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
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.