Magazine article Army

An Intimate Look at Combat and Correspondence

Magazine article Army

An Intimate Look at Combat and Correspondence

Article excerpt

An Intimate Look At Combat and Correspondence A Death in San Pietro: The Untold Story of Ernie Pyle, John Huston, and the Fight for Purple Heart Valley. Tim Brady. Da Capo Press. 320 pages. $25.99.

During World War II, Ernie Pyle established himself as America's most beloved war correspondent. Of the numerous columns that Pyle wrote before his untimely demise on Ie Shima in 1945, none captured the raw emotion of individual combat quite like "The Death of Captain Waskow." Composed in December 1943, Pyle's signature piece was later complemented by film director John Huston's magnificent documentary, "The Battle of San Pietro." In this book, Tim Brady captures the essence of combat as personified by Capt. Henry T. Waskow, a company commander in the 36th Infantry Division.

Brady's previous book, Twelve Desperate Miles: The Epic World War II Voyage of the SS Contessa, received wide acclaim. He is a regular contributor to PBS history documentaries and writes for History Channel Magazine.

Brady begins his compelling narrative with a biographical sketch of correspondent Pyle, the "Hoosier vagabond" whose goal was "making people at home see what I see." He was 40 years old when he arrived in London in December 1940 at the height of the Blitz. He endured months of ground combat in North Africa and Sicily before going to San Pietro at the base of Mount Sammucro, south of Rome, in late 1943. Having covered the Italian campaign from the landings at Salerno that September, Pyle was already recognized as America's premier war correspondent.

Capt. John Huston, U.S. Army Signal Corps, also went to San Pietro as part of a Hollywood team under the command of director (Maj.) Frank Capra. Capra was commissioned a major in the Signal Corps and received instructions from Army Chief of StaffGen. George C. Marshall to "make a series of documented, factual-information films... that will explain to our boys in the Army why we are fighting, and the principles for which we are fighting." Capra, in turn, dispatched Huston to Sicily to join Lt. Gen. Mark Clark, Fifth Army commander, to create a documentary film recording Clark's advance toward Rome.

At San Pietro in early December 1943, both Pyle and Huston encountered the 36th Infantry Division. The division had slugged up the peninsula and had been bloodied during four months of intense combat from Salerno and the Volturno River crossings to the German defensive line astride San Pietro. Waskow, the son of a Texas tenant farmer, commanded Company B of the division's 143rd Regiment during the fighting. In the battle around San Pietro, Waskow's company suffered heavy casualties-he himself was killed by artillery fire.

Brady writes, "For all of his noble responsibility, however, Waskow might have remained anonymous as the other members of Companies B and I, if not for a man hanging out with the Italian mules down below. …

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