Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

The Pittsburgh Press (April 23, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (by wireless)
Thousands are the soldiers who want someday to bring their wives and children back to Tunisia, in times of peace, and take them over the battlefields we have come to know so well. But, except for the cities, they will not find much to remind them of the ferocity that existed here.

I have traveled recently over the Tunisian battle area – both the part we knew so intimately because it was on our side and the part we didn’t know at all because the Germans lived there at the time.

You don’t see the sort of desolated countryside we remember from pictures of France in the last war. That is because the fighting has been mobile, because neither side used permanent huge guns, and because the country is mostly treeless and empty. But there are some marks left, and I’ll try to give you examples in this and tomorrow’s column.

Tank skeletons, wooden crosses

East of El Guettar, down a broad valley through which runs a nice macadam road, you see dark objects sitting far off on the plain. These are burned-out tanks of both sides. A certain two sit close together like twins, about a mile off the road. The immense caterpillar track is off one and lies trailed out behind for 50 feet. The insides are a shambles. Seared and jumbled personal and mechanical debris is scattered around outside. Our soldiers have already retrieved almost everything worthwhile from the German debris, but you can still find big wrenches, oil-soaked gloves, and twisted shell cases.

And in the shade of one tank, not five feet from the great metal skeleton, is the fresh grave of a German tanker, marked by a rough wooden cross without a name.

There are many of these tanks scattered miles apart through the valley.

On the hillsides, you can still see white splotches – powder marks from our exploding artillery shells. Gnarled lengths of Signal Corps telephone wire, too mauled to retrieve, string for yards along the roadsides.

There are frequent filled-in holes in the macadam where artillery or dive bombers took their toll. Now and then a little graveyard with wooden crosses stands lonesomely at the roadside. Some of the telephone poles have been chopped down. There are clumps of empty ammunition boxes. But for all these things you must look closely. There was once a holocaust here, but it left only a slight permanent mark. It is sort of hard to disfigure acres of marigolds and billions of blades of fresh desert grass.

Sidi Bouzid in the middle

Sidi Bouzid is the little white village I saw destroyed by shellfire back in February. It was weeks later before I could get close enough to see the details, for the village remained German territory for some time. This was one of the little towns I know so well, and now it is pitiful to look at. The village almost doesn’t exist anymore. Its dozens of low stone adobe buildings, stuccoed a snowy white, are nothing but rockpiles. The village has died. The reason for the destruction of Sidi Bouzid was that German and American tank columns, advancing toward each other, met there. Artillery from both sides poured its long-distance fury into the town for hours. There will have to be a new Sidi Bouzid.

Faid Pass is the last pass in the Grand Dorsal before the drive eastward onto the long flat plain that leads to the Mediterranean at Sfax. For months, we looked with longing eyes at Faid. A number of times we tried to take it and failed. But when the Germans’ big retreat came, they left Faid Pass voluntarily. And they left it so thoroughly and maliciously mined that, even today, you don’t dare drive off onto the shoulder of the road, or you may get blown to kingdom come.

You lean away from danger signs

Our engineers go through these minefields with electrical instruments, locate the mines, and surround them with warning notices until they can be dug up or exploded later. These notices are of two types – either a white ribbon strung around the mine area on knee-high sticks or else stakes with oppositely pointing arrows on top. The white arrow pointing to the left meaning that side is safe, the red arrow pointing to the right meaning that side is mined.

And believe me, after seeing a few mine-wrecked trucks and jeeps, you fear mines so dreadfully that you find yourself actually leaning away from the side of the road where the signs are, as you drive past.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 24, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (by wireless)
I hate to think of poor little Sfax. I believe it must have been the prettiest of all the Tunisian cities we have seen so far. Somehow it had something of Miami’s Biscayne Boulevard in it, and a little of San Diego too. But it is gone now – I mean the downtown business part, for it lay right on the waterfront and our Allied bombers played havoc with it. The whole business section, of course, was evacuated before the bombing started, so probably there was only a slight loss of life.

Parts of Sfax look like London during the Blitz. A locomotive sprawls on its side across a sidewalk. Royal palms, uprooted, lie pitifully in the street. Little parks are no-man’s-lands of craters. The macadam streets have great cracks across them. There is no square inch left unwrecked in downtown Sfax.

The French feel that we shouldn’t have bombed Sfax because it was French. But it was one of Germany’s big supply ports, and not to have bombed it would have been cutting our own throats as well as the throats of all Frenchmen.

‘Holy city’ welcomes Allies

Kairouan – this holy city is one of the minor Meccas. They say seven journeys to Kairouan equal one to Mecca.

It wasn’t holy to the Germans. They used it all winter as a big rail and highway supply point.

We got to Kairouan shortly after the Germans had fled before the 8th Army. This was the first time I had been close on the heels, of a reoccupation. Three of us correspondents rode into the town in jeeps, and to our astonishment found the streets lined with crowds waving and cheering and applauding each passing vehicle.

Not knowing the difference, they gave us correspondents as big a hand as the rest. And we beamed and waved back just as though we’d run the Germans out ourselves. I might add on our behalf that we did feel like heels while doing it.

Kairouan had been under Axis domination for nearly three years but it was not damaged much by bombing. Therein lies a slight mix-up somewhere, for last winter that one of our fliers “destroyed” the Splendide Hotel, which housed a German headquarters. Yet the Splendide, I can assure you, is still standing, quite unharmed.

In Kairouan we saw the first white women most of us had seen in a long time. I remember three French girls who stood on a street corner for hours waving and smiling at the Allied tanks and trucks as they passed through the town. One of the girls had on a blue skirt and a white waist, I remember, which made her stand out from the others.

That girl in white waist!

The reason I’m telling you this is that in the days that followed, all over Tunisia, I’d fall into conversation with soldiers and they’d begin telling about the wonderful girl they saw in Kairouan. Eventually they’d describe how she was dressed, and it always turned out to be Miss Blue-Skirt-and-White-Waist.

That one girl, merely by standing in the street and waving, had given to scores of women-hungry men an illusion of Broadway and Main St. that they’d not known in months.

Gafsa is the southern town we took back after it had been in German hands for a couple of months. Gafsa was not much damaged by shot and shell, but it was gutted by the cruel hands of mean men. Whether those were the hands of Germans or Arabs or our own army, I’ve not yet found out.

One French officer estimated that the Arabs of Gafsa were 85% for the Germans, 5% for the French, and 10% indifferent. That is a testimonial to the power of German propaganda, for the Arabs are lovers of might.

Destruction is wanton

At any rate, when we returned to Gafsa the streets were littered, and the homes of all the Jews and better-off French and Arabs were wrecked. Windows had been broken, rugs and all other valuables stolen, furniture smashed and thrown out into the streets for desert Arabs to steal. Marauders went into a nice little hotel, apparently with hammers, and smashed every lavatory, every mirror and every window. They smashed the mechanism of every refrigerator in town.

Their crippling of the city power plant was legitimate. Their uprooting of private gardens was barbarism, solely for barbarity’s sake.

That’s about all on my tour of the battlefields. The Germans, by stripping the country of provisions, probably caused more grief than either side did by actual battle.

The tank-tracked fields will soon grow over. The blowing sands will fill the hundreds of thousands of expedient slit trenches. Ammunition boxes and gas cans and abandoned tanks will rust themselves into oblivion. Desiccated little towns will be rebuilt. And the Arab, as he has done for centuries, will go on about his slow business in the old way that suits him best.


what did commodes do to them?


I don’t know, must’ve pissed 'em off for being too still. :joy:


The Pittsburgh Press (April 26, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia –
At least there’s one thing we can’t complain about as the Tunisian campaign draws toward its close, and that’s the weather.

In these past few weeks, the heavens have seemed bent on bounteous amends for all the misery they scourged us with during the winter. This is one time when nobody wants to do anything about the weather. It’s perfect as it is. The rains are over. The cold is gone. Everything is green, and flowers sparkle over the countryside. The sun is up early and bright, and it is a blessing after all those dreary months of wet and wind. It’s now like June in Virginia.

I don’t know how it affects the fighting troops, but in my own case I’ve got spring fever so badly my conscience hurts. All I want to do was lie in the sun.

For a while we were camped in an apricot grove, on ankle-high bluegrass. The sun beamed down between the trees, and occasional bees buzzed around with that Midwestern summer drone that to me is synonymous with lazy days.

Shirks work and loves it

That apricot grove was one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever known, and I’d find myself lying for hours outside my tent, flat on my back in the grass, reveling in the evil knowledge that I was shirking my work, the war, and everything else.

Then we moved to a gumtree grove and set up our tents again. One Sunday morning, most of the other correspondents left to visit an airfield, leaving our little camp deserted and a perfect place to accomplish a lot of writing.

But instead of doing my job as I should have, I fell into one of my carpentering spells and worked from breakfast to mid-afternoon building a washstand onto a tree, cutting up a five-gallon gasoline can for a washbasin, cleaning my mess kit, and wiring up a broken chair I had found on a dump heap, so we could boast that we actually had a home with a chair in it. I didn’t write a line all day, bur I sure had a wonderful time.

Chris Cunningham of the United Press and I are sharing a tent and he says if I don’t quit being so housewifey he’s going insane. I guess Chis is doomed, for the spring puttering days are upon me and I can’t help it.

We’ve not yet been issued summer khaki, but there’s a rumor it’ll be done soon. Actually, it isn’t too hot yet for our heavies. They say the cruelly hot weather doesn’t come till June.

Mosquitoes begin to show up

Mosquitoes are beginning to show up. We watched for the first mosquito as we used to watch at home for the first robin, but not with the same spirit of welcome. I’m the mosquito barometer for our group, since a mosquito will travel days and says to find me. I got my first bad bites down in central Tunisia and am now anxiously sweating out the malaria incubation period.

The Army hasn’t yet issued mosquito head or bed nets, but there’s a rumor along that line. They’ve started giving us semiweekly atabrine tablets. I’m being very bad and not taking anything, since atabrine throws me and quinine makes my head feel constantly as though I were shouting in a barrel. So, I suppose the next torture on your list will be having to read about me having malaria.

We correspondents are winding up the Tunisian campaign in comparative luxury. The old rough-and-tumble days of last winter are gone. The Army’s Public Relations Branch is now all set up like a traveling circus, and we are well looked after.

We are so close to the frontlines we can base permanently in our own camp and still get to the firing line in half an hour. German raiders come over daily, but our air superiority is so great now that oftentimes we don’t even look up.

All night the artillery rumbles, and the ground quivers. When I first came to this spot, I couldn’t sleep because of it, but I’ve got used to it.

Arabs dig out slit trenches

We are living in two-man tents, and there are several bigger tents for the kitchen, mess and stockroom. We have stolen tables from a bombed-out saloon in a nearby village. We have electric lights in our tents. And instead of digging our own slit trenches, here the Arabs do it – they pay being a pack of cigarettes for a day’s work.

We take off our clothes at night now. We sleep in folding cots, have our own mess, and even wash our faces of a morning. It is all so different from our miserable winter.

I’m telling you all this so you’ll understand why these columns have been so bad lately. Warm weather and a taste of half-civilized living have undermined my character. I’ve just been too comfortable to think.


Won’t the mosquitoes suck him dry if he does so, since he is the mosquito barometer? Or did he have something to ward those pesky mosquitoes away?


Sleep under a mosquito net?


Ah… yes. Why did this not strike me as the obvious answer even though I live in a tropical country? :man_facepalming:


The Pittsburgh Press (April 27, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (by wireless)
We moved one afternoon to a new position just a few miles behind the invisible line of armor that separates us from the Germans in northern Tunisia. Nothing happened that first night that was spectacular, yet somehow the whole night became obsessed with a spookiness that leaves it standing like a landmark in my memory.

We had been at the new camp about an hour and were still setting up our tents when German planes appeared overhead. We stopped work to watch them. It was the usual display of darting planes, with the conglomerate sounds of ack-ack on the ground and in the sky. Suddenly we realized that one plane was diving straight at us, and we made a mad scramble for foxholes. Two officer friends of mine had dug a three-foot hole and set their tent over it. They made for their tent, and I was tramping on their heels. The tent flap wouldn’t come open, and we wound up in a silly heap. Finally, it did open, and we all dived through the narrow opening at once.

We lay there in the hole, face down, as the plane came smack overhead with a terrible roar. We were all drawn up inside, waiting for the blow. Explosions around us were shatteringly loud, and yet when it was all over, we couldn’t find any bomb holes or anybody hurt. But you could find a lot of nervous people.

Guns thunder for 24 hours

Dusk came on, and with dusk began the steady boom of big guns in the mountains ahead of us. They weren’t near enough for the sound to be crashing. Rather it was like the lonely roll of an approaching thunderstorm – a sound which since childhood has always made me sad with a kind of portent of inevitable doom.

We went to bed in our tents. A nearby farmyard was full of dogs and they began a howling that lasted all night. The roll of artillery was constant. It never stopped once in 24 hours. Once in a while, there were nearer shots which might have been German patrols or might not.

We lay uneasily on our cots. Sleep wouldn’t come. We turned and turned. I snapped on a flashlight.

Chris Cunningham asked from the next cot:

What time is it?

I answered:

Quarter to one. Haven’t you been asleep?

He hadn’t.

A plane droned faintly in the distance and came nearer and nearer until it was overhead.

Chris asked out of the darkness:

Is that a Jerry or a Beaufighter?

I said:

It hasn’t got that throb-throb to it, so it must be a Beaufighter. But hell, I never can tell really. Don’t know what it is.

The plane passed on, out of hearing. The artillery rolled and rolled. A nearer shot went off uncannily somewhere in th darkness. Some guinea hens set up a terrific cackling.

Scorpions, snakes conjured up

I remembered that just before dusk a soldier had shot at a snake in our new camp, and they thought it was a cobra. We’d just heard our first stories of scorpions, too. I began to feel creepy and wondered if our tent flaps were tight.

Another plane throbbed in the sky, and we lay listening with an awful anticipation. One of the dogs suddenly broke into a frenzied barking and went tearing through our little camp as thought chasing a demon.

My mind seemed to lose all sense of proportion, and I was jumpy and mad at myself.

Concussion ghosts, traveling in waves, touched our tent walls and made them quiver. Ghosts were shaking the ground ever so lightly. Ghosts were stirring the dogs to hysteria. Ghosts were wandering in the sky peering for us in our cringing hideout. Ghosts were everywhere, and their hordes were multiplying as every hour added its production of new battlefield dead.

You lie and think of the graveyards and the dirty men and the shocking blast of the big guns, and you can’t sleep.

Everybody is nervous

Out of darkness from the next cot comes:

What time is it?

I snap on the flashlight.

Half past 4, and go to sleep!

Finally, just before dawn, you do sleep, in spite of everything.

Next morning, we spoke around among ourselves and found one by one that all of us had tossed away all night. It was an unexplainable thing. For all of us had been through dangers greater than this. On another might, the roll of the guns would have lulled us to sleep.

It’s just that on some nights the air becomes sick and there is an unspoken contagion of spiritual dread, and you are little boys again, lost in the dark.


Yes, it was one of those nights we all know too well.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 28, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (by wireless)
Africa is a strange country, and this war is very little like the last war in France. Yet here too, many an American sleep beneath fields of poppies – poppies so red and vivid that their beauty is strangely saddening.

The desert battlefields and the northern battleground too are alive with flowers. They grow wild, in patches as thick as grass, blanketing solid acres. They grow together in vast stretches of red, yellow and orange, all of it framed by the lush green of new grass. Even the dullest spirits among us can’t help being touched by their ironical loveliness.

I have stopped now and then to see some of the battle graveyards. The Germans bury their dead in small cemeteries along the roadsides, but we concentrate in fewer and bigger graveyards, usually on the edge of some town. Arabs are hired to dig the graves.

At Gafsa, there is an American cemetery with more than 600 graves. It is in desert-like country, and the graves are aligned in precise rows in the naked gray earth. Each is marked with a waist-high wooden cross. In a nearby tent is a great pile of ready-made crosses, and a stack of newly carpentered wooden markers in the form of the Star of David, for the Jewish dead.

As all the American dead in the Gafsa area have been located and reburied in the permanent graveyard, this cemetery section will move on to other fronts.

Americans in German cemetery

The little German cemeteries are always bordered with rows of white rocks, and in some there will be a phrase neatly spelled out in white rocks with a border around it. One that I remember said, in rough translation:

These dead gave their spirits for the glory of Greater Germany.

In one German cemetery of about a hundred graves, we found 11 Americans. They lay among the Germans, not segregated in any way. Their graves are identical with those of the Germans except that beneath the names on the wooden crosses is printed “Amerikaner,” and below that the Army serial number. We presume their “dog tags” were buried with them.

On one of the graves, beneath the soldier’s serial number, is also printed: “T-40.” The Germans apparently thought that was part of his number. Actually, it only showed that the man had his first anti-tetanus shot in 1940.

My friend Sgt. Pat Donadeo, of 327 S. Atlantic Ave., Pittsburgh, was with me when we looked at this graveyard, and as we left, he said:

They respect our dead the same as we do theirs. It’s comforting to know that.

Booby trap grave markers

We also came upon a number of Italian graveyards set out in fields. Those graves too were well-marked, and each had a bouquet of wilted marigolds. At the side of one little Italian cemetery, which was beautifully bordered and decorated, were half a dozen additional graves, apparently dug at the last minute before the retreat. They were just rough mounds, unmarked except for an empty quart wine bottle stuck upside down at the head of each grave. Inside the bottles we could see scraps of paper, apparently with the dead Italians’ names and numbers on them. Naturally we wouldn’t violate the graves by pulling out the bottles, but even if our inclination had been rowdy, we would have been afraid to. There are rumors, which I have not been able to verify, that such grave-marking bottles are sometimes booby traps.

The Germans leave very clean country behind them. Their salvage organization must be one of the best in the world – probably because of desperate necessity. We’ve gone all over the Tunisian country from which they have fled, and evidences that they have been there are slight. You see burned-out tanks in the fields and some wrecked scout cars and Italian trucks lying in roadside ditches, and that is about all. Nothing is left behind that is repairable. Wrecked cars are stripped of their tires, instruments and lights. They leave no tin cans, boxes or other junk as we do.

We’ve seen little evidence of German earth-scorching, probably because the retreat northward was too fast. Some bridges were blown up. Mountain passes and the paths around wrecked bridges were heavily mined. But the most noticeable thing is the destruction of all telephone lines. They cut down about every other pole along the highways, and snipped most of the wires. The poles weren’t chopped down. They were sawed off about two feet above the ground, and very neatly sawed off too, the fastidious marauders.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 29, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (by wireless)
One night at Kairouan, three of us correspondents, finding the newly-taken town filled wirth newly-arrived British and American troops, just drove out of town into the country and camped for the night. We didn’t put up a tent. We just slept in the open.

The mosquitoes were fierce, and we draped netting over our hands. We were in a sort of big ditch right alongside an Arab graveyard. But neither the graves nor the mosquitoes bothered us that night, for we were tired and windburned, and before we knew it, morning had come and a hot sun was beaming down into our squinting eyes.

And what should those sleepy eyes behold but two Arab boys standing right over our bedrolls, holding out eggs. It was practically like a New Yorker cartoon. For all I know they may have been standing there all night.

At any rate, they had come to the right place, for we were definitely in the market for eggs. They wouldn’t sell for money, so we dug into our larger box and got four eggs in trade for three little cellophane packets of hard candy. Then we started all over again and got four more eggs for a pack of cigarettes.

Americans run everything

We thought it a good trade, but found later that the trading ratio which the Germans had set up ahead of us was one cigarette for one egg. We Americans have to ruin everything, of course, but as one tough-looking soldier said:

If I want to give $50 for an egg it’s my business and my $50. And from all I’ve seen of Arabs an extra franc or two ain’t gonna hurt them any.

All this happened before wee had got out of our bedrolls. But the youthful traders didn’t leave. As we were putting on our pants, each boy whisked a shoe-shining box from under his burnoose and went after our shoes. Then when we started a fire and were feeding it with sticks, one of the boys got down and blew on the flame to make it burn better. It was easy to see that we had acquired a couple of body servants.

The boys were herding about two dozen goats in some nearby center. Now and then, one of them would run over and chase the goats back nearer to our camp. We called one boy Mohammed and the other Abdullah, which seemed to tickle them. They were good-natured, happy boys of about 15.

One of them tried on my goggles. He seemed to imagine that he looked wonderful in them, and giggled and made poses. He didn’t know the goggles were upside down. Also, he didn’t know that I was hoping fervently his eyes weren’t as diseased as they looked.

Paid in worthless money

The boys told us in French that the Germans had made them work at an airport, opening gas cans and doing genera flunky work. They said the Germans paid them 20 francs a day, which is above the local scale, but it turned out they were German-printed francs, which of course are now absolutely worthless.

Our self-appointed helpers hunted sticks for us, poured water out of our big can and helped us wash our mess kits. They kept blowing in the fire, they cleaned up all the scraps around our bivouac, they lifted our heavy bedrolls into the jeep for us, and just as we were ready to leave, they gave our shoes a final brushing.

We paid them with three cigarettes and two sticks of gum each, and they were delighted.

Wants goat food

When we were ready to go, we shook hands all around, au-revoired, smiled and saluted. And then one of the boys asked apologetically if we could give them one more thing maybe. We asked what it was they wanted. You’d never guess. He wanted an empty tin can for his goats to chew on. We gave him one.

Hadji is the Arab word used in place of “Sir” before the name of anybody who has journeyed to Mecca and become holy. Seven journeys to Kairouan equal one to Mecca, so we correspondents now go around calling each other Hadji, since most of us have crossed the city line more than seven times.

Another word we’ve adopted is djebel. It’s Arabic for hill or mountain. On the maps every knob you see is Djebel This or Djebel That. So, we also call each other Djebel, and if you think that’s silly, well, we have to have something to laugh at.


Well we at least solved the mosquito netting question.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 30, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (by wireless)
Our Army in North Africa is still full of rumors. Most of them have to do with when we will go home.

Recently, there was a rumor that President Roosevelt had made a radio address saying that the mothers, wives and sweethearts of the men in North Africa were due for a big surprise as soon as the Tunisian campaign was over. I have never been able to verify whether he made such a speech or not, but anyway the rumored remark spread and was immediately interpreted by the men as meaning that everybody was going home the minute the last German was out of Africa. Some of our troops sincerely believe that’s what will happen.

The orange and tangerine seasons is over now. Those richly juicy North African tangerines were one of the pleasantest things of our war over here. For months we ate them by the daily dozens. Now that they are all gone, we are back to occasional canned fruit juice from America. And on British mess tables you’ll find a little can of pills called ascorbic tablets, which you take daily to make up for the lack of fruits in your diet.

Mama and Papa’s hotel intact

I stopped at Fériana one day to check up on what had happened to our little old hotel there and Papa and Mama and the boys, who ran it.

Well, the American Army had taken over the hotel, lock, stock and barrel. Papa and Mama were still living in Tébessa, to which they fled when the Germans came. Two of the boys were back at Fériana, living in two backrooms and just sort of waiting for the Army to leave.

The Germans had done very little damage to the place. Before long now all of us intruders will be gone and then Fériana can go back to its own peaceful ways,

A new type of American ration has just showed up over here in answer to the British “compo,” which small groups of traveling soldiers had found so superior to anything of ours. The new stuff is called “U ration.” It’s wonderful. It has everything that is needed by four or five men out on a trip who have to fix their own meals.

It comes in a pasteboard box inside a wooden box. Everything is done up in small cans or packets just big enough to be used up at one meal.

Meals are really somethin’

With it come two printed menus to help guide you. I’ve lost No. 1 but here is No. 2: Breakfast – tomato juice, whole-wheat cereal, sliced bacon, biscuits, coffee; dinner – bean soup, roast beef, quick-cooking rice, biscuits, lemonade, hard candy; supper – meat and vegetable stew, dried prunes, coffee, apricot spread.

The ration also includes root beer, gumdrops, canned butter, lemonade, tomato juice in powdered form, and two big envelopes of toilet paper. The tomato juice is fairly lousy, but the canned bacon is superb. God bless the U ration!

He understood all the time

Lots of odd little prisoner stories are popping up.

One American officer I know had to take charge of a German aviator who had been brought down. The German had a slight wound in the forehead, so the American officer took him in a jeep to a hospital and had the wound treated. Then he put him under guard for the night but saw to it that he was free to go to the toilet whenever he wished, and even sent him some extra blankets.

The German was surly throughout. Efforts at casual conversation with him got nowhere. Obviously, he was mean, and couldn’t understand what was said to him anyway.

The next morning, he was transferred to a prison camp. The American officer wasn’t present when his guest left, but just as the German stepped into a truck, he spoke to one of our orderlies, and in perfect English without an accent said:

Corporal, tell Maj. Smith I deeply appreciate everything he did for me.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 1, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

Northern Tunisia – (by cable)
As is bound to happen in wartime, your close friends sometimes disappear. And as soon as they are gone, you sit of an evening and recounted stories about them, just as we used to do in the old aviation days after a mail pilot didn’t come back from his run.

The closest friend I’ve got so far is Lt. Leonard Bessman, a lawyer from Milwaukee. We have almost definite proof that Bessman was captured, and not killed, so we all hope to see him again before too long if things turn out right. I’ve mentioned Lennie Bessman before in these columns. Of all the soldiers I have ever known, he is the most sensitive to the little beauties of war and to the big tragedy of life. Maybe that is because he is Jewish, or maybe it isn’t. I don’t know.

His bravery was a byword among us long before he was captured.

Laugh about Lennie’s words

We sit around on our cots at night and laugh about things we’d heard Lennie say, because they sounded so melodramatic, yet, knowing him as we do, we know they weren’t melodramatic at all and that Lennie meant what he said.

He was up forward of our advance troops, for that was his job, and suddenly he found himself cut off, with a German tank in front of him and a machine-gun nest on his side. Lennie jumped out of his jeep, pulled his .45 and yelled at the heavily-armed enemy:

Come on out and I won’t shoot.

How’s that for confidence? We sit around at night and laugh about it.

Most of us find our emotions becoming jaded as month after month of war piles up on us, but Lennie was never jaded. He had a facility for mirroring in his fertile mind every little human thing that crossed his path. I’ll tell you a couple of stories he told us.

We had a certain type of anti-aircraft gun, mounted on a half-track, which requires two men to fire. They sit in two metal bucket seats just back of the guns.

Eyes kept on Germans

Lennie was lying near this ack-ack outfit during a terrific dive-bombing and strafing. He kept his eyes on these two special gunners as the Stukas came down right upon them.

The two never wavered. They sat there firing until suddenly and in unison they toppled sideways out of their seats – dead. And all within the same instant two more Americans rose like twins from the bed of the half-track, took the seats just vacated by death, and went right on with the firing.

The incident that most tickled his admiration was a queer one. It seems we had a big concentration of artillery that was giving the Germans plenty of trouble. They couldn’t locate it, so at night they would send planes over hunting for it. Of course, it was then our cue to lay low and silent, so as not to give away our position by firing at them.

‘You silly fools’

They came night after night, and never did find us. But each night after they had circled and were finally leaving, one lone contemptuous gunner would fire one lone contemptuous shot at them, just as though to say:

Here we are, you silly fools!

Night after night that one gunner would fire his one slapstick shot just as they were leaving. His sauciness exalted Lennie’s soul. I’ve heard him say:

I’d rather shake hands with that man than anybody in the American Army. I’m going to try to find him, and even if he’s a private I’m going to salute him.

We have heard that the Germans took the few Americans captured at El Guettar and marched them up the main street of Tunis, then loaded them in trucks and paraded them back again, then unloaded them and marched them through town once more – to make it look as though there were lots of prisoners. One of Lennie’s friends back here says he can just see Lennie, on his third compulsory trip down the main street of Tunis, screwing up his nose in the special mask of comic disgust which is one of his little habits, and observing:

Seems as if I’ve seen this before somewhere.


Lennie lived a long interesting life and passed away at the age of 85 in 1994. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


He’s around the same age as my grandfather, I see.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 3, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

In the frontlines before Mateur, Tunisia – (May 2, by wireless)
We’re now with an infantry outfit that has battled ceaselessly for four days and nights.

This northern warfare has been in the mountains. You don’t ride much anymore. It is walking and climbing and crawling country. The mountains aren’t big, but they are constant. They are largely treeless. They are easy to defend and bitter to take. But we are taking them.

The Germans lie on the back slope of every ridge, deeply dug into foxholes. In front of them the fields and pastures are hideous with thousands of hidden mines. The forward slopes are left open, untenanted, and if the Americans tried to scale these slopes, they would be murdered wholesale in an inferno of machine-gun crossfire, plus mortars and grenades.

Consequently, we didn’t do it that way. We have fallen back to the old warfare of first pulverizing the enemy with artillery, then sweeping around the ends of the hill with infantry and taking them from the sides and behind.

I’ve written before how the big guns crack and roar almost constantly throughout the day and night. They lay a screen ahead of our troops. By magnificent shooting they drop shells on the back slopes. By means of shells timed to burst in the air a few feet from the ground, they get the Germans even in their foxholes. Our troops have found that the Germans dig foxholes down and then under, trying to get cover from the shell bursts that shower death from above.

Enough… for once

Our artillery has really been sensational. For once we have enough of something and at the right time. Officers tell me they actually have more guns than they know what to do with.

All the guns in any one sector can be centered to shoot at one spot. And when we lay the whole business on a German hill the whole slope seems to erupt. It becomes an unbelievable cauldron of fire and smoke and dirt. Veteran German soldiers say they have never been through anything like it.

Now to the infantry – the goddamned infantry, as they like to call themselves.

I love the infantry because they are the underdogs. They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end, they are the guys that wars can’t be won without.

I wish you could see just one of the ineradicable pictures I have in my mind today. In this particular picture I am sitting among clumps of sword-grass on a steep and rocky hillside that we have just taken. We are looking out over a vast rolling country to the rear.

A narrow path comes like a ribbon over a hill miles away, down a long slope, across a creek, up a slope and over another hill.

All along the length of this ribbon there is now a thin line of men. For four days and nights they have fought hard, eaten little, washed none, and slept hardly at all. Their nights have been violent with attack, fright, butchery, and their days sleepless and miserable with the crash of artillery.

The men are walking. They are 50 feet apart for dispersal. Their walk is slow, for they are dead weary, as you can tell even when looking at them from behind. Every line and sag of their bodies speaks their inhuman exhaustion.

The line never ends

On their shoulders and backs they carry heavy steel tripods, machine-gun barrels, leaden boxes of ammunition. Their feet seem to sink into the ground from the overload they are bearing.

They don’t slouch. It is the terrible deliberation of each step that spells out their appalling tiredness. Their faces are black and unshaved. They are young men, but the grime and whiskers and exhaustion make them look middle-aged.

In their eyes as they pass is not hatred, not excitement, not despair, not the tonic of their victory – there is just the simple expression of being here as though they had been here doing this forever, and nothing else.

The line moves on, but it never ends. All afternoon men keep coming round the hill and vanishing eventually over the horizon. It is one long tired line of ant-like men.

There is an agony in your heart and you almost feel ashamed to look at them. They are just guys from Broadway and Main Street, but you wouldn’t remember them. They are too far away now. They are too tired. Their world can never be known to you, but if you could see them just once, just for an instant, you would know that no matter how hard people work back home they are not keeping pace with these infantrymen in Tunisia.


Writing like this is an art that is missed in today’s world. He puts the reader directly in his shoes to see what he sees, to smell what he smells, to hear what he hears, and to feel the emotions he feels. This is one reason the families back home were an integral part of the war effort.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 4, 1943)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

At the frontlines in Tunisia – (by wireless)
When our infantry goes into a certain big push in northern Tunisia, each man is issued three bars of D-ration chocolate, enough to last one day. He takes no other food. He carries two canteens of water instead of the usual one. He carries no blankets. He leaves behind all extra clothes except his raincoat. In his pockets he may have a few toilet articles. Some men carry their money, others give it to friends to keep.

In the days that follow they live in a way that is inconceivable to us at home. They walk and fight all night without sleep. Next day they lie flat in foxholes, or hide in fields of freshly green, knee-high wheat. If they’re in the fields they dared not even move enough to dig foxholes, for that would have bring the German artillery. They can’t rise even for nature’s calls. The German feels for them continually with his artillery.

Daylight waiting is torture

The slow drag of these motionless daylight hours is nearly unendurable. Lt. Mickey Miller of Morgantown, Indiana, says this lifeless waiting in a wheatfield is almost the worst part of the whole battle.

The second evening after the attack began, C-rations and five-gallon cans of water are brought up across country in jeeps, after dark. You eat in the dark, and you can’t see the can you are eating from. You just eat by feel. You make cold coffee from cold water.

One night, a German shell landed close and fragments punctured 15 cans of water.

Each night enough canned rations for three meals are brought up, but when the men move on after supper most of them either lose or leave behind the next day’s rations, because they’re too heavy to carry. But, as they say, when you’re in battle and excited you sort of go on your nerve. You don’t think much about being hungry.

The men fight at night and lie low by day, when the artillery takes over its blasting job. Weariness gradually creeps over them. What sleeping they do is in daytime. But, as they say, at night it’s too cold and in daytime it’s too hot. Also the fury of the artillery makes daytime sleeping next to impossible. So does the heat of the sun. Some men have passed out from heat prostration. Many of them get upset stomachs from the heat.

But as the third and fourth days roll on, weariness overcomes all obstacles to sleep. Men who sit down for a moment’s rest fall asleep in the grass. There are even men who say they can march while asleep.

Men can sleep anywhere

Lt. Col. Charlie Stone, of New Brunswick, New Jersey, actually went to sleep standing up talking on a field telephone – not while listening, but in the middle of a spoken sentence.

When sometimes they do lie down at night the men have only their raincoats to lie on. It is cold, and the dew makes the grass as wet as rain. They don’t dare start a fire to heat their food, even in daytime, for the smoke would attract enemy fire. At night they can’t even light cigarettes in the open, so after digging their foxholes they get down and make hoods over their heads with their raincoats, and light up under the coats.

They have plenty of cigarettes. Those who run out during battle are supplied by others. Every night new supplies of water and C-rations are brought up in jeeps.

You can’t conceive how hard it is to move and fight at night. The country is rugged, the ground rough. Everything is new and strange. The nights are pitch-black. You grope with your feet. You step into holes, and fall sprawling in little gullies and creeks. You trudge over plowed ground and push through waist-high shrubs. You go as a man blindfolded, feeling unsure and off balance, but you keep on going.

Fear of mines ever-present

Through it all there is the fear of mines. The Germans have mined the country behind them beyond anything ever known before. We simply can’t take time to go over each inch of ground with mine detectors, so we have to discover the minefields by stumbling into them or driving over them. Naturally there are casualties, but they are smaller than you might think – just a few men each day. The greatest damage is psychological – the intense watchfulness our troops must maintain.

The Germans have been utterly profligate with their mines. We dug out 400 from one field. We’ve found so many fields and so many isolated mines that we have run out of white tape to mark them with. But still we go on.