This is the second of two columns in which Ernie Pyle, interrupting his
vacation, brings us up-to-date on the RAF pilot in whose rescue from a wrecked
plane in France he participated.
LONDON: At the hospital the RAF pilot and I enjoyed living over again the climax
to those eight days of imprisonment in his wrecked plane in France. When we
rescued him that day I had not wanted to badger him with trivial questions, so
there were some things I didn't get straight, and other things I had straight
which he was mixed up on.
I thought his leg had been wounded while he was still in the air. But he told me
it didn't happen until about three hours after he had crashed, when there was
shelling and shooting all around him. He said that whatever kind of shell it was
made a terrific racket when it came through the plane and struck him.
The little hole in the side of the plane through which he had thrust his hand -
we thought that had been torn when the plane crashed. But actually the pilot had
made it himself during those eight days, trying to tear a hole big enough to get
He worked at it off and on with a little crowbar he had in the cockpit. He asked
me if I thought he could ever have made the hole big enough by himself. I told
him there wasn't a chance.
HE SAID THE WORST thing in those eight days was the thirst. After the first
couple of days he wasn't hungry at all, but the thirst was torturing. He said
that for hours and days he visualized creeks full of water, and all the pubs
where he had left a little beer in the bottom of glasses
He had seen the columns I wrote about his rescue, and he was modestly pleased
about them. He laughed at one thing I held said ‹ that his eyes, as he rolled
them there in his imprisonment, were like "big brown tennis balls."
Actually his eyes did seem like that. But in the hospital that effect had gone,
and his eyes seemed of normal size. His face had filled out and his color was
fine. He smoked and laughed, and his discontent was only because the hospital
wouldn't let him out on leave immediately,
THE LIEUTENANT has strong leanings toward America. He didn't tell us on that day
of the rescue, but he had his flight training in the States. He trained at
Clewiston, Fla. and was in America from October, 1941, till April, 1942.
He had been flying in combat for two years and although his plane had often been
hit, this was the first time he had been shot down. He remarked over and over
again how lucky he was to be alive.
He was regretful that his wound would take so long to heal that the war would
undoubtedly be over before he was well again. As he said, he would "like one more
crack at those Jerries."
The lieutenant was smoking Lucky Strikes when we visited him, and he said, "You
can see.I've been in an American hospital." I took him a Zippo lighter as a gift,
and he was very proud of it. As soon as he can use a pen he is going to write
notes of thanks to the two American soldiers who discovered him.
During those eight days of anguished imprisonment he never gave up hope that he
would get out. It was even stronger than hope, for he said he was positive all
the way through that he would get out.
IN A LETTER his wife wrote me she asked that I keep the lieutenant anonymous. She
said it was one of those things he owed to all his friends and comrades who had
not been lucky enough to get back with their stories.
I would certainly honor her request, but his name already has been published
elsewhere. The Air Ministry, like our own War Department, releases the names of
casualties as soon as the family is notified.
So, since his identity is already publicly known, I'm sure she will not consider
it a violation of trust for me to print it here again so that his friends in
America may know who this courageous flyer was.
He is Flight Lt. Robert Gordon Fallis Lee, of Selbourne, Orchard road, Shalford,
Surrey. He was a mechanical engineer before the war. He is the highest type of
Englishman, a man of great courage and of fine instincts ‹ the kind of person who
makes our two countries proud of each other.
IN THE LETTER Mrs. Lee wrote me she said: "It would be impossible to attempt to
thank you and the others for what you did for my husband in France. I am afraid I
don't know how to express the kind of gratitude we feel. But one day there may be
another installment, when the family keeps a date it has in the U.S.A."
That's fine. Come on over ‹ we will all welcome you.