18 April, 2012

18 April 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
18 April, 1945      0915

Wilma, darling –

Another season must really be upon us. I heard by short wave this morning – the results of the ball games yesterday – and our Braves and Red Sox both lost. The world can’t be changing very much after all, if you can turn the radio on and still get the same names, the same results. I think I’ll find Boston just about the way I left it.

And how about you? Well – you’ll be older (worried?), more mature, more delicious, more mine – than when I left, but that kind of change is just what I’m looking for, so watch out, honey, here I come!

Well yesterday I acted more along the lines of Military Government than anything else. It’s interesting, but I think I’d get tired of it very soon. These people have been so militarized in the past that now that they know they’re conquered – they don’t dare make a move without asking permission. But it’s easy to see – that regardless of what we do – they expected much worse, and they can’t seem to understand that we don’t intend to take their food and livestock. They can’t believe we are a self-existing Army.

In the p.m. it became quite warm here and I felt very much like having a shower. We haven’t been able to get G-I showers since we left the Rhineland. Well – I started to ask around and finally found some in a Girl’s school – now a German army hospital – in the next town. So 5 of us walked in, told the Kommandant what we wanted, were escorted to the shower room etc. no questions asked.

I was glad to read that you had joined my folks for the Seder. I know it couldn’t have been interesting, away from home – but I know it meant a lot to the folks having you along. And by the way, how is Grammy Bernstein, anyway? You haven’t mentioned her very recently. My own Passover this year was nil. We were on the move practically all of the time. There were Corps services – but our Bn. just never got near enough at that time.

I know how you must become somewhat fed up with your work at times, dear – because you’ve mentioned it a few times now. But I think it has given you an experience well worth having, and more than that – it has managed to give you a full day. Remember when you were writing me about your job in the department store? Then you were going to work for Stuarts, or somebody. I didn’t like that – but you never did, anyway. I don’t remember how you became interested in R.C. – but I think that turned out to be as good a field as any.

Say – what’s this about Palo Alto, Alameda – and all points West? Do you know, darling, that Alameda is across the bay from San Francisco, and that people live there – despite the distance from Frisco – because there’s less fog there? As a matter of fact, though – it is nice. I’ve got friends there – a fellow I grew up with. He went out there to do engineering – and he’s never come back. He got married, has 2 or 3 kids and is quite happy. I haven’t heard from him in over a year – but he was still out of the Army then.

What’s the difference though, dear? I love you now – and I can love you anywhere in the world – and certainly anywhere in the U.S. What I want to do first of all is to get home and marry you! Understand? All right – dear – just wanted to make sure.

I’m going back to the aid station now, darling. Didn’t get any mail last night, either – but expect some today. Meanwhile, love to the folks – and remember I’m

Always yours alone


about Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle in Italy, March 1944

On this day in 1945, Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by Japanese machine-gun fire on the island of Ie Shima off the coast of Okinawa.

Ernie Pyle was born on 3 August 1900 and grew up on a farm just outside of Dana, Indiana. As a teenager, Pyle hated farming and shortly after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve. He enrolled in Indiana University in 1919 but, just before finishing his degree, the LaPorte Herald hired him as a reporter. He then joined the staff of the Washington, D.C. Daily News, part of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain. In 1925, Pyle married Minnesota native Geraldine (Jerry) Siebolds. Jerry suffered from intermittent bouts of mental illness and alcoholism. Pyle described her as "desperate within herself since the day she was born". Quitting their jobs, the Pyles traveled 9,000 miles in ten weeks, and by 1927 they had crossed the country 35 times. After years of wandering, they unanimously selected their town of choice – Albuquerque – in which to build a home.

Originally a reporter, copy editor, and aviation editor, in 1932 he began to write a daily column on trips to various sections of the country as a roving reporter for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain. Eventually syndicated to some 200 U.S. newspapers, Pyle's column, which related the lives and hopes of typical citizens, captured America's affection. In 1942, after the United States entered World War II, Pyle went overseas as a war correspondent, reporting from London during the Blitz. After the U.S. entered the war, Pyle covered the Allied landings in North Africa in 1942, then the conquest of Sicily in 1943, then the long, bloody campaign up the Italian peninsula.

On 7 June 1944, went ashore at Normandy the day after Allied forces landed. Pyle, who always wrote about the experiences of enlisted men rather than the battles they participated in, described the D-Day scene:
It was a lovely day for strolling along the seashore. Men were sleeping on the sand, some of them sleeping forever. Men were floating in the water, but they didn't know they were in the water, for they were dead.
Pyle then covered the aftermath of D-Day in 1944 and the Allied drive across France. He eschewed covering the war from headquarters in favor of reporting it from the front lines with the ordinary dogfaces who came to respect and love him. Today, he would be called “embedded.” He won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 1944. Also that year, he wrote a column urging that soldiers in combat get "fight pay" just as airmen were paid "flight pay." Congress passed a law authorizing $10 a month extra pay for combat infantrymen. The legislation was called "The Ernie Pyle bill." Pyle burned out that September and came home, explaining to his devoted readers
'I've had it,' as they say in the Army... My spirit is wobbly and my mind is confused. The hurt has finally become too great. All of a sudden it seemed to me that if I heard one more shot or saw one more dead man, I would go off my nut. And if I had to write one more column, I'd collapse. So I'm on my way.
Yet, after a few months of recuperation at his home in Albuquerque, he went off to war again, this time to the Pacific to cover what was thought would be a long, bloody offensive to invade and conquer Japan.

In 1945, while covering the battle for Okinawa, he decided to accompany the troops during the invasion of the small nearby island of Ie Shima. He was traveling in a jeep with Lieutenant Colonel Joseph B. Coolidge (commanding officer of the 305th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division) and three other men. The road, which ran parallel to the beach two or three hundred yards inland, had been cleared of mines, and hundreds of vehicles had driven over it. As the vehicle reached a road junction, an enemy machine gun located on a coral ridge about a third of a mile away began firing at them. The men stopped their vehicle and jumped into a ditch. Pyle and Coolidge raised their heads to look around for the others; when they spotted them, Pyle smiled and asked Coolidge "Are you all right?" Those were his last words. The machine gun began shooting again, and Pyle was struck in the left temple. The soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division made a wooden coffin for him and buried him wearing his helmet. After his death, President Harry S. Truman spoke of how Pyle "told the story of the American fighting man as the American fighting men wanted it told."

Pyle was later reburied at the Army cemetery on Okinawa and finally moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl Crater located in Honolulu. A wooden cross on Ie Shima was replaced by a permanent stone monument. Its inscription reads: "At this spot the 77th Infantry Division lost a buddy Ernie Pyle 18 April 1945."

Ernie Pyle didn’t measure his self-worth by how much he was paid, nor by the number of opportunities for publicity. He did, however, care about his readership. By the time of his death, Ernie’s columns appeared in 400 daily and 300 weekly newspapers.

Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower and Ernie Pyle
in France, 1944

From an article posted by the Commercial Appeal, Memphis Tennessee blog site on 4 December 2011 comes this "classic of wartime writing", a story written by Ernie Pyle.

"The Death of Captain Waskow."
By Ernie Pyle

Scripps Howard Newspapers

In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.

Capt. Waskow was a company commander in the 36th Division. He had led his company since long before it left the States. He was very young, only in his middle twenties, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.

"After my own father, he came next," a sergeant told me.

"He always looked after us," a soldier said. "He'd go to bat for us every time."

"I've never knowed him to do anything unfair," another one said.

I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow's body down. The moon was nearly full at the time, and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley below. Soldiers made shadows in the moonlight as they walked.

Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed onto the backs of mules. They came lying belly-down across the wooden pack-saddles, their heads hanging down on the left side of the mule, their stiffened legs sticking out awkwardly from the other side, bobbing up and down as the mule walked.

The Italian mule-skinners were afraid to walk beside dead men, so Americans had to lead the mules down that night. Even the Americans were reluctant to unlash and lift off the bodies at the bottom, so an officer had to do it himself, and ask others to help.

The first one came early in the morning. They slid him down from the mule and stood him on his feet for a moment, while they got a new grip. In the half light he might have been merely a sick man standing there, leaning on the others. Then they laid him on the ground in the shadow of the low stone wall alongside the road.

I don't know who that first one was. You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don't ask silly questions.

We left him there beside the road, that first one, and we all went back into the cowshed and sat on water cans or lay on the straw, waiting for the next batch of mules.

Somebody said the dead soldier had been dead for four days, and then nobody said anything more about it. We talked soldier talk for an hour or more. The dead man lay all alone outside in the shadow of the low stone wall.

Then a soldier came into the cowshed and said there were some more bodies outside. We went out into the road. Four mules stood there, in the moonlight, in the road where the trail came down off the mountain. The soldiers who led them stood there waiting. "This one is Captain Waskow," one of them said quietly.

Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow beside the low stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally there were five lying end to end in a long row, alongside the road. You don't cover up dead men in the combat zone. They just lie there in the shadows until somebody else comes after them.

The unburdened mules moved off to their olive orchard. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually one by one I could sense them moving close to Capt. Waskow's body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him, and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear.

One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, "God damn it." That's all he said, and then he walked away. Another one came. He said, "God damn it to hell anyway." He looked down for a few last moments, and then he turned and left.

Another man came; I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the half light, for all were bearded and grimy dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain's face, and then he spoke directly to him, as though he were alive. He said: "I'm sorry, old man."

Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer, and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said:

"I sure am sorry, sir."

Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the dead hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes, holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face, and he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.

And finally he put the hand down, and then reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain's shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. And then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.

After that the rest of us went back into the cowshed, leaving the five dead men lying in a line, end to end, in the shadow of the low stone wall. We lay down on the straw in the cowshed, and pretty soon we were all asleep.

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