Ernie Becomes "GI," Has Good
Luck, Gets Uniform That Fits
 In U.S.A.
September 9, 1944
Ernie Pyle
The mutual esteem of Ernie Pyle and GI Joe is a rather celebrated fact today. While Ernie is on leave, a series of reprints of some of his past columns will trace the development of this entente cordiale. Here is the first one, written after the Draft Act was passed but before America entered the war.

FT. BLISS, TEX., APRIL, 1941: Maybe I wasn't raised to be a soldier - but I'm being one for a little while. Well, kind of a soldier.

Since I'm approximately 80 years old and 145 pounds underweight, they had to create a special branch to fit my special talents. It is called America's First Line of Defense. I am its bulwark. As long as l'm here, the country is safe.

They gave me a private's uniform. and contrary to Army tradition the thing fits.

This uniform business came about because I've drifted in here for a few days to write about the new soldiers. They decided to put me through the regular routine just as though I were a genuine incoming selectee. However, it didn't work out in all details. The doctors shuddered and turned away at the first sight of me. And the interviewers found me unqualified for any of the 275 types of Army employment.

So it was finally decided to let me do it my own way, which is to stand around sleepy-like for three or four days and just look and listen.

THE COMMANDER of this 100,000-acre post is a hale and hearty veteran named Innis P. Swift. He has just been promoted to major general. His father was a major general and so was his grandfather.

He is a big man, and he isn't stuffy. He is the kind who talks to his junior officers in such a manner as this: "Okay, kid." "That's the stuff, boy."

TO MY surprise, the induction center here turns down one out of every 12 men who come through, although they have passed their draft board's medical exam. Many are rejected for defective hearing. Many others are unfit because of plain undernourishment. Now and then they get a man with a penitentiary record and he is rejected too. The Army doesn't want mothers worrying about their boys associating with prison veterans.

They had one selectee who was tattooed from head to foot. On each arm was a naked woman. That doesn't go in the Army. But this boy was eager to get in. A month later he came back. He had hitch-hiked to San Antonio to find a tattoo artist, and now both women were decorously dressed.

OCCASIONALLY they get somebody who is burned up about being drafted, and remains sulky all through his processing. But on the whole the boys are eager to do whatever is asked of them.

Almost without exception, they're scared the first couple of days. The officers and men who handle them take this into consideration, and are pretty easy with them. Some of them are so frightened they shake all over.

They are broken into drill gradually. The food is excellent. Officers talk to the homesick ones. The Army is eager for all these thousands of selectees to like military life, and especially for them to write that fact to their folks.

I went through the reception center with four white boys and six Negroes, all on their first day in the Army. One of the white boys put down his birthplace as Germany, and his nearest of kin as a sister in London. His name was Henry D. Heckscher. He and his sister left Germany in 1937, for London, and he came to America in '39. He left Germany partly to escape conscription, and over here he ran smack into it. But he didn't seem to feel badly about it.

I WAS GIVEN a cot in a tent with three privates and a Regular Army corporal. One of the boys had just discovered the futility of explaining in the Army. He learned it on his first day when a sergeant asked him something, and every time he'd try to answer, the sergeant would yell: "Shut your mouth!"

Most of the boys learn to take this stuff and laugh about it. To others it is hard. But both kinds are sincere in wanting to do anything required of them to help build up America's defense. If they happen to like Army life, that's so much velvet. If they don't, they're thoroughly willing to make the best of it, because they feel a duty to America.

That sounds a little flag-wavy, but it is something genuine which has impressed me very much.

--Ernie Pyle

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