by Ernie Pyle
Reprinted with the generous permission of the Scripps Howard Foundation
NORMANDY BEACHHEAD. June 10, 1944: It will be several days before military security permits us to describe in much detail the landings just made in the long-awaited Allied Invasion of Europe. Indeed it will be some times before we have a really clear picture of what has happened or what is happening at the moment. You must experience the terrible confusion of warfare and the frantic, nightmarish thunder and smoke and bedlam of battle to realize this. So we will take up this short interval by telling you how things led up to the invasion from the correspondents' view point. THis column is being written on a ship in a convoy, crossing the English Channel, so that it will be ready to send back to England by dispatch boat as soon as we hit the beach. When we secretly left London a few days ago, more than 450 American correspondents were gathered in Britain for this impending moment in history. But only 28 of those 450 were to take part in what was termed the assault phase. I was one of those 28. Some of the rest will come over later, some will cover other angles, some will never come at all. We assault correspondents were under military jurisdiction for the past month while waiting. We had complete freedom in London, but occasionally the Army would suddenly order us in batches to take trips around England. Also, during those last few weeks we were called frequently for mass conferences and we were briefed by several commanding generals. We had completed all our field equipment, got our inoculations up to date, finished our official accrediting, ___ Supreme Allied headquarters, and even sent off our bedrolls 10 days before the final call. (We will rejoin them some time later on this side - we hope).
Of the 28 correspondents in the assault group about two-thirds had already seen action in various war theaters. The old-timers sort of gravitated together, people such as Bill Stoneman, Don Whitehead, Jack Thompson, Clark Lee, Tex O'Reilly and myself. We conjectured on when we would get the final call, conjectured on what assignments we would go with. And in more pensive moments we also conjectured on our chances of coming through alive. We felt our chances were not very good. And we were not happy about it. Men like Don Whitehead and Clark Lee, who had been through the mill so long and so boldly, began to get nerves. And frankly I was the worst of the lot, and continued to be. I began having terrible periods of depression and often would dream hideous dreams about it. All the time fear lay blackly deep upon your consciousness. It bore down on your heart like an all-consuming weight. People would talk to you and you wouldn't hear what they were saying.
The Army said they would try to give us 24 hours' notice of departure. Acally the call came at 9 o'clock one morning and we were ordered to be at a certain place with full field kit at 10:30. We threw our stuff together. Some of us went away and left hotel rooms still running up bills. Many had dates that night but did not dare to phone and call them off. As we arrived one by one at the appointed place we looked both knowingly and sheepishly at each other. The Army continued to tell us that this was just another exercise, but we knew inside ourselves that this was it. Bill Stoneman, who has been wounded once, never shows the slightest concern about these things. Whether he feels any concern or not I do not know. Bill has a humorous, sardonic manner. While we were waiting for the departure into the unknown, he took out a pencil and notebook as though to start to interview me.
"Tell me, Pyle, how does it feel to be an assault correspondent?"
Being a man of few words, I said "It feels awful."
When everybody was ready our luggage went into a truck and we went into jeeps. I can't tell you where we boarded the ship, of course, but I can say I personally rode two days in a jeep and made the last 30 miles on a 2 1/2-ton truck. The first night we spent together at an assembly area, an Army tent camp. There we drew our final battle kit - such things as clothing impregnated against gas attack, a shovel to dig foxholes, seasickness capsules, a carton of cigarets, a medical kit, rations and one funny little item which I can't mention but which was good for many purposes. We also drew three blankets just for the night, since our bedrolls had gone on ahead. The weather was cold and three blankets were not enough. I hardly slept at all. When we awakened early the next morning, Jack Thompson said, "that's the coldest night I have ever spent." Don Whitehead said, "It's just as miserable as it always was."
You see, we had all been living comfortably in hotels or apartments for the last few weeks. We had got a little soft, and here we were again starting back to the old horrible life we had known for so long - sleeping on the ground, only cold water, rations, foxholes, and dirt. We were off to war again.