Slow Wriggling of Fingers
Reveals Pilot In Wreckage.
 In France
August 25, 1944
Ernie Pyle

WESTERN FRONT: You may have wondered how that British pilot happened to be found after lying for eight days unnoticed, trapped in his wrecked plane.

Well, as I told you, a bullet had clipped the balls of his righthand fingers, clear to the bone. He had put his cream-colored handkerchief over them to stop the bleeding. As the wound dried the handkerchief stuck to his fingers, and to pull it off would have been painful. It still stuck to his fingers all through the ordeal of getting him out; it was still clasped in his hand as the ambulance jeep drove away with him.

To go back, through the days of his waiting he had that handkerchief right hand stuck through a little hole in the plane's side , moving it slowly back and forth.

Just after I had stopped that day to talk to Lt. Ed Sasson in the field, two mechanics from an armored division came down the road in a jeep. They were looking at the wrecked plane as they drove along, and suddenly they saw this slight movement. They stopped and went over to make sure, and they found inside there one of the brave men of this war. That's when they came running for us.

The two boys to whom this British flight lieutenant owes his life are Sgt. Milton van Sickel, of Brainard, Minn., and Cpl. William Schinke, of Gresham Neb.

AT LAST we had the pilot out of the plane and on a stretcher under the wing. The doctor took some scissors and started cutting away his clothes. It must be hot in those cockpits in flight for the pilot wore nothing but short trousers and a blue shirt.

The doctor cut off the pants and then the shirt. The pilot lay there naked. He was a man of magnificent physique.

The calves of his legs were large and athletic, In the calf of the left leg was a round hole as big as an apple. But to our astonishment, there was no deterioration of flesh around it. The wound was already healing perfectly. The leg wasn't even burned, as he had told us. What then could it have been that we smelled in the plane ?

We turned him over and then we saw. His back was burned by spilled gasoline, from his shoulders to the end of his spine. It was raw and red.

He had been forced to lie on it all the time, unable to move. At last festering had started, and then gangrene. We could see the little blue-green mouldy splotches. That was what we had smelled. He didn't know about that. The odor had developed inside his little cubbyhole so gradually that he hadn't been aware of it. He was shocked by the smell of fresh air, but he still didn't know about the other. He had been worried only about his leg.

I DON'T KNOW what the doctor really thought. The pilot was obviously in wonderful physical shape, considering such an ordeal. The doctor told him so. But he looked a long time at that gangrenous back and then they temporarily bandaged it.

As they were working on him, the doctor asked if the pilot had a wallet or any papers. He said yes, his had been in his hip pocket. The doctor lifted the biood-smeared pants and cut the wallet out with a pair of scissors. From the other pocket he cut a silver cigaret case.

"That's good, old boy," the pilot said. "I'm grateful that you found that."

We asked him if he had a wrist watch. He said yes, but it had fallen off and was probably in the debris where he had been Iying. But we couldn't find it, and finally gave it up.

AS HE LAY on his stomach on the stretcher they tied a metal splint around his wounded leg. While they were doing this I bathed his head again in water from a canteen.

A soldier lit another cigaret and gave it to him. It dropped through his fingers onto the wet grass, and became soaked. I lit another one and put it in his fingers.

He took a long, deep drag, and put his head down on the litter and closed his eyes. The morphine finally was making him groggy, but it never did put him out.

The cigaret burned up almost to his fingers. An officer said, "It's going to burn him," and started to pull it from between his fingers. But the pilot heard and lazily opened his eyes, took another puff, and with his thumb pushed the cigaret farther out in his fingers. Then he closed his eyes again. He lay there for a few minutes like that.

Then again he rolled those great eyes up and said to me:

"What date did you say this was?" I told him

"THAT'S WONDERFUL" he said. "My wedding anniversary is just three days away. I guess I'll be back in England for it yet."

He wouldn't, but everybody said sure.

The medics were all through. They covered the naked pilot wlth a blanket and carried him to the road. Everybody in our little crowd loved the man who had the heart to be so wonderful.

As they put the stretcher down in the gravel road, waiting for the jeep to turn-around, one of the armored division soldiers leaned over the stretcher and said with rough emotion:

"If you'd been a German you'da been dead five days ago. Gosh, but you British have got guts!"

--Ernie Pyle

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