Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

The Pittsburgh Press (April 12, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Tunisia –
Down in central Tunisia, in the village of Fériana, there is a little country hotel where four or five of us correspondents used to drop in now and then for a day or two to sleep under a roof and eat some of Papa’s meals.

The hotel is run by a French family. Papa is big and mustached, and always wears a cap and a dirty apron and always has a burned-up cigarette in his mouth. He takes an instant like or dislike to newcomers, and the ones he doesn’t like get short shrift.

Mama is plain and gray and sweet, and although she can’t speak a word of English, paradoxically she can understand it. She never does a bit of the cooking; that is Papa’s job and privilege. She sits at the kitchen table and sews and knits.

There are three boys in the vicinity of 15, all handsome and superior boys. Roget is our favorite, because he studied English in his school and we can converse with him. The three boys serve the meals. They also act as chambermaids.

Once when I was trying to write in the hotel, Roget came in to clean up. Immediately he called his two brothers, and for half an hour they all stood in a circle looking over my shoulder admiringly – not at the magic of my wonderful words, but at how fast my fingers worked the keyboard.

The hotel had one very dirty toilet, and in the rooms were merely washbowls and kerosene lamps. French soldiers slept on straw in the little lobby. There were always at least 10 people in the kitchen, including a few neighbors, some stray French privates helping wash the dishes, and a French officer or two trying to learn English from Roget.

Jack could do no wrong

Jack Thompson of The Chicago Tribune found this place way back in November. As far as I know, it was the only operating hotel in all of central Tunisia. Jack kept two rooms there all winter, and they were like a headquarters. Jack himself might not be there one night a week, but if any other correspondents blew in, we’d just walk in and settle down as though the rooms belonged to us.

Jack could do no wrong in Papa’s eyes. Papa was so prejudiced in Jack’s favor that he would never serve breakfast to anybody else until Jack came down for his.

Frank Kluckhohn of The New York Times used to get up early, hoping to get breakfast and get started out; and after a while he’d come back upstairs alternately cussing and laughing at the incongruity of being refused breakfast until Monsieur Thompson also got ready to eat.

Papa just sort of tolerated me. He didn’t detest me as he did some of the others; it was just that I hardly existed in his eyes. But I was one of Mama’s favorites. She always got out her private homemade confiture (in this case, marvelous peach jam) for me when I ate alone with the family in the kitchen.

I remember one morning when four of us correspondents were eating breakfast in the kitchen, and Mama got out the jam and made it quite plain it was for me alone. But Frank Kluckhohn didn’t follow her reasoning, and helped himself to some of my jam. Fortunately, he didn’t see the daggers Mama was looking at him. Poor Frank, he had a tough time eating in that place.

Then the Germans came

The little hotel was a peaceful place for many weeks. Not much of the American Army knew about it. We correspondents and a few fliers from a near-by airdrome, who came in once a week for dinner, were the only Americans around.

And then all of a sudden, everything changed. The battle lines drew near. Within an hour one day the village was deluged with American troops. Trucks with Negro drivers filled the olive grove across the street. The grove on the other side was pitted deep with sudden slit trenches and great holes where tanks and half-tracks were nearly hidden in the ground.

Soldiers flowed in and out of the hotel like water. The Germans were coming nearer. A couple of us correspondents sped in from another front, packed a few things into our jeep, and Papa and Mama and the boys stood waving at us as we dashed off again.

The next thing we knew, Fériana was gone. The end came suddenly, and Papa and Mama and the boys had to get out in the middle of the night. Some of us saw them next day – nearly 30 miles away – trudging uphill behind a mule cart with a few of their things on it.

The German tide that washed over Fériana was brief, but the town was shelled by both sides. Maybe Papa and Mama and the boys will have things fixed up again by the time we get back there. No doubt the Germans cleaned out Papa’s meager wine cellar. I don’t care about that, but I hope they didn’t find Mama’s peach jam.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 13, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Tunisia –
Maj. Gen. Terry Allen is one of my favorite people. Partly because he doesn’t give a damn for hell nor high water; partly because he’s more colorful than most; and partly because he’s the only general outside the Air Forces I can call by his first name.

If there’s one thing in the world Allen lives and breathes for, it’s to fight. He was all shot up in the last war, and he seems not the least averse to getting shot up again. This is no intellectual war with him. He hates Germans and Italians like vermin, and his pattern for victory is simple – just wade in and murder the hell out of the lowdown, good-for-nothing so-and-so’s. Allen’s speech is picturesque. No writer can fully capture him on paper, because his talk is so wonderfully profane it can’t be put down in black and white.

Allen was shot through the jaws in the last war. This wound causes him to make an odd hissing noise when he is intense. He breathes by sucking the air in between his teeth, and it sounds like a leak in a tire. This reverse hissing will doubtless confuse the Japs when he gets around to that part of the world.

It was Gen. Allen’s outfit that took Oran, in the original landings. Then it was necessary to hold his troops there, and for a couple of months Allen not-so-quietly went nuts sitting back in an Oran olive grove watching the war from a distance.

‘Can anybody get in this war?’

Finally, he couldn’t stand it any longer, so he went to the High Command and said:

Is this a private war, or can anybody get in?

At least that’s the way the legend goes, and it sounds like him. At any rate, Allen got in, and now he’s as happy as a lark.

After they came to the front, I drove over to visit him. When I finally found Allen, he said:

Don’t bother to pitch your tent. You sleep in my tent tonight.

An invitation from a general was an order, so I carried my bedroll up to the general’s tent and looked in. There was one bedroll on the ground. That took up half the tent. The other half was occupied by a five-gallon tin of water sitting on some rocks over a gasoline flame on the ground, and by a rough, unpainted folding table.

I couldn’t figure out where he expected me to sleep. But it was all solved that evening by the general’s orderly, who simply carried out the water can, smothered the fire with sand, moved the table, and unrolled my bedroll on the ground beside the general’s.

As far as I know, Terry Allen is the only general in Tunisia who sleeps on the ground. All the others carry folding cots. Gen. Allen won’t allow any of his staff to sleep on a cot. He said if everybody in his headquarters had a cot it would take several extra trucks to carry them, and he can use the trucks to better purpose. He likes to fight rough anyway.

General wears cavalry boots

Allen is an old cavalryman. He still wears his high-laced cavalry boots when he dresses up. He married an El Paso girl, and calls El Paso home. He carries pictures of his wife and 15-year-old son in a leather pocket case, and is tremendously proud of them.

He has been known as one of the best polo players in the Army. He hasn’t any horse to ride now, but he keeps in shape by doing a three-mile after-breakfast jog on foot through the hills several times a week. He smokes incessantly.

I went out on a shooting expedition that night with some of Allen’s men, and it was midnight when I got back. He had left the light on for me, and the wind was making the tent heave and groan, but Allen was sleeping like a child.

Dirt blew in and filtered over us. My bedroll was right over where the fire had been, and I slept warmly for the first time in weeks. Toughly trained sentries with itchy fingers stood at the front and rear of our tent. Boy, did I feel well protected!

At 7 next morning one of the sentries came in and awakened Gen. Allen. He grunted and went back to sleep. Five minutes later, another sentry came in and knelt over him and kept saying, “General, sir, general, sir,” till Allen responded and started getting up.

I had slept in all my clothes; the general in his long underwear. We were both covered with sifted dirt from the windstorm. It took us about 30 seconds to dress, and then we just walked out of the tent and went to breakfast, without washing or anything.

That’s how life is for one general at the front.


Marvelous writing. Leaves you wanting more.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 14, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Tunisia –
The central part of Tunisia is a sandy-colored, desert-like country. It is made up of mountain ridges with wide, flat, fertile valleys between them. The ridges have fir trees high up, but the valleys are without vegetation except for the crops and a knee-high growth of bush. Consequently, the valleys are poor places for hiding big motorized troop concentrations. About the only thing that affords any natural cover is an olive grove or a cactus patch.

Some of these cactus patches grow wild, and others are planted in rows just like any other crop. The plants are shoulder-high, and have big thick leaves of the prickly-pear type. They have thorns an inch long, vicious and cruel. The cactus is grown for camel feed, and camels actually come up and eat them off the bush. How they do it I don’t know, for the stickers are as hard as steel needles, and they don’t bend. But the camels don’t seem to mind.

Danger in cactus patch

Every soldier over here has learned to tread cautiously through a cactus patch, for these stickers can cause you grave trouble. They frequently start bad infections. I saw a soldier one day being taken to the rear with his arm swollen so badly he had to carry it on a sort of rack. And I myself had a small experience with them. I’d noticed for several days that my right knee was so sore I could hardly put any weight on it when I got down to roll up my bedroll. But I supposed I’d just bruised it on a rock, and didn’t pay much attention.

It wasn’t until I returned to the city and took off my clothes for the first time in weeks that I saw an angry-looking lump on my knee. So, like a country boy, I squeezed it and out popped a cactus thorn half an inch long.

In a day or two the soreness was gone. Anybody else would probably have lost his leg, but you see I lead such a pure life that my blood was clear and strong and noble and all that stuff, period.

Goes to battle with shovel

The soldiers all laughed when I started out to battle armed only with a shovel. That does seem a ridiculous instrument to carry to the wars, but I’m a pretty smart guy, you know, and I’d figured the thing all out ahead of time. My calculations were verified when I got up front where the boys actually know what the zing of a bullet sounds like. None of them laughed. Because, brother, when you’re up there where the dive bombers play, digging becomes instinctive.

I’ve heard of dive-bombings so severe that soldiers lying in shallow trenches would try to dig deeper with their fingernails. And I know of many a man who is alive today because he happened to be near an empty foxhole some previous warrior had dug. Long live the shovel!

There seems to be a sort of unwritten law that full colonels and generals always act nonchalant when in danger. Most colonels and generals don’t wear their steel helmets in battle. I thought for a while it was an unbreakable tradition, but I have seen a few colonels and generals wearing them.

I lost my steel helmet

I don’t wear mine, incidentally. But that’s not because I’m nonchalant. It’s because I got rattled and forgot and left it lying under as truck one night when we were retreating.

When you drive over a Tunisian road the morning after a big night convoy has passed, you see occasional trucks and tanks that have run off the road in the blackout.

I remember one morning counting two trucks and three tanks hanging over the edge in a distance of 45 miles. Nothing seemed to be damaged, and wreckers would soon have them out. One tank had run off a concrete bridge and dropped about 10 feet into the dry steam-bed below.

It was just after daylight, and we stopped to see if anybody were hurt. Everything was still and quiet around the tank. And then we saw, about 50 feet away, the whole crew stretched out on the sand, covered with their blankets, sound asleep while the morning sun beamed down on them. As peaceful a picture as you ever saw.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 15, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Tunisia –
You run onto some unusual people in the American Army. For instance, I know a corporal who can recite the Versailles Treaty by heart, and who can quote from memory every important military treaty since the Franco-Prussian War. This man is Cpl. William Nikolin, of 1105 West New York St., Indianapolis. You call him Nick. He is 28 and has a gold tooth. He has lived 14 years in America and 14 years in Europe, and he can speak in almost every language there is in Europe. Although born in America, he speaks English with quite an accent.

Nick studied journalism at Butler College and Columbia University. Then he went on to Europe, and took an M.A. degree in political history at Belgrade University. For six years he worked on various European newspapers. He knows the Balkans intimately, and his manner of thinking is really more Balkan than American.

Nick saw the war ahead

In 1939, Nick returned to America, because he saw the war coming and he wanted no part of it. He was disillusioned and sad over the state of things. He resolved he would never return to Europe under any circumstances. He turned his back. And then he was drafted, and here he is headed right back for the old stamping grounds. But he is glad now. He’s an excellent soldier, and outstandingly conscientious. He will be of great value when our armies get onto the Continent. But Nick sees further than that. He wants to be a part of the peace building. He wants to get his discharge over here, and stay on to cover the peace conferences. He feels himself especially equipped for the job.

Nick, in addition to his other duties, is a sort of personal assistant for two officers – Maj. Charles Miller of Detroit and Capt. Tony Lumpkin of Mexico, Missouri. Nick looks after them as though they were babies. They have a tent buried in the ground with a kerosene stove in it, and every night just before bedtime they heat up some beans and make some chocolate and call Nick in, and then they all sit there and eat and drink and discuss the world.

We correspondents have many little memories of the Central Valley in Tunisia; little things we never had time to write. I remember one night, for instance, when four of us were eating supper with Col. Edson Raff, the famous paratroop leader, and his young adjutant. Lt. Jack Pogue. It was my first meeting with Raff, and I felt some awe of him, but he was so attentive that I soon got over that.

Ernie meets a neighbor

Raff and Pogue were both dressed in the paratroop uniform and carried their Tommy guns with them. Tanks clanked and rumbled by constantly outside the door, shaking the ground and the building itself, and making the candles dance on the table.

Lt. Pogue and I got to talking, and it turned out he lives just over the hill from me in New Mexico. He’s from Estancia, in the valley behind Albuquerque, only about 40 miles away. So there in the Tunisian desert we did a couple of hours’ reminiscing about our own special desert back home.

The very first time I ever pitched my pup tent I had to have help, of course, for I didn’t even know how to button the thing together. My assistant on that first venture was Sgt. Walter Hickey, of 401 76th St., Brooklyn. He was a clerk before the war. Sgt. Hickey and I picked out a fairly level spot on a sloping mountainside and put up the tent under a fir tree, after pulling out a few shrubs to make a clear space. When we had the tent finished and staked down, I noticed the ground was crawling with ants. We had unwittingly opened up an enormous ant nest in the loose soil when we pulled up the shrubs. So, we had to take the whole tent down and pitch it under another tree.

By now, I can put up my tent all by myself, in the dark, with a strong wind blowing and both hands tied behind my back. I can too.

Horses outpull truck

You see little things in wartime that make you laugh, they are so incongruous.

I remember the forenoon our troops were evacuating Sbeitla. The roads were lined with our convoys. Mixed in with them was the French artillery, withdrawing along with us.

The sight that struck me so funny – a caterpillar tractor was laboring up a slight grade in the gravel road, pulling a French 75 behind it. And as we watched, here came another 75, pulled by six straining horses, and sped right around the motorized gun as though it were standing still.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 16, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

In Tunisia –
Little items – Petty’s drawing of his famous girl stretched out on her stomach musing about something is tacked up in hundreds of soldiers’ billets in North Africa.

The German photographic plane that covers every important sector in Tunisia daily is known in the trade as “Photo Freddie” …On days when more than one comes over, the second is called “Freddie Junior.” …Once in a while you can make out the plane as it flashes in the sun, but usually it’s so high you can’t see it at all, you just hear it…

I heard a funny story about a road-strafing the other day. Three soldiers were riding in a jeep when strafers came diving. The soldier in the back seat was riding backwards so he could keep a watch to the rear. The jeep took off across the fields, with the strafers after it. The rear guard kept calling “Right” or “Left” to indicate which way the driver should turn to dodge. But finally, it got too hot for the boys up front, and they just bailed out and left the jeep running. That left our hero alone, riding backwards in a driverless jeep, yelling “Right-Left” to nobody, while the bullets splattered around. Finally, he looked around to see why the driver wasn’t obeying. Then he too hit the dust.

Two smother in sand

In some parts of Tunisia, the sand is soft yellow and moist, and it’s almost a pleasure to dig slit trenches in it, the digging is so easy. But it does save its drawbacks.

I know of two cases where soldiers were sleeping in narrow slit trenches and the loose sand slid in on them without waking them. They were smothered to death.

Our tank warfare has shown two things – that many of our tanks catch fire when badly hit, and that, although the fire is all over the place in a few seconds, the majority of the crews are able to get out safely and struggle back to camp.

In wartime living, you relearn little things you had forgotten years ago. Such things, for example, ass lighting a cigarette simply by putting it over the chimney of a coal-oil lamp and puffing.

Italians are Eyeties, wops, guineas

One day I was up on a mountainside with troops holding a forward outpost. They were in such an inaccessible and perilous place that they were getting just one meal a day, and artillery fire was whining over their heads constantly. Yet, right in the midst of that, a truck arrived at the foot of the mountain, and here came soldiers lugging up sacks of mail. The boys were getting their letters right on the firing line.

You hardly ever hear Italian soldiers referred to as Italians. It’s either “Eyeties” or “Wops” or “Guineas.” In one case, the reason for abandoning “Italian” was a concrete one. In this case, a mountain lookout reported that “three Italians” were coming up the hill. The officer who heard it thought he said “three battalions,” and ordered a heavy barrage dropped in that area.

When the lookout called back to ask why such heavy shooting, the misunderstanding was straightened out. From then on, all men in that outfit were instructed to refer to Italians as “Guineas.”

Bomb blast vulcanizes bills

I saw the tragic remnants of a jeep that got a direct hit from a 500-pound German bomb. Three soldiers in it were blown to disintegration. Nothing was found of them to bury. But searchers did find scattered coins, knives, and bits of clothing. One soldier had a pocket Bible, and about half of its sheets were found.

Another had a large pad of currency – bills just folded over once. And the reason I’m telling this story – those bills were blown together with such force that it was impossible to get them apart. We couldn’t even strip off one bill with a pocketknife. The blast had vulcanized them together without tearing any holes in them.


Although some of Ernie’s descriptions may seem insensitive to families back home, he is giving a first-hand account of war and how the men and women cope under these conditions.

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I think Ernie was loved precisely because of those descriptions. People were desperate for knowing how their sons were coping and he let them know.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 17, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Tunisia –
Little cameos – Late one night I was bedding down as a transient visitor in a frontline American hospital. Just before bedtime, a soldier came past and introduced himself and asked if I would like some fruit-cake. I didn’t especially care for any fruitcake but up here you never refuse anything so I went along with him and ate three pieces of fruitcake and half a pound of chocolate candy before going to bed.

The soldier was Cpl. Lester Gray, of 2443 Farwell Ave., Chicago. He has been married two years. The fruitcake we ate was made by his wife. It was, incidentally, the first one she ever made. Her success with it apparently went to her head, for Cpl. Gray said five more like it were on the way.

Gray is a laboratory technician with the hospital. Before the war, he was a salesman for a wholesale jewelry concern. Ever since he has been in Africa, he has kept a steady flow of letters going back to every one of his old customers. How’s that for salesmanship?

Army dog fears gunfire

One day in an olive grove where some troops were camped, I saw a beautiful German shepherd dog nosing around. It turned out that the soldiers had brought her all the way from America. Soldiers over here picked up literally thousands and thousands of dogs as pets, but this is the first one I’ve heard of that came all the way from home.

She originally belonged to Sgt. Edward Moody of Minneapolis, who was killed in an accident. After his death, the whole battery adopted her as a mascot. She has been on two long convoy trips, has served in Ireland and England, and been in several battles on the Tunisian front. She had eight pups on the way down from England.

Her name is “Lady.” She was only three weeks old when the soldiers got her, so her entire life has been spent with men in uniform. She is suspicious of civilians, and a person in civilian clothes cannot make up to her. Despite her martial career, “Lady” is afraid of gunfire. She gets the trembles when the big guns begin to thunder. Eventually they hope she’ll get over it and go charging right along with them into battle.

Another night, I was eating dinner with eight Air Force officers in the little hotel at Fériana. At the only other table in the dining room were a bunch of French officers. We ate and made a lot of noise, and they ate and made a lot of noise, and neither table paid any attention to the other.

Then when we were about through, some of the Americans started singing. I will have to say they were probably the worst singers I’d ever heard. They were so bad they finally just sort of bogged down, and we all laughed at ourselves in confusion.

The French can fight and sing

Seeing that, the French raised their glasses to us in toast – a tribute for a good try, I suppose. Then we toasted back, and they stood up, and we stood up, and we toasted each other back and forth till everybody was embarrassed. And finally, the French relieved the tension by saying they’d like to sing a song for us. And could they sing! It was like a professional glee club. Three of them were wounded veterans of the last war, covered with medals. One looked like an escapee from Devil’s Island. One was a chaplain, and he was just a youth but had a ferocious long beard and a bass voice like Singin’ Sam of the radio.

Those Frenchmen sang for an hour. Not ordinary songs that you’d heard before, but fighting regimental songs and catchy tunes with an almost jungle-like rhythm. The coal-oil lamp threw shadows on their faces, and it was truly an Old-World scene out of a book.

The touching part was just at the last, when the officer who looked like Devil’s Island came over and told us what the dinner was for. Their outfit had gone into the lines two weeks before. Today they had come out. Tonight those who survived were having a reunion, eating and drinking and singing for the ones who did not come back. Twenty-five had gone into the lines. Eleven were at the dinner.

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I see that you live in Cincinnati. That’s my home town.


Yes sir. Lived within 100 miles of Cincinnati for 53 years or so


The Pittsburgh Press (April 19, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Tunisia –
The men who interrogate captured prisoners have interesting jobs. In addition to being linguists, they have to be good psychologists to wheedle information out of reluctant German soldiers.

They never have any trouble getting the Italians to talk, but unfortunately, the Italians don’t know anything. According to interrogators, they are a pretty sorry lot. Some didn’t even know they were fighting against Americans till they were captured.

One batch I know of thought we would execute them, and were pathetically happy when they discovered they would live. The first thing they usually ask is to be allowed to write their families that they’re all right, and, of course, permission is granted.

Most of them keep diaries. All of them, Italians and Germans like, seem to have plenty of money in their pockets. The Italians all carry Catholic medals and crosses, and are grateful on learning they can keep these. Nearly everybody has a picture of a wife or sweetheart or children, and these, too, they are allowed to keep.

A few of the captured Germans and Italians up north had on thin clothing, and no underwear at all. But most of them are warmly dressed and well-equipped. The first thing our soldiers take away from a German is his mess kit. It is superior in quality and design to ours; is made of steel, easy to keep clean, more compact, and even has a can opener with it.

The Italians have a shovel that is quite a gadget. It is small, sort of like a fireplace coal shovel. The shovel part is swiveled onto the handle, so you can turn it down, lock it, and the shovel then becomes a pick.

Captured Nazis can’t be trusted

Italian enlisted men wear as lapel insignia a tin star, exactly like the stars an American general wears. I know at least two generals now wearing these Italian stars on their shoulders. And I heard of a private who pinned one on his cap unthinkingly, and went around for an hour wondering why everybody in the Army was suddenly saluting him.

The Italians are almost unanimously happy to be captured, but you can never tell what a German’s attitude will be. Some are friendly and glad to be out of it. Others are arrogant. They tell of one wounded German who came to in the operating room of one of our hospitals, and instantly came off the table swinging with both fists. Nurses say the wounded Germans are usually sullen and autocratic.

There is one conscripted German regiment made up of people rejected earlier in the war – men with one eye or one finger missing, older people, men from occupied countries. But mostly, the Germans and Italians are in excellent physical condition.

The Germans get paid every 10 days, and nearly half their money is automatically sent home. They are usually short on cigarettes. Often, you’ll see Americans going past a batch of newly-captured prisoners and stopping to give them cigarettes.

Stories differ as to how the Axis treats our prisoners. Some who have escaped say the Italians are worse than the Germans. I know Americans who say they were treated courteously and considerately, and others who say they’ll commit suicide before they’ll be captured again. I guess it depends on the individual who gets his hands on you.

Villainous Pyle makes bum guess

During the February fighting in Tunisia, I unwittingly played the most villainous role it has ever been my misfortune to perform.

Will Lang of Time-LIFE and I had been traveling together. I left him way up in Ousseltia Valley, and drove back to the southern front. On the way, I ducked into a certain headquarters where mail is occasionally sent out to us from the city.

There I found about 15 letters and three cablegrams for Will and Eliot Elisofon, the LIFE photographer. So, I stuck them in my pocket, then headed for Sbeitla.

On the way, I stopped in Fériana to pick up some stuff we had left at the little hotel there. Lang and Elisofon kept a room at this hotel, to which they returned occasionally.

At first, I thought I’d better keep their mail with me. And then I thought no, there’ll be hard fighting around Sbeitla, and if anything should happen to me, their mail will be gone forever. So, I finally dumped it all on their beds in Fériana.

And I’ll be damned if the Germans didn’t push through that very night and take Fériana, and along with it the Lang and Elisofon mail. I could have cried for remorse. And, to top it off, I hadn’t even read their cablegrams, so couldn’t tell them what they said.

But two guys have never made it easier for a culprit then they did for me. They just laughed it off as if they were accustomed to getting 100 letters a day, and what difference did another 15 make?


How hasn’t he seen his youngest child? Did he just abandon the child?


Maybe with the war he hadn’t been home in three years?


The Pittsburgh Press (April 20, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In Tunisia –
American tent hospitals in the battle area seem to be favorite hangouts for correspondents. The presence of American nurses is alleged to have nothing whatever to do with it.

At one hospital, three correspondents just moved in and made it their headquarters for a couple of weeks. They’d roam the country in their jeeps during the day, then return to the hospital at night just as though it were a hotel.

There are two favorite hospitals where I drop in now and then for a meal or a night. One is an evacuation hospital – the same one where the other boys stay – which is always kept some 80 miles or more back of the fighting. That is the one staffed largely from Roosevelt Hospital in New York. The other is a mobile surgical hospital, which is usually only about an hour’s drive back of the fighting. This is the hospital that landed at Arzew on the day of the North African occupation, and whose nurses were the first ashore in North Africa.

Just like soldiers at front

This gang is kept pretty much on the move. They don’t dare be too close to the lines, and yet they can’t be very far away. So as the war swings back and forth, they swing with it. The nurses of this outfit are the most veteran of any in Africa.

There are nearly 60 of them, and they’re living just like the soldiers at the front. They have run out of nearly everything feminine. They wear heavy issue shoes, and even men’s GI underwear. Most of the time, they wear Army coveralls instead of dresses.

I asked them what to put in the column that they’d like sent from home, and here is what they want – cleansing creams and tissues, fountain pens, shampoos and underwear. That’s all they ask. They don’t want slips, for they don’t wear them.

These girls can really take it. They eat out of mess kits when they’re on the move. They do their own washing. They stand regular duty hours all the time, and in emergencies they work without thought of the hours.

During battles, they are swamped. Then between battles they have little to do, for a frontline hospital must always be kept pretty free of patients to make room for a sudden influx. A surgical hospital seldom keeps a patient more than three days.

Life is a social blank

During these lax periods, the nurses fill in their time by rolling bandages, sewing sheets and generally getting everything ready for the next storm.

They had a miserably blank social life. There is absolutely no town life in central Tunisia, even if they could get to a town. Occasionally an officer will take them for a jeep ride, but usually they’re not even permitted to walk up and down the road. They just work, and sleep, and sit, and write letters. War is no fun for them.

They make $186 a month, and pay $21 of it for mess. There’s nothing to buy over here, so nearly all of them send money home.

Like the soldiers, they have learned what a valuable implement the steel helmet is. They use it as a foot bath, as a wastebasket, as a dirty-clothes hamper, to carry water in, as a cooking utensil, as a chair, as a candle-holder, as a rain-hat, and for all sorts of other emergencies.

Being nurses and accustomed to physical misery, they have not been shocked or upset by the badly wounded men they care for. The thing that has impressed them most is the way the wounded men act. They say they’ve worked with wounded men lying knee-deep outside the operating rooms, and never does one whimper or complain. They say it’s remarkable.

The girls sleep on cots, under Army blankets. Very few have sleeping bags. They use outdoor toilets. At one place, they’ve rigged up canvas walls for taking sunbaths.

They wouldn’t go home if they could

Mary Ann Sullivan, of Boston, whom I wrote about last winter, is in this outfit. Some of the other girls I know are Mildred Keelin, of 929 Ellison Ave., Louisville, Kentucky; Amy Nichols, of Blythe, Georgia; Mary Francis of Waynesville, North Carolina; Eva Sacks, of 1821 North 33rd St., Philadelphia; Kate Rodgers, of 2932 Wroxton Ave., Houston, Texas.

Like the soldiers, they think and talk constantly of home, and would like to be home. Yet it’s just as Amy Nichols says – she wouldn’t go home if they told her she could. All the others feel the same way, practically 100%.

They’re terrifically proud of having been the first nurses to land in Africa, and of being continually the closest ones to the fighting lines, and they intend to stay. They are actually in little danger, except from deliberate or accidental bombing. They haven’t had any yet.


Sure, buddy.

All hail the mighty M1. :smile:


The Pittsburgh Press (April 21, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia –
Now we have left central Tunisia behind us. We are in the north now, Americans as well as British, and the end of the long Tunisian trail is in sight. Surely the kill cannot now be long delayed.

Except in the air, the American troops are playing a rather minor part in this final act. In the air, we are all-out, and great formations of American planes are overhead constantly. But on the ground, it is the British 8th and 1st Armies who are giving Rommel the main squeeze.

The troops have been so distributed for this last phase that the Americans and the French are holding only a small slice of the quarter-circle that is penning the Germans into the Tunis corner. True, we will do some hard fighting, but the bulk of the knockout blow on the ground will be British.

You at home will be wrong if you try to make anything sinister out of that, for it’s the way it should be, as I tried to tell you once before.

British more experienced

The British have more troops, and more experienced troops, in Tunisia than we have. We had sort of divided the load earlier, but with the arrival of the 8th Army the affair has become predominantly British,

Since Montgomery has chased Rommel all the way from Egypt in one of the great military achievements of history, it is only right that the British should make the kill.

The 8th Army is a magnificent organization. We correspondents have been thrilled by its perfection. So have our troops. It must surely be one of the outstanding armies of all time. We trailed it several days up the Tunisian coast, and we came to look upon it almost with awe.

Its organization for continuous movement is so perfect that it seems more like a big business firm than a destructive army. The men of the 8th are brown-skinned and white-eyebrowed from the desert sun.

Their spirit is like a tonic

Most of them are in shorts, and they are a healthy-looking lot. Their spirit is like a tonic. The spirit of our own troops is good, but these boys from the burning sands are throbbing with the vitality of conquerors.

They are friendly, cocky, confident. They’ve been three years in the desert, and now they wear the expression of victory on their faces. We envy them, and are proud of them.

This north country is entirely different from the semi-desert where we Americans spent the winter. Up here, the land is fertile and everything is violently green.

Northern Tunisia is all hills and valleys. There are no trees at all, but now in spring the earth is solidly covered with deep green – pastures and freshly growing fields of grain. Small wildflowers spatter the countryside. I have never seen lovelier or more gentle country. It gives you a sense of peacefulness. It seems to speak its richness to you. It is a full, ripe country, and here in the springtime living seems sweet and worthwhile.

Green turns red with blood

There are winding gravel roads everywhere, with many roads of fine macadam. Villages are perched on the hillsides, and some of them look like picture postcards. This is all so different from the Tunisia we’ve known that all of us, driving up suddenly one sunny afternoon into this clean cool greenness, felt like holding out our arms and saying:

This is the country we love.

Yet this peaceful green is gradually turning red with blood. The roads are packed with brown-painted convoys, and the trailers sprout long rifle barrels. The incredibly blue sky with its big white clouds is streaked with warplanes in great throbbing formations. And soon the whole northeastern corner of Tunisia will roar and rage with a violence utterly out of character with a landscape so rich in nature’s kindness.

The only thing we can say in behalf of ourselves is that the human race even in the process of defiling beauty still has the capacity to appreciate it.

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The perfection that is the 8th army. I think the Germans felt that way about the 6th army too.

It was the cream of the crop and the Allies had every right to be proud. Does this qualify Montgomery as one of the great commanders of all time?

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 22, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (by wireless)
I was away from the frontlines for a while this spring, living with other troops, and considerable fighting took place while I was gone. When I got ready to return to my old friends at the front, I wondered if I would sense any change in them.

I did, and definitely.

The most vivid change is the casual and workshop manner in which they now talk about killing. They have made the psychological transition from the normal belief that taking human life is sinful, over to a new professional outlook where killing is a craft. To them now, there is nothing morally wrong about killing. In fact, it is an admirable thing.

I think I am so impressed by this new attitude because it hasn’t been necessary for me to make this change along with them. As a non-combatant, my own life is in danger only by occasional chance or circumstance. Consequently, I need not think of killing in personal terms, and killing to me is still murder.

Even after a winter of living with wholesale death and vile destruction, it is only spasmodically that I seem capable of realizing how real and how awful this war is. My emotions seem dead and crusty when presented with the tangibles of war. I find I can look on rows of fresh graves without a lump in my throat. Somehow, I can look on mutilated bodies without flinching or feeling deeply.

It is only when I sit alone away from it all, or lie at night in my bedroll recreating with closed eyes what I have seen, thinking and thinking and thinking, that at last the enormity of all these newly dead strikes like a living nightmare. And there are times when I feel that I can’t stand it and will have to leave.

Fighting soldier’s blood is up

But to the fighting soldier that phase of the war is behind. It was left behind after his first battle. His blood is up. He is fighting for his life, and killing now for him is as much a profession as writing is for me.

He wants to kill individually or in vast numbers. He wants to see the Germans overrun, mangled, butchered in the Tunisian trap. He speaks excitedly of seeing great heaps of dead, of our bombers sinking whole shiploads of fleeing men, of Germans by the thousands dying miserably in a final Tunisian holocaust of his own creation.

In this one respect the frontline soldier differs from all the rest of us. All the rest of us – you and me and even the thousands of soldiers behind the lines in Africa – we want terribly yet only academically for the war to get over. The front-line soldier wants it to be got over by the physical process of his destroying enough Germans to end it. He is truly at war. The rest of us, no matter how hard we work, are not.

Britisher honors American heroes

Say what you will, nothing can make a complete soldier except battle experience.

In the semifinals of this campaign – the cleaning out of central Tunisia – we had large units in battle for the first time. Frankly, they didn’t all excel. Their own commanders admit it, and admirably they don’t try to alibi. The British had to help us out a few times, but neither American nor British commanders are worried about that, for there was no lack of bravery. There was only lack of experience. They all know we will do better next time.

The 1st Infantry Division is an example of what our American units can be after they have gone through the mill of experience. Those boys did themselves proud in the semifinals. Everybody speaks about it. Our casualties included few taken prisoners. All the other casualties were wounded or died fighting.

A general says:

They never gave an inch. They died right in their foxholes.

I heard of a high British officer who went over this battlefield just after the action was over. American boys were still lying dead in their foxholes, their rifles still grasped in firing position in their dead hands. And the veteran English soldier remarked time and again, in a sort of hushed eulogy spoken only to himself:

Brave men. Brave men.

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You should wait till Market Garden for that, I think.