by Ernie Pyle
Reprinted with the generous permission of the Scripps Howard Foundation
AFRICA, JANUARY, 1943: While bad weather stymies the ground fighting in Tunisia, the air war on both sides has been daily increasing in intensity until it has reached a really violent tempo.
Not a day passes without heavy bombing of Axis ports, vicious strafing of cities and airdromes, losses on both sides and constant watchful patrolling.
Here, at one of our airdromes, all of us can assure you that being bombed is no fun. Yet these tired, hard-worked Americans jokingly decided to send a telegram to Allied headquarters asking them to arrange for the Jerrys to stop there each evening and pick up our mail.
I am living at this airdrome for a while. It can't be named, although the Germans obviously know where it is, since they call on us frequently. Furthermore, they announced quite a while ago by radio that they would destroy the place within three days.
I hadn't been here three hours till the Germans came. They arrived just at dusk. And they came arrogantly, flying low. Some of them must have regretted their audacity, for they never got home. The fireworks that met them were beautiful from the ground, but must have been hideous up where they were.
They dropped bombs on several parts of the field, but their aim was marred at the last minute. There were no direct hits on anything. Not a man was stratched, though the stories of near misses multiplied into the hundreds by the next day.
One soldier who had found a bottle of wine was lying in a pup tent drinking. He never got up during the raid just lay there cussing at the Germans:
"You can't touch me, you blankety-blanks! Go to hell, you so-and-so's!"
When the raid was over he was untouched, but the tent a foot above him was riddled with shrapnel.
Another Soldier made a practice of keeping a canteen hanging just above his head. That night when he went to take a drink the canteen was empty. Investigation revealed a shrapnel hole, through which the water hnd run out.
Another soldier had the front sight of his rifle shot off by a German machine-gun bullet.
Some of the soldiers were actually picking tiny bits of shrapnel out of their coats all the next day. Yet, as I said, not a drop of American blood was shed.
When this airdrome was first set up the soldiers dug slit trenches just deep enough to lie down in during a raid, but after each new bombing the trenches get deeper.
Everybody makes fun of himself but keeps on digging. Today some of these trenches are more than eight feet deep. I'll bet there has been more whole-hearted digging here in two weeks than WPA did in two years.
The officers don't have to hound their men. They dig with a will of their own, and with a vengeance. If we stay here long enough we'll probably have to install elevators to get to the bottom of the trenches.
After supper you see officers as well as men out digging. Each little group has its own trench design. Some are just square holes. Some form an L. Some are regulation zigzag.
The ground here is dry, and the trenches don't fill up with water as they do in the coastal and mountain camps. The earth is as hard as concrete. You have to use an ax as well as a pick and shovel.
You'd love OUR air-raid alarm system. It consists of a dinner bell hanging from a date palm tree outside headquarters. When the radio watchers give the order the dinner bell is rung. Then the warning is carried to the far ends of the vast airdrome by sentries shooting revolvers and rifles into the air. At night it sounds like a small battle.
When the alarm goes the soldiers get excited and mad, too. When the Germans come over the anti-aircraft guns throw up a fantastic Fourth of July torrent of red tracer bullets. But to the soldiers on the ground that isn't enough, so they let loose with everything from Colt .45s up to Tommy guns.
If the Germans don't kill us we'll probably shoot ourselves.