Indiana University
The Indiana University School of Journalism Ernie Pyle
From one of Ernie Pyle's most famous columns, these words celebrate foot soldiers.

The God-Damned Infantry

IU Archives
Pyle with Marines on patrol in Okinawa.

IN THE FRONT LINES BEFORE MATEUR, NORTHERN TUNISIA, May 2, 1943 – We’re now with an infantry outfit that has battled ceaselessly for four days and nights.

This northern warfare has been in the mountains. You don’t ride much anymore. It is walking and climbing and crawling country. The mountains aren’t big, but they are constant. They are largely treeless. They are easy to defend and bitter to take. But we are taking them.

The Germans lie on the back slope of every ridge, deeply dug into foxholes. In front of them the fields and pastures are hideous with thousands of hidden mines. The forward slopes are left open, untenanted, and if the Americans tried to scale these slopes they would be murdered wholesale in an inferno of machine-gun crossfire plus mortars and grenades.

Consequently we don’t do it that way. We have fallen back to the old warfare of first pulverizing the enemy with artillery, then sweeping around the ends of the hill with infantry and taking them from the sides and behind.

*

I’ve written before how the big guns crack and roar almost constantly throughout the day and night. They lay a screen ahead of our troops. By magnificent shooting they drop shells on the back slopes. By means of shells timed to burst in the air a few feet from the ground, they get the Germans even in their foxholes. Our troops have found that the Germans dig foxholes down and then under, trying to get cover from the shell bursts that shower death from above.

Our artillery has really been sensational. For once we have enough of something and at the right time. Officers tell me they actually have more guns than they know what to do with.

All the guns in any one sector can be centered to shoot at one spot. And when we lay the whole business on a German hill the whole slope seems to erupt. It becomes an unbelievable cauldron of fire and smoke and dirt. Veteran German soldiers say they have never been through anything like it.

*

Now to the infantry – the God-damned infantry, as they like to call themselves.

I love the infantry because they are the underdogs. They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars can’t be won without.

I wish you could see just one of the ineradicable pictures I have in my mind today. In this particular picture I am sitting among clumps of sword-grass on a steep and rocky hillside that we have just taken. We are looking out over a vast rolling country to the rear.

A narrow path comes like a ribbon over a hill miles away, down a long slope, across a creek, up a slope and over another hill.

All along the length of this ribbon there is now a thin line of men. For four days and nights they have fought hard, eaten little, washed none, and slept hardly at all. Their nights have been violent with attack, fright, butchery, and their days sleepless and miserable with the crash of artillery.

The men are walking. They are fifty feet apart, for dispersal. Their walk is slow, for they are dead weary, as you can tell even when looking at them from behind. Every line and sag of their bodies speaks their inhuman exhaustion.

On their shoulders and backs they carry heavy steel tripods, machine-gun barrels, leaden boxes of ammunition. Their feet seem to sink into the ground from the overload they are bearing.

They don’t slouch. It is the terrible deliberation of each step that spells out their appalling tiredness. Their faces are black and unshaven. They are young men, but the grime and whiskers and exhaustion make them look middle-aged.

In their eyes as they pass is not hatred, not excitement, not despair, not the tonic of their victory – there is just the simple expression of being here as though they had been here doing this forever, and nothing else.

The line moves on, but it never ends. All afternoon men keep coming round the hill and vanishing eventually over the horizon. It is one long tired line of antlike men.

*

There is an agony in your heart and you almost feel ashamed to look at them. They are just guys from Broadway and Main Street, but you wouldn’t remember them. They are too far away now. They are too tired. Their world can never be known to you, but if you could see them just once, just for an instant, you would know that no matter how hard people work back home they are not keeping pace with these infantrymen in Tunisia.

Ernie Pyle
Source: Ernie's War: The Best of Ernie Pyle's World War II Dispatches, edited by David Nichols, pp. 112-13. Pictures courtesy of The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
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Reader Comments:

  1. I am 16 years old, and when I was still in middle school I gained an interest in World War 2. I thought of how glorious it would be if I were there to witness the action, but after reading more and finally reading Ernie Pyle’s columns I had a better idea what war is. His writings showed the true face of war, how the common soldier dealt with it, and he showed what death was in that war. I think Ernie Pyle was a greater man then most.

    - Cesar Cordova
  2. Seeing Mr. Pyle in repose made me think of my regiment, the Eighteenth Infantry, about which he wrote “the God -Damned Infantry.

    The piece was hanging along with the regimental crest throughout the Berlin Bigade. The kind of sacrifices our infantry is called upon to make, should only be undertaken if war is declared. We ignore the Constitution at our peril. End the Iraq war of acquiesence.

    - James B. Casey
  3. I grew up reading old articles by and about Mr.Pyle. 5 Days after I graduated form hi-school (1974) and 17 years old I joined the Army and I demanded to go into the “God-damned Infantry”. Twenty years later I retired. The day I turned blue, all 145 lbs of me, was one of the proudest in my life. I still enjoy reading what he wrote and about his life. Thanks for this site.

    Rew E. Williams

    - SFC Rew E. Williams (Ret)
  4. If only the current media had the class and candor that Mr. Pyle did. God bless the Infantry.

    - Justin R. Grieve Afghanistan & Iraq Veteran
  5. Reading Ernie Pyle’s dispatches makes me think that being embedded or immersed happenes both ways. They become embedded or immersed in you.

    Patrick Manalio

    - Patrick Manalio ex-member 324th U.S. Army Band,SP/4
  6. I grew up listening to my dad’s WWII stories and seeing Ernie Pyle’s book, “Brave Men” on his bookshelf. When my dad died in 1994, I inherited the book. It sat on my shelf until 2008, when I took it down out of boredom one day. By the end of the first chapter, I was transfixed. What an amazing man, and what an amazing story he told of the common men like my dad who fought a war a world away from their own, with hardly a complaint (other than about food and cigarettes). At 55 and with a son who is a combat veteran, I plan on reading everything Mr. Pyle ever wrote. Thanks to my Alma Mater for keeping Ernie Pyle’s memory alive and vibrant.

    - Rick Dawson
  7. In 1945 I was a 17 Year Old who had read Ernie’s Columns during all of WWII. Teen agers don’t cry but I was riding my Rollfast bicycle and had opened page 1 of the Long Island (NY) Daily Press to read of his death. I cried.

    - Eugene F. Klausman 109th CIC Detachment (2nd Army) 51-53; Artillery Trained 5th Armored Division
  8. I have read a few of Mr. Pyle’s writings just this day, and intend to read more. I learned about Ernie Pyle today by visiting another website, http://www.michaelyon-online.com/.

    To Mr. James B. Casey, above: Michael Yon is following in Mr. Pyle’s footsteps, writing about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from his own first-hand perspective. If you enjoy Mr. Pyle, you should really give Mr. Yon a read as well.

    - Melinda Petruzziello

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