Friday, April 11, 2014

WW2: Ten Poignant Stories (10b)

The last entry (10a) was from the best set of books about WW2 I have upon my bookshelf, i.e., The Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson. And in each of the three volumes one can read stirling quotes from Ernie Pyle, an American war reporter.

‘To his readers, Ernie Pyle was a master of telling the story of the little guy, of describing the fears and daily strife of soldiers fighting in World War II. He was not just a passionate writer, however. An early “embedded journalist,” he worked alongside the troops, experiencing much of what they did, placing himself in danger as they did.’ [Indiana University website]

[Above: Ernie Pyle, pictured in Normandy not long after the invasion of Europe. Pyle (left) is shown with Gordon Gammack (center) of the Des Moines Register and Tribune and Don Whitehead of the Associated Press. IU Archives] 

The following excerpts are from one of three of Pyle's columns written shortly after D-Day Normandy:

A Pure Miracle 


   In this column I want to tell you what
   the opening of the second front
   in this one sector entailed,
   so that you can know and appreciate
   and forever be humbly grateful to those
   both dead and alive who did it for you.

Ashore, facing us,
were more enemy troops than
we had in our assault waves.
The advantages were all theirs,
the disadvantages all ours.
The Germans were dug into positions
they had been working on for months,
although these were not yet all complete.

A one-hundred-foot bluff
a couple of hundred yards back from the beach
had great concrete gun emplacements
built right into the hilltop.
These opened to the sides instead of to the front,
thus making it very hard for naval fire
from the sea to reach them.
They could shoot parallel with the beach
and cover every foot of it for miles
with artillery fire.

   Then they had hidden machine-gun nests
   on the forward slopes, with crossfire
   taking in every inch of the beach.

   Now that it is over
   it seems to me a pure miracle
   that we ever took the beach at all.

[Ernie Pyle, IU Archives]

These Bitter Sands 

Due to a last-minute alteration in the arrangements,
I didn’t arrive on the beachhead until the morning after D-day,
after our first wave of assault troops had hit the shore.

By the time we got here the beaches had been taken
and the fighting had moved a couple of miles inland.
All that remained on the beach was some sniping
and artillery fire, and the occasional startling blast
of a mine geysering brown sand into the air.
That plus a gigantic and pitiful litter of wreckage
along miles of shoreline.

   Submerged tanks and overturned boats
   and burned trucks and shell-shattered jeeps
   and sad little personal belongings were
   strewn all over these bitter sands.
   That plus the bodies of soldiers
   lying in rows covered with blankets,
   the toes of their shoes sticking up
   in a line as though on drill.
   And other bodies, uncollected,
   still sprawling grotesquely in the sand
   or half hidden by the high grass
   beyond the beach.

[Click here for full article]

Postscript - 

‘Among the Allied casualties was Ernie Pyle...
Eight months later while covering the Pacific war,
he would be killed by a Japanese bullet in the head.’

[pg. 183, The Guns At Last Light, R. Atkinson, The Liberation Trilogy]

This concludes WW2: Ten Poignant Stories.

More war stories will follow, however, under a different banner.

Link to WW2: Ten Poignant Stories 10a

Last Photo GH

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