Ernie Pyle (1900-1945) was one of the top correspondents during World War II. Embedded with the American forces in Africa, Italy, France and then the Pacific, his Pulitzer Prize winning syndicated column was published in 400 daily and 300 weekly newspapers nationwide. Unfortunately, during the Battle of Okinawa, he was killed by enemy fire. In addition to his columns he wrote several books, including Brave Men and Here is Your War.
Here are some excerpts from one of his lighter and most entertaining columns: “Liberating the City of Light.”
PARIS, August 28, 1944 – I had thought that for me there could never again be any elation in war. But I had reckoned without the liberation of Paris – I had reckoned without remembering that I might be a part of this richly historic day.
We are in Paris – on the first day – one of the great days of all time. This is being written, as other correspondents are writing their pieces, under an emotional tension, a pent-up semi-delirium.
For fifteen minutes we drove through a flat garden-like country under a magnificent bright sun and amidst greenery, with distant banks of smoke pillaring the horizon ahead and to our left. And then we came gradually into the suburbs, and soon into Paris itself and a pandemonium of surely the greatest mass joy that has ever happened.
The streets were lined as by Fourth of July parade crowds at home, only this crowd was almost hysterical. The streets of Paris are very wide, and they were packed on each side. The women were all brightly dressed in white or red blouses and colorful peasant skirts, with flowers in their hair and big flashy earrings. Everybody was throwing flowers, and even serpentine.
As our jeep eased through the crowds, thousands of people crowded up, leaving only a narrow corridor, and frantic men, women and children grabbed us and kissed us and shook our hands and beat on our shoulders and slapped our backs and shouted their joy as we passed.
I was in a jeep with Henry Gorrell of the United Press, Capt. Carl Pergler of Washington, D.C., and Corp. Alexander Belon of Amherst, Massachusetts. We all got kissed until we were literally red in face, and I must say we enjoyed it.
Once when the jeep was simply swamped in human traffic and had to stop, we were swarmed over and hugged and kissed and torn at. Everybody, even beautiful girls, insisted on kissing you on both cheeks. Somehow I got started kissing babies that were held up by their parents, and for a while I looked like a baby-kissing politician going down the street. The fact that I hadn’t shaved for days, and was gray-bearded as well as bald-headed, made no difference. Once when we came to a stop, some Frenchman told us there were still snipers shooting, so we put our steel helmets back on.
The people certainly looked well fed and well dressed. The streets were lined with green trees and modern buildings. All the stores were closed in holiday. Bicycles were so thick I have an idea there have been plenty of accidents today, with tanks and jeeps overrunning the populace.
We entered Paris via Rue Aristide Briand and Rue d’Orléans. We were slightly apprehensive, but decided it was all right to keep going as long as there were crowds. But finally we were stymied by the people in the streets, and then above the din we heard some not-too-distant explosions – the Germans trying to destroy bridges across the Seine. And then the rattling of machine guns up the street, and that old battlefield whine of high-velocity shells just overhead. Some of us veterans ducked, but the Parisians just laughed and continued to carry on.
Source: Ernie’s War: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches, edited by David Nichols, pp. 351-54.
Also online at: https://sites.mediaschool.indiana.edu/erniepyle/wartime-columns/