Handy Island

Handy Island
"The Air War Finds A Handy South Atlantic Island" was the caption on this Peter Hurd painting of Ascension Island, from Life Magazine, April 1945. It was the only place for pilots to refuel between Natal and West Africa.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ernie Pyle on Ascension Island

(I don't have a date for this column, which I found in my grandmother's scrapbook.  I'll quote it here and hope somebody can help me find the date.  I suspect it is collected in one of Pyle's books of wartime columns.)

SOMEWHERE IN AFRICA---(By wireless)---One of the sagas of this war--and one that can't be fully written until after the war--is the career of the - - - - - Combat Engineers. [At this point in the war, censorship didn't allow Pyle to use the name of my father's outfit--the 38th Engineer Regiment, Combat.)

They have yet to hear the crack of an enemy gun, but their overseas record already is talked about throughout the length and breadth of Africa.  They have been away from home now since the Spring of 1942.   They are one of the proudest organizations I've ever come across. They brag about what they've taken and swear they are yenning for more.

The Army Engineers build things, as you know.  These particular engineers build airfields and depots and barracks for other soldiers.  But it isn't so much what they have built as where they built it, and how.

On their first and biggest job, they lived for five months in an isolation that few other American troops have known.  They worked day and night.  The only way they knew when Sunday came was when the colonel would put on a necktie.  They wore out their gloves and worked with bandaged hands.

Supplies failed to reach them on schedule, so they went on half rations and then on quarter rations.  Each man got only one quart of water a day.

They had no entertainment of any kind, and no mail for three and a half months.  Well, some mail did come at the end of two months, but it was all fourth-class, including a sackful of training manuals for troops in Arctic climates. 
They build hospitals, roads and bridges, and set up barracks for the troops that [are] to follow.  But not for themselves.
"Hell no," said one sergeant.  "We ain't slept in a building since we left the States.  We build 'em, we don't use 'em."

(The rest of the column is about Africa, to which some of the 38th Engineers moved after leaving Ascension Island.  If my grandmother had just thought to cut out the dates on these things, she would have made the work of the historian a teensy bit easier.  But she saved them:  and that is a good thing.)

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