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March 23, 1944 – Was Ernie Pyle, the most famous correspondent from WWII ever scared?

Was the most famous correspondent from WWII ever scared? Here’s Ernie Pyle’s report from the front lines at Anzio Beachhead.

Word Portrait of Pyle[1]

(One Lt. Col.) in an article about war correspondents in the current Saturday Evening Post, says: … “Ernie Pyle … in his slight frame, sage head and big heart, wraps up the best qualities of them all.”

“It’s a safe bet that if an election were held to choose American war correspondent #1, Ernie Pyle would win a canter—particularly if G. I.’s as well as readers on the home front were enfranchised for the event.

“Thousands of profound words have been written by way of interpreting the phenomenal success of War Correspondent Pyle. The answer can be put in a very few words. On the battlefield, he got the G. I. under his skin and became himself a G. I.

 “So Pyle became owner of a duel personality for the purpose of working at his trade; he had only two cover Pyle to cover the war both accurately and dramatically.”

Was Erie Pyle Scared? His Report Today—After It Was Over I Got The Shakes—[2]

When our bombing was over, my room was a shambles. It was the sort of thing you see only in the movies.

More than half the room was knee-deep with broken brick and tiles and mortar. The other half was a disarray all covered with plaster dust and broken glass. My typewriter was full of mortar and broken glass, but was not damaged.

My pants had been lying on the chair that went through the door, so I dug them out from under the debris, put them on and started down to the other half of the house.

Down below everything was a mess. The ceilings had come down upon men still in bed. Some beds were a foot deep in debris. That nobody was killed was a pure miracle.

Bill Strand of The Chicago Tribune was out in the littered hallway in his underwear, holding his left arm. Maj. Jay Vessels of Duluth, Minn., was running around without a stitch of clothing. We checked rapidly and found that everybody was still alive.

The boys couldn’t believe it when they saw me coming in. Wick Fowler of The Dallas News had thought the bombs had made direct hits on the upper part of the house. He had just said to George Tucker of The Associated Press, “Well, they got Ernie.”

But after they saw I was all right they began to laugh and called me “Old Indestructible.” I guess I was the luckiest man in the house, at that, altho Old Dame Fortune was certainly riding with all of us that morning.

The German raiders had dropped a whole stick of bombs right across our area. They were apparently 500-poundcrs, and they hit within 30 feet of our house.

Many odd things happened, as they do in all bombings. Truthfully, I don’t remember my walls coming down at all, though I must have been looking at them when they fell.

Oddly, the wall that fell on my bed was across the room from where the bomb hit. In other words, it fell toward the bomb. That is caused by the bomb’s terrific blast creating a vacuum; when air rushes back to the center of that vacuum, its power is as great as the original rush of air outward.

When I went to put on my boots there was broken glass clear up into the toes of them. My mackinaw had been lying on the foot of the bed and was covered with hundreds of pounds of debris, yet my goggles in the pocket were unbroken.

At night I always put a pack of cigaretes(sic) on the floor beside my bed. When I went to get a cigarete after the bombing, I found they’d all been blown out of the pack.

The cot occupied by Bob Vermillion of the United Press was covered a foot deep with broken tile and plaster. When it was all over somebody heard him calil out plaintively, “Will somebody come and take this stuff off of me?”

After seeing the other correspondents, I went back to my shattered room to look around again, and in came Sgt. Bob Geake of Fort Wayne, Ind., the first sergeant of our outfit. He had some iodine, and was going around painting up those who had been scratched.

Bob took out a dirty handkerchief, spit on it two or three times, then washed the blood off my face before putting on the iodine, which could hardly be called the last word in sterilization.

Three of the other boys were rushed off to the tent hospital. After an hour or so, five of us drove out to the hospital in a jeep to see how they were.

We found them not in bad shape, and then we sat around a stove in one of the tents and drank coffee and talked with some of the officers.

By now my head and ears had started to ache from the concussion blasts, and several of the others were feeling the same, so the doctors gave us codeine and aspirin.

Much to my surprise, I wasn’t weak or shaky after it was all over. In fact I felt fine—partly buoyed up by elation over still being alive, I suppose. But by noon I was starting to get jumpy, and by mid-afternoon I felt very old and “beat up,” as they say, and the passage of the afternoon shells over our house really gave me the woolies.

We got Italian workmen in to clean up the debris, and by evening all the rooms had been cleared, shaky walls knocked down, and blankets hung at the windows for blackout

All except my room. It was so bad they decided it wasn’t worth cleaning up, so we dug out my sleeping bag, gathered up my scattered stuff, and I moved to another room.

The hospital has invited Wick Fowler and me to move cut with them, saying they’d put up” a tent for us, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we took them up on it. There’s such a thing as pressing your luck too far in one spot.[1]


In my column the other day about our experience when the war correspondents’ villa was bombed, I said that after it was over I didn’t feel shaky or nervous.

Since then, little memories of the bombing have gradually come back into my consciousness. I recall now that I went to take my pocket comb out of my shirt pocket to comb my hair, but instead actually took my handkerchief out of my hip pocket and started combing my hair with the handkerchief.

And at noon I realized I had smoked a whole pack of cigaretes(sic) since 7:30 a.m. Me nervous? Why, I should say not.[3]

[1] Scripps-Howard Newspaper Alliance. News Clipping in small brown scrapbook with heavily embossed front.

[2] Ernie Pyle. With Fifth Army Beachhead Forces in Italy. News Clipping in small brown scrapbook with heavily embossed front.

[3] Ernie Pyle. With Fifth Army Beachhead Forces in Italy. News Clipping in small brown scrapbook with heavily embossed front.

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