A Great Pile of Ready-Made Crosses

By David Chrisinger
25 May 20

For the past couple weeks, I have been waist deep in stacks of books, photocopies of Ernie’s letters home, and hundreds of pages of handwritten notes I’ve taken over the past year on white and yellow legal pads and green write-in-the-rain notebooks. I’ve been writing about Ernie’s time in Tunisia and his transformation from a roving reporter simply “passing through” North Africa to a man caught up in perhaps the greatest story the world had ever known.

May 25th was Memorial Day, of course. Keeping with the spirit of that sacred day, I’m sharing with you a lesser-known column Ernie wrote in late April 1943, after General George S. Patton, Jr. had taken command of II Corps. 

“I have stopped now and then to see some of the battle graveyards,” Pyle wrote. “The Germans bury their dead in small cemeteries along the roadsides, but we concentrate in fewer and bigger graveyards, usually on the edge of some town. Arabs are hired to dig the graves.

“At Gafsa there is an American cemetery with more than six hundred graves. It is in desertlike country, and the graves are aligned in precise rows in the naked gray earth. Each is marked with a waist-high wooden cross.

“In a nearby tent is a great pile of ready-made crosses, and a stack of newly carpentered wood markers in the form of the Star of David, for the Jewish dead.

“As all the American dead in the Gafsa area have been located and reburied in the permanent graveyard, this cemetery section will move on to other fronts.

“In one German cemetery of about a hundred graves,” Pyle continued, “we fond eleven Americans. They lay among the Germans, not segregated in any way. Their graves are identical with those of the Germans except that beneath the names on the wooden crosses is printed ‘Amerikaner,’ and below that the Army serial number. We presume their dog tags were buried with them.

“On one of the graves, beneath the soldier’s serial number, is also printed: ‘T-40.’ The Germans apparently thought that was part of his number. Actually it only showed that the man had had his first anti-tetanus shot in 1940.

“My friend Sgt. Pat Donadeo of Pittsburgh was with me when we looked at this graveyard, and as we left he said: ‘They respect our dead the same as we do theirs. It’s comforting to know that.’”

3 responses to “A Great Pile of Ready-Made Crosses”

  1. LuAnn Zieman says:

    And the enemy is human. We so often dehumanize those with whom we go to war. It makes it easier, doesn’t it?

  2. Mary A. Havens says:

    Hi David, I am your cousin through my aunt Maude Chrisinger. I look forward to meeting you one day.

    I love what you are doing and the experiences you are sharing with so many.

    My ghostwriter Lynn Wiese Sneyd hopefully will be coming to Milwaukee in July. She is on the Tucson Festival of Books committee. If there is a possibility of you meeting, would you be interested? Everything at this point is dependent upon what happens with the virus.


    i have an uncle buried in Plot B Row 12 Grave 166. American Cemetery, Gafsa, Tunisia

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