On the Wing and On the Ground

Ernie Pyle’s aviation and war dispatches.

By 1944, Ernest Taylor Pyle (in Normandy, France) had won millions of loyal readers and a Pulitzer. (The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana)

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I found that almost every combat unit had (1) one pilot so nerveless that he thought his narrow escapes were funny, and meant it; (2) a majority who truly loved to fly and at times found a certain real exhilaration in combat, but who on the whole existed only for the day when they could do their flying more peacefully; and (3) one pilot who absolutely hated airplanes and kept going, if at all, only through sheer will power. I knew of two pilots who developed such neuroses against airplanes that they had to be sent to a rest spot where they wouldn’t see a plane for six months.

But I suppose pilots as a class are the gayest people in the Army. When they came back from a mission they were usually full of high spirits. And when they sat around together of an evening, nine-tenths of their conversation was exuberant and full of howling jokes. There was no grimness in their conduct to match that of the infantrymen in the line.

For example, one night during supper we heard some terrific shouting in the adjoining room, as though a politician were making a Fourth of July speech. Finally we moved to the door to see what it was all about, and there sat a roomful of pilots before their finished supper plates, giving rapt attention to another pilot who was on his feet delivering a burlesque harangue on the merits of snake-oil hair tonic.

This pilot was Lieutenant Robert J. Horrigan, of 1443 South Cheyenne Avenue, Tulsa, Oklahoma. He had an infectious grin and a perpetual sense of mimicry. It turned out that his father, a banker in Tulsa, was for many years on the stage as a magician, and his uncle was a famous juggler. The two even toured Europe with their act. Bob Horrigan wanted to go on the stage himself after the war, but he supposed he wouldn’t. His current ambition was to land an airplane at the Tulsa airport, with his family and friends all out to meet him. He said he wouldn’t even object to a small brass band.

The nicest thing about Horrigan’s impromptu acting was that he got as tickled as his audience did. His final act was a hundred per cent sound imitation of the unconventional scene of a Messerschmitt shooting down a Spitfire. The audience of pilots yelled their delight as though they hadn’t a care in the world.

—Ernie Pyle

January 10, 1944

The Death of Captain Waskow

In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Captain Henry T. Waskow, of Belton, Texas.

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