowboy yelled, “Hell no! What do you think I am, a trout?”

Pruitt drives the rest of the crew crazy by shooting his tail gun at the most unexpected times. In more than 50 missions he has never yet seen an enemy plane to shoot at, so he breaks the monotony by shooting at gun emplacements and flak ships two miles below. These sudden blasts scare the wits out of the rest of the crew, and Pruitt then catches a little brimstone over the interphone from the pilot.

But this doesn’t faze him, or impair his affection for his pilot. Pruitt says he just shopped around in this Army till he found a pilot that suited him. Back in America he “missed” a couple of trains to avoid coming overseas with an outfit he didn’t like. He says his hunch proved right, for his entire old crew in that outfit were killed on their first mission.

Finally, he got a chance to come with the B-26s. Pilot “Chief” Collins was a wild man then, and most everybody was afraid to ride with him. But when Pruitt saw him handle a plane, he said to himself, “There’s my man.” So, he got on Chief’s crew, and he’s still on it. He wouldn’t think of flying with anybody else.

Pruitt is thin, not much bigger than me, and he usually wears coveralls which make him look even thinner. He goes around poking his head out from hunched-up shoulders with a quizzical half grin on his face. He sure does enjoy living.

Pleasant Valley, Arizona, is Pruitt’s home diggins. He is 30. He is married to a beautiful girl who is part French and 1/32 Indian, and last Christmas Day they were blessed with an heir. Pruitt has a pocketbook full of pictures of his wife and offspring, and he shows them to you every few minutes. If you go out of the room and come back five minutes later, he shows you the pictures again.

I was sleeping near Pruitt one night when the crews were awakened at 2:00 a.m. for an early mission. It was funny to see them come out of bed. Not a soul moved a muscle for about five minutes, and then they all suddenly came out as though shot from a gun.

Pruitt always starts talking as soon as he is awake. On this particular morning, he said:

When the war’s over, I’m gonna get me an Apache Indian to work for me. I’m gonna tell him to get me up at 2 o’clock in the morning, and when he comes in, I’m gonna take my .45 and kill the SOB.

The three sergeants in my crew sort of took me under their wing and we ran around together for two or three days. One night they slicked all up, put on their dress uniforms with all their sergeants’ stripes and their silver wings and all their ribbons, and we went to a nearby town to a singing concert. Then we went into the backroom of the local pub and sat around a big round table with two very old and ugly British women, who were drinking beer and who were very grinny and pleasant. They giggled when Pruitt told stories of his escapades as a cowboy and of his trips to London on leave.

There are about 20 flying sergeants in the same barracks with my crew. They live about the same as the officers, except that they are more crowded and they don’t have settees around their stove, or shelves for their stuff. But they have the same pinup girls, the same flying talk, the same poker game, and the same guys in bed getting some daytime shuteye while bedlam goes on around them.

I got to know all these flying sergeants and I couldn’t help but be struck by what a swell bunch they were. All of them are sort of difficult at first, but they open up when you have known them for a little whole and treat you like a king. They tell you their troubles and their fears and their ambitions, and they want so much for you to have a good time while you’re with them.

With these boys, as with most all the specialized groups of soldiers I have been with, their deep sincerity and their concern about their future are apparent. They can’t put into words what they’re fighting for, but they know it has to be done and almost invariably they consider themselves fortunate to be living well and fighting the enemy from the air instead of on the ground. But home, and what will be their fate in the post-war world, is always in the back of their minds, and every one of them has some kind of plan laid.

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I very much enjoyed this column, Ernie captures Pruitt perfectly.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 25, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A B-26 base, England –
Sgt. Phil Scheier is a radio gunner. That is, he operates the radio of his B-26 bomber when it needs operating, and when over enemy territory he switches to one of the plane’s machine guns.

It’s hard to think of Sgt. Scheier as a tough gunner. In fact, it’s hard to think of him as an enlisted man. He is what you would call the “officer type” – he would seem more natural with a major’s leaves on his shoulders than a sergeant’s stripes on his arms. But he doesn’t feel that way about it.

He says:

I’m the only satisfied soldier in the Army. I’ve found a home in the Army. I like what I’m doing, and I wouldn’t trade my job for any other in the Army.

Not that he intends to stay in after the war. He’s 28, but he intends to go to college as soon as he gets out of uniform. He has been a radio scriptwriter for several years, but he wants to go to Columbia School of Journalism and learn how to be a big fascinating newspaperman like me.

Sgt. Scheier’s home is at Richmond, Staten Island. Like the others, he has a DFC and an Air Medal with clusters.

He says:

When I won a Boy Scout medal once, they got out the band and had a big celebration. But when you get the DFC, you just sign a paper and a guy hands it to you as though it was nothing.

Later, when I mentioned that I would like to put that remark in the column, Sgt. Scheler laughed and said: “Oh, I just made that up. I never was a Boy Scout.”

Sgt. Kenneth Brown of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, is one of two men in my barracks who have the Purple Heart. He was hit in the back and arm by flak several months ago. He is a good-natured guy, and he has the next war figured out.

He isn’t going to go hide in a cave or on a desert island, as so many jokingly threaten to do. He thinks he has a better way. The minute the war starts, he’s going to get a sand table and start making humps and valleys and drawing lines in the sand. He figures that will automatically makes him a general and then he’ll be all right.

Sgt. Kenneth Hackett used to work at the Martin plant near Baltimore, which makes these B-26 bombers. He is 34, and he had supposed that if he ever got into the Army, he would be put in some backwash job far removed from combat.

“I sure never figured when I was helping build these planes that someday I’d be flying over France in one of them as a radio gunner,” he says. But here he is, with half his allotted missions run off.

Sgt. Hackett’s home is at North Miami. In fact, his father is chief of police in that section. But the sergeant’s wife and daughter are in Baltimore.

Hackett showed me a snapshot of his daughter Theda sitting on the fender of their automobile. He said she was 12, and I thought he was kidding. She seemed so grownup that I thought she must be his sweetheart instead of his daughter. But I was convinced when the other boys chimed in and said, “Tell him about the lipstick.”

So here is the lipstick story. It seems Theda wrote her daddy that all the other girls her age were using rouge and lipstick and was it all right if she did too.

Well, it wasn’t all right. Sgt. Hackett says maybe he’s old-fashioned but he sent word back to Theda that if she started using lipstick now, he’d skin her alive when he got back, or words to that effect. And he didn’t take time to write it in a letter. He sent it by full-rate cablegram.

Sgt. Howard Hanson is acting first sergeant of this squadron. He’s the guy that runs the show and routs people out of bed and hands out demerits and bawls people out. In addition to that, he is an engineer-gunner. He has long ago flown his allotted number of combat missions, and he is still flying.

Sgt. Hanson is 37 and therefore is automatically known in the Army as Pappy. Any soldier over 35 is almost always called Pop or Pappy. Sgt. Hanson doesn’t care. He likes his work and has a job to do and wants to get it done.

“I know what I’m fighting for,” he says. “Here’s what.” And he hands you a snapshot of his family – wife, girl and boy. The girl is almost grown and the boy is in the uniform of a prep school. Hanson’s home is at Topeka, Kansas.

Pappy used to be in the motor freight business before the war. I suppose in a way you could say he’s still in the motor freight business. Kind of ticklish freight, though.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 26, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A B-26 base, England – (by wireless)
Sgt. Walter Hassinger is from Hutchinson, Kansas. He is 29, and in a way the most remarkable man at this station.

In the first place, he is a radio gunner who has more missions under his belt than any other crew member here. And in the second place he has contributed more to satisfied living and general morale than anybody else.

What Hassinger did was this – he spent $400 of his own money creating a little private radio station and hooking it by loudspeakers into barracks all over the place, until finally his station is heard by 1,700 men.

Over this station he rebroadcasts news bulletins, repeats orders and instructions that come from headquarters, plays phonograph records, and carries on a spasmodic monologue razzing the officers and just gabbing about everything from the abominable weather to the latest guy who has wrecked a jeep.

Still another Kansan. This one is Lt. Frank Willms of Coffeyville. That’s the hometown of Walter Johnson, the famous pitcher. Lt. Willms says he has never met Walter but knows the rest of the Johnson family.

Lt. Willms isn’t in the group I’ve been visiting, although he is a B-26 pilot. The reason I’m mentioning him is his hair. I met him one night at a party in London. His hand stands so startlingly straight up that you are struck suddenly rigid when you see it and you can’t help but remark on it. And Lt. Willms’ reply to my obvious puzzlement was this:

On my first mission I was so scared it stood up like that, and I’ve never been able to get it to lie back down.

Lt. Jim Gray is from Wichita Falls, Texas, and he looks like a Texan – windburned and unsmooth. He’s far over his allotted missions, and if it weren’t for the coming invasion, he would probably be on his way home by now.

Like every other Texan in the Air Forces – and it seems to be half Texans – he has to take a lot of razzing about his state. But he’s proud of it, and always in plain sight under the end of his cot you can see a beautifully scrolled pair of cowboy boots.

Lt. Gray is a firm believer in the flak vest. In case you don’t know, a flak vest is a sort of coat of mail, made up of little squares of steel platings. It hangs from your shoulders and covers your chest and back.

One day a hunk of hot metal about the size of a walnut struck him right in the chest. He says it felt as if some giant had him with his fist. It bent the steel plating but didn’t go through. Without it, he would have been a dead duck.

Sgt. Hanson, who flies with him, has taken the bent plate out and is keeping it as a souvenir. Lt. Gray keeps the hung of shrapnel itself, with a little tag on it.

The lieutenant is anxious to get home. Not so much because he is homesick but because, as he says, “I’d like to fly in a little Texas weather for a change?”

The weather over here is the fliers’ biggest complaint. As you’ve heard, it’s dark and cloudy and rainy most of the time. And the weather changes like lightning. They say that sometimes you can start to take off and the other end of the runway will close in before you get there. How these mighty air fleets ever operate at all is a modern miracle.

In this area, I ran into an old friend of mine. He’s Texas too – Maj. Robert Rousel, who used to be managing editor of the Houston Press. He is about my age, and like me he is starting to feel decrepit. He’s in the planning section of the bomber command, and he says it’s a worse than running a newspaper. The pressure of detail and the responsibility of mapping these complex missions for the whole command sometimes gets him mentally swamped. At such time he just gets up and walks out half a day. Sometimes he goes flying, sometimes he plays golf.

He said:

I played golf yesterday and I’m sure I’m the only man in England who ever succeeded in playing 18 holes without even once, not one time, going on the fairway.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 27, 1944)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

A B-26 base, England –
Every pilot and enlisted combat crewman on this bomber station has an English bicycle, for the distances are long on a big airdrome. The boys in my hut have to go about a mile to flying line and about a quarter of a mile to eat. Breakfast ends at 8, and like human beings the world over, those not flying get up just in time to run fast and beat the breakfast deadline by five seconds.

They eat at long wooden tables, sitting on benches. But they have white tablecloths, and soldiers to serve them. At supper they have to wear neckties and their dress blouses. The officers’ club bar opens a half an hour before supper and some of the boys go and have a couple of drinks before eating. As everywhere else in England, the whiskey and gin are all gone a few minutes after the bar opens.

The enlisted crewmen eat in a big room adjoining the officers’ mess. They eat exactly the same food, but they eat it a little differently. They line up and pass through a chow line. White porcelain plates are furnished them, but they have to bring their own knife, fork, spoon and canteen cup.

Their tables are not covered. When they are through, they carry out their own dishes and empty anything left over into a garbage pail, but they don’t have to wash their dishes. The enlisted men don’t have to dress up, even for supper.

Everybody feels that the food is exceptionally good. Since I’ve been here, we’ve had real eggs for breakfast, and for other meals such things as pork chops, hamburger steak, chocolate cake and ice cream.

Of course, both of these messes are for combat crews only. Ground personnel eat at a different mess. They don’t have quite as fine a choice as the fliers, but I guess nobody begrudges them a little extra.

In various clubrooms on the airdrome, and even in some of the huts, there are numerous paintings on the walls of beautiful girls, colored maps of Europe, and so on. One hut has been beautifully decorated by one of the occupants – Lt. C. V. Cripe, a bombardier from Elkhart, Indiana. He also paints insignia on planes.

This same hut has a tiny little garden walk leading up to the door. On a high post flanking the walk there hang white wooden boards with the name of each flier in the hut painted in green letters, and under the name rows of little green bombs representing the number of missions he has been on.

All the names are of officers except for the bottom board, which says “Pfc. Gin Fizz,” and under it are painted five little puppy dogs marching along in a row with their tails up.

Pfc. Gin Fizz is a little white dog with a face like a gargoyle, and altogether the most ratty and repulsive-looking animal I’ve ever seen. But she produces beautiful pups practically like an assembly line, and the station is covered with her offspring.

Dogs are rampant on this station. They have everything from fat fuzzy little puppies with eyes barely open to a gigantic Great Dane. This one magnificent beast is owned by Lt. Richard Lightfine of Garden City, Long Island, and goes by the name of Tray.

The gunner sergeants in the barracks where I’ve been living have a breedless but lovable cur named Omer. It came by its name in a peculiar fashion.

Some months ago, the squadron made a raid on a town in France named St. Omer. One plane got shot up over the target, and back in England had to make a forced landing at a strange field. While waiting for the crippled plane to be patched up the crew acquired this puppy. In celebration of their return from the dead, they named him Omer. Omer sleeps impartially on anybody’s cot, and the boys bring him scraps from the mess hall in their canteen cups. Omer doesn’t even know he’s at war, and he has a wonderful time.

This station has a glee club too, and a very good one. They gave a concert for the people of the nearest village and I went along to hear it.

The club has 29 men in it, mostly ground men but some fliers. The director is Cpl. Frank Parisi of Bedford, Ohio. He taught music in junior high school there.

The club has already given 10 concerts, and they are so good they are booked for three concerts weekly for the next six weeks and slated to sing in London. So, you see lots of things besides shooting and dying can go along with a war.

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