Ernie Pyle, "Captain Waskow's Men Say Good-Bye," 1944
From the New York World Telegram; condensed and reprinted in Reader's Digest. March 1944. 53-54.
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.
Captain Waskow was a company commander in the 36th Division. He was young, in his middle 20's, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.
"After my father, he comes next," a sergeant told me.
"He always looked after us," a soldier said. "He'd go to bat for us every time."
I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Captain Waskow down. The moon was nearly full, and you could see far up the trail. Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed into the backs of mules. They came lying belly down across the wooden pack-saddles, their heads hanging over the left side of the mule, their stiffened legs sticking awkwardly from the other side, bobbing as the mule walked.
I don't know who the first man was they brought down. You feel small in the presence of dead men, and you don't ask silly questions. They slid him from the mule, and stood him on his feet for a moment. In the half light he might have been merely a sick man standing there leaning on the other. Then they laid him in the shadow of the stone wall.
We left him there beside the road and went back into the cowshed and lay on the straw and talked, waiting for the next batch of mules. Then a soldier came in and said there were some more bodies outside. We went out into the road. Four mules stood there in the moonlight. The soldiers who led them were waiting.
"This one is Captain Waskow," on of them said quickly.
Two men unlashed his body from the mule and laid it in the shadow behind the stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally there were five lying end to end in a long row. You don't cover up dead men in combat zones. They just lie there until somebody else comes after them.
The mules moved off to their olive groves. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. Gradually I could sense them moving, one by one, close to Captain Waskow's body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him and to themselves.
One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud:
"God damn it!"
That's all he said.
Another one came, and said, "God damn it to hell anyway!" He looked down for a moment and then turned and left.
Another man came, I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the dim light, for everybody was grimy and dirty. The man looked, into the dead captain's face and then spoke directly to him, as though he were alive:
"I'm sorry, old man."
Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but very tenderly, and he said:
"I sure am sorry, sir."
Then the first man squatted down and took the captain's hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face. And he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.
Finally he put the hand down. Gently he straightened the points of the captain's shirt collar and rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. Then he got up and walked away in the moonlight, all alone.
Houghton Mifflin Company