Indiana University
Journalism Ernie Pyle

Wartime Columns

April 28, 1945
Ernie Pyle
IU Archives
 

OKINAWA, April 28, 1945 – This is a column about Fred Painton, the war correspondent who dropped dead on Guam a short time ago.

Fred wrote war articles for Reader’s Digest and many other magazines. He even gambled his future once writing a piece for the Saturday Evening Post about me.

Fred was one of the little group of real old-timers in the European war. He was past forty-nine and an overseas veteran of the last war. His son is grown and in the Army. Fred had seen a great deal of war for a man his age.

He was just about to start back to America when he died. He had grown pretty weary of war. He was anxious to get home to have some time with his family.

But I’m sure he had no inkling of death, for he told me in Guam of his postwar plans to take his family and start on an ideal and easy life of six months in Europe, six in America. He had reached the point where life was nice.

*

Fred Painton was one of the modest people; I mean real down-deep modest. He had no side whatever, no ax to grind, no coy ambition.

He loved to talk and his words bore the authority of sound common sense. He had no intellectualisms. His philosophy was the practical kind. He was too old and experienced and too wise in the ways of human nature to belittle his fellow man for the failures that go with trying hard.

Fred didn’t pretend to literary genius but he did pride himself on a facility for production. He could get a thousand dollars apiece for his articles and he wrote a score of them a year. And his pieces, like himself, were always honest. I’ve known him to decline to do an assignment when he felt the subject prohibited his doing it with complete honesty.

Fred’s balding head and crooked nose, his loud and friendly nasal voice, his British Army trousers and short leggings were familiar in every campaign in Europe.

He took rough life as it came and complained about nothing, except for an occasional bout with the censors. And even there he made no enemies for he was always sincere.

There were a lot of people Fred didn’t like, and being no introvert everybody within earshot knew whom he didn’t like and why. And I have never known him to dislike anyone who wasn’t a phony.

*

Fred and I have traveled through lots of war together. We did those bitter cold days, early in Tunisia, and we were the last stragglers out of Sicily.

We both came home for short furloughs after Sicily. The Army provided me with a powerful Number Two air priority, while Fred had only the routine Number Three.

We left the airport at Algiers within four hours of each other on the same morning. I promised Fred I would call his wife and tell her he would be home within a week.

When I got to New York I called the Painton home at Westport, Connecticut. Fred answered the phone himself. He had beat me home by three days on his measly little priority! He never got over kidding me about that.

*

As the war years rolled by we have become so indoctrinated into sudden and artificially imposed death that natural death in a combat zone seems incongruous, and almost as though the one who died had been cheated.

Fred had been through the mill. His ship was torpedoed out from under him in the Mediterranean. Anti-aircraft fire killed a man beside him in a plane over Morocco.

He had gone on many invasions. He was in Cassino. He was ashore at Iwo Jima. He was certainly living on borrowed time. To many it seems unfair for him to die prosaically. And yet . . .

The wear and the weariness of war is cumulative. To many a man in the line today fear is not so much of death itself, but fear of the terror and anguish and utter horror that precedes death in battle.

I have no idea how Fred Painton would have liked to die. But somehow I’m glad he didn’t have to go through the unnatural terror of dying on the battlefield. For he was one of my dear friends and I know that he, like myself, had come to feel that terror.

April 21, 1945
Ernie Pyle
IU Archives
Boris Chaliapin drew this sketch of Ernie Pyle for the July 17, 1944 cover of TIME Magazine.

OKINAWA, April 21, 1945 – Now I’ve seen my first Jap soldiers in their native state – that is, before capture. But not for long, because the boys of my company captured them quicker than a wink.

It was mid-forenoon and we had just reached our new bivouac area after a march of an hour and a half. The boys threw off their packs, sat down on the ground, and took off their helmets to mop their perspiring foreheads.

We were in a small grassy spot at the foot of a hill. Most of these hillsides have caves with household stuff hidden in them. They are a rich field for souvenir hunters. And all Marines are souvenir hunters.

So immediately two of our boys, instead of resting, started up through the brush, looking for caves and souvenirs. They had gone about fifty yards when one of them yelled:

"There’s a Jap soldier under this bush."

We didn’t get too excited for most of us figured he meant a dead Jap. But three or four of the boys got up and went up the hill. A few moments later somebody yelled again:

"Hey, here’s another one. They’re alive and they’ve got rifles."

So the boys went at them in earnest. The Japs were lying under two bushes. They had their hands up over their ears and were pretending to be asleep.

The Marines surrounded the bushes and, with guns pointing, they ordered the Japs out. But the Japs were too scared to move. They just lay there, blinking.

The average Jap soldier would have come out shooting. But, thank goodness, these were of a different stripe. They were so petrified the Marines had to go into the bushes, lift them by the shoulders, and throw them out in the open,

My contribution to the capture consisted of standing to one side and looking as mean as I could.

One Jap was small, and about thirty years old. The other was just a kid of sixteen or seventeen, but good-sized and well-built. The kid had the rank of superior private and the other was a corporal. They were real Japanese from Japan, not the Okinawan home guard.

They were both trembling all over. The kid’s face turned a sickly white. Their hands shook. The muscles in the corporal’s jaw were twitching. The kid was so paralyzed he couldn’t even understand sign language.

We don’t know why those two Japs didn’t fight. They had good rifles and potato-masher hand grenades. They could have stood behind their bushes and heaved grenades into our tightly packed group and got themselves two dozen casualties, easily.

The Marines took their arms. One Marine tried to direct the corporal in handbook Japanese, but the fellow couldn’t understand.

The scared kid just stood there, sweating like an ox. I guess he thought he was dead. Finally we sent them back to the regiment.

*

The two Marines who flushed these Japs were Corp. Jack Ossege of Silver Grove, Kentucky, across the river from Cincinnati, and Pfc. Lawrence Bennett of Port Huron, Michigan.

Okinawa was the first blitz for Bennett and this was the first Jap soldier he’d ever seen. He is thirty years old, married, and has a baby girl. Back home he was a freight dispatcher.

The Jap corporal had a metal photo holder like a cigaret case. In it were photos which we took to be of three Japanese movie stars. They were good-looking, and everybody had to have a look.

Ossege had been through one Pacific blitz, but this was the first Jap he ever took alive. As an old hand at souvenir hunting he made sure to get the Jap’s rifle.

That rifle was the envy of everybody. Later when we were sitting around, discussing the capture, the other boys tried to buy or trade him out of it. "Pop" Taylor, the black-whiskered corporal from Jackson, Michigan, offered Ossege a hundred dollars for the rifle.

The answer was no. Then Taylor offered four quarts of whiskey. The answer still was no. Then he offered eight quarts. Ossege weakened a little. He said, "Where would you get eight quarts of whiskey?" Pop said he had no idea. So Ossege kept the rifle.

So there you have my first two Japs. And I hope my future Japs will all be as tame as these two. But I doubt it.