by Ernie Pyle
Reprinted with the generous permission of the Scripps Howard Foundation
WASHINGTON, September 11, 1943 - How should a war correspondent who has been away a long time begin his first column after he returns to his homeland?
Frankly, I don't know. I can't truthfully say, "My, it's wonderful to be back," because I haven't had a moment to sense whether it's wonderful or not. In my first forty-eight hours in America I got two hours' sleep, said "no" three hundred twenty-four times, lost my pocketbook and caught a bad cold.
That pocketbook business, incidentally, is sort of disheartening to a guy who returns full of eagerness for his own people. The wallet contained about a hundred dollars and all my War Department credentials and private papers. It had my name and address in it at least a dozen times, but it has not yet been returned.
Whoever got it, if he had a crumb of decency, could certainly send back the papers even if he kept the money. Anybody who wouldn't do that, it seems to me, would make a fine client for some oil-boilers. This thing happened in New York on my first day home. And here I've been ranting for a year about the lowly Arab!
Perhaps you who read this column wonder why I came home just at this special time, when events are boiling over in Italy.
Well, I might as well tell you truthfully. I knew, of course, that the Italian invasion was coming up, but I chose to skip it. I made that decision because I realized, in the middle of Sicily, that I had been too close to the war for too long.
I was fed up, and bogged down. Of course you say other people are too, and they keep going on. But if your job is to write about the war, you're very apt to begin writing unconscious distortions and unwarranted pessimisms when you get too tired.
I had come to despise and be revolted by war clear out of any logical proportion. I couldn't find the Four Freedoms among the dead men. Personal weariness became a forest that shut off my view of events about me. I was no longer seeing the little things that you at home want to know about the soldiers.
When we fought through Sicily, it was to many of us like seeing the same movie for the fourth time. Battles differ from one another only in their physical environment - the emotions of fear and exhaustion and exaltation and hatred are about the same in all of them. Through repetition, I had worn clear down to the nub my ability to weight and describe. You can't do a painting when your oils have turned to water.
There is, in the months and years ahead, still a lot of war to be written about. So I decided, all of a sudden one day in Sicily, that you who read and I who write would both benefit in the long run if I came home to refreshen my sagging brain and drooping frame. To put it bluntly, I just got too tired in the head. So here I am.
It has been fifteen months since I left America. Things at home have changed a lot in that time, I'm sure. But at first glance there doesn't seem to be much change.
When I rode in from the airport in New York, and checked into the hotel, everything was so perfectly natural that it truly seemed as though I had never been away at all. It was all so normal, so exactly like what it had been on other returns, that I couldn't realize that now I was going through that beautiful hour that millions of our men overseas spend a good part of their waking hours yearning for and dreaming about. I do hope that when their hour comes, they'll find themselves more capable of enthrallment by it.
On the whole, the few little things that struck me the most were normal things that I had thought would be gone by now. I was surprised to find sugar bowls on the table. We have plenty of sugar in the Army overseas, but we had figured you were very short over here.
And I was astonished at finding the store windows of New York looking so full and so beautiful. I'd like to take a pocketful of money and just go on a spree, buying everything that was smart and pretty whether I really wanted it or not.
We've had nothing to spend money on for so long, over on the other side. The countries we've been in were so denuded; why, England was shorter of everything after one year of war than we are after nearly two.
The decline of traffic on the streets was noticeable; and how much nicer it is too, isn't it? In fact, it's too nice, and I propose to recreate some of our old congestion by getting out my own jalopy and dashing nonessentially around the streets for a month or so.
Well, anyway, on second thought, it's wonderful to be home.