Ernie Pyle in Italy – Part 1

DavidChrisinger.com
By David Chrisinger
13 Mar 20

A few days after Company E of the 168th Infantry, 34th Division had taken a small Italian town southeast of Cassino in the winter of 1944, Ernie Pyle was introduced to the company’s commander, John Sheehy. “He looked so small, unassuming that if I had seen him around on the outside I would have called him ‘sad sack, G.I. Joe.’” Sheehy wrote in a letter to Pyle’s editor, Lee Miller, in the early fall of 1945.

Pyle could have embedded with any front-line rifle company he wanted. He chose Company E because fewer than a dozen men in the company came overseas with the division originally. And of those dozen men, there was just one who Pyle came to know well. “He is to me,” Pyle wrote, “and to all those with whom he serves, one of the great men of the war.”

His name was Buck Eversole. Sheehy was the one who introduced the two. Eversole was a sergeant. By the time Pyle got to know him, Eversole had earned a Purple Heart and two Silver Stars. “He is cold and deliberate in battle,” Pyle wrote. “His commanders depend more on him than on any other man. He has been wounded once and had countless narrow escapes. He has killed many Germans.”

According to Sheehy, Buck Eversole was eventually carried off the battlefield after his feet swelled so badly with trench foot he could barely walk. After the war, Eversole became a police officer in Walters, Oklahoma. He died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 51 in 1967.

A day or so before Pyle joined Company E, the men were issued reversible parkas with heavy fleece inner linings—olive green on one side and snow-white for winter fighting. “Ernie had mentioned that he liked them very much,” Sheehy wrote Lee Miller, “so we decided to give him one as a remembrance from the company.”

One of the company’s sergeants stenciled the division’s insignia on the upper back of the white inner lining. “To Ernie Pyle,” the inscription under the collar reads, “by S/Sgt William R. Miller.” Below the inscription, the bubbled letters INF serve as the background for a one-dimensional eagle with its wings spread wide. Crossed rifles and a circle of 14 five-pointed stars round out the design. Underneath the division’s crudely drawn insignia, the names of every man in the company—or what was left of it, at least—were handwritten into four neat columns. One hundred and sixty-three names in all.

“It was quite a touching gift,” Pyle wrote once he was back in London to prepare for the invasion of France. “I thought I’d write about it,” he told his editor, “but it seemed so damned immodest I gave it up.”

Of the 163 names listed on Pyle’s coat, eight are now etched into white headstones at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery located in Nettuno, about an hour south of Rome.

I was lucky. The cemetery was closed on Christmas Eve. The day before a few of the towering Roman pines that line the perimeter of the cemetery had blown down in a windstorm. The cemetery was supposed to be closed until the debris could be removed. But because I had traveled so far and because Christmas Eve was the only day, I had to visit, they made an exception.

I looked for the men Pyle had known, if only for a few weeks:

  • PFC Thomas B. Doolin (January 30, 1944)
  • PFC Francis J. Stelzer (February 8, 1944)
  • Pvt Joe J. Najpauer (February 8, 1944)
  • Sgt John J. Morton (February 11, 1944)
  • Ovt Arbeth L. Taylor (February 11, 1944)
  • PFC Minton B. Mattice (February 11, 1944)
  • Pvt Charles J. Gubbins (February 11, 1944)
  • PFC Edward Krzyzak (May 27, 1944)

Their stones were anonymous from a distance. Their names became legible only when I knelt down and brought my face close.

My guide told me he could tell by the pristine condition of the stones that no one had likely ever visited these men before. If they had, they would have probably rubbed sand into the etching to make the name more legible, which can take a toll on the stone over time.

He said that very few of the cemetery’s visitors these days are related to anyone buried there, so if any stone is visited, it’s likely one of the more notable ones. Medal of Honor recipient Sylvester Antolak is a popular one.

As far as visitors go, they’re mostly student groups, military personnel, political figures, war buffs, and the like. Perhaps too much time has passed. Perhaps the men and women buried there don’t have much family left. Perhaps those who remember them, who once spoke their names, who shed tears for them—perhaps they too are gone.

2 responses to “Ernie Pyle in Italy – Part 1”

  1. Marvin Williams says:

    Do you have a picture of John Sheehy? My Dad served with him. I have a picture of what I believe is the two of them in 1945 at Ft Benning. It only says John and Marv so I would like compare your picture to what I have. Dad met Ernie in North Africa and again in Italy. He was BN Adj and Regimental S-1. Thanks

    • David Chrisinger says:

      I do not, unfortunately. But I also haven’t looked very hard. I found the letter John Sheehy wrote in the archives at the Indiana History Museum. I’d very much like to talk to you more about your father’s time with Ernie. Can we set up a time to chat soon?

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Ernie Pyle in Italy - Part 2