Ernie Pyle Remembers Clark Kent

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Withywindle at Athens and Jerusalem has a spectacular reminiscence by reporter Ernie Pyle of his encounters with Clark Kent during World War II:

We were on a press plane flying from England down to North Africa just after the troops landed in forty two. The ride was bumpy and we were passing around a bottle of whiskey. I offered it to this big man in the back, and he said, “No thanks, Mr. Pyle, I’m tee-total.” But he said it in a friendly way that didn’t seem stuck up at all. I said, “You know my name, but I don’t know yours. Who are you?” Somebody else said, “You don’t know him, Ernie? That’s Clark Kent, the one who did all those Superman stories.” I whistled, because those had been good pieces, and because I could see how young Kent must have been when he wrote them. I took a longer look at him. Big man, handsome man. He looked like he could have been a football player or a movie star. Half Johnny Weissmuller, half Gregory Peck. “I liked those,” I said. “I always wondered how you got that particular interview.” “It wasn’t easy,” Kent said to me solemnly. “First I had to find out where his favorite bar was. Then I had to buy him a drink. And he wouldn’t talk to me until I put a cape on.” He looked at me so seriously that I knew this was God’s own truth—and then he grinned, that wonderful smile that lit up his face and made everyone fall in love with him, even sergeants soaked in vinegar who weren’t that fond of their own mothers. I whooped until my guts hurt and after that he was the best friend I had in the war.

Go here to read the imaginative rest.


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  1. …Wouldn’t it make more sense to reverse those two, though?

    (alternate considered response: They already did the musical comedy– dodo dodo dodo dodo BAT MAN!!!! Rejected because I couldn’t justify calling that show a musical, with only one song. )

  2. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to reverse those two, though?”

    No, placing them in a genre strange to them is half the entertainment! A young Robert Mitchum, circa 1947, in the film noire treatment of Superman, and a young Jimmy Stewart, circa 1938, in the screwball musical on Batman!

  3. From one of Ernie Pyle’s “lost” columns in which he mentions Superman:

    “The main impression I got, seeing German prisoners, was that they were human like anybody else, fundamentally friendly, a little vain. Certainly they are not supermen. Whenever a group of them would form, some American soldier would pop up with a camera to get a souvenir picture. And every time, all the prisoners in the vicinity would crowd into the picture like kids.

    One day I saw a group of them staring up at the sky as Superman streaked over, heading to only God knows where. They were yelling out “Ubermensch! Ubermensch!” and pointing at him. Must be a morale loss for the Germans knowing that the only real superman in this war is fighting against them.”

  4. Sounds like someone did their homework. (My grandfather was a prison guard after the war– his batch was just a bunch of normal people on an evil side.)

  5. “Sounds like someone did their homework. (My grandfather was a prison guard after the war– his batch was just a bunch of normal people on an evil side.)”

    I read that apparently it became a commonplace amongst the Wehrmacht that being captured by the Amis meant “going to Kansas.” We used a lot of POWs to bring in the harvest on the Great Plains. Apparently, there were a significant number of German-American farmers on the Plains, too, so it was far from a terrifying prospect. One German POW said they were assigned to help work the fields of an American farmer born in Germany. He spoke to them in perfect German and promised them some of his wife’s best apple pie if they worked hard. After getting that treat on the first day, they worked like trenchermen from then on. The guards were few and unobtrusive, given the minimal prospects for escape.

    IIRC, one–and only one–German soldier escaped from the U.S. to fight again. An SS hardcase, as I recall.

  6. My father (RIP) turned 18 in June 1945 and was drafted. He served as an MP guarding german POW’s in Camp Upton on Long Island and a little upstate camp along the Hudson River.

    He said they were mostly africa corps men and still acted like soldaten after years in prison.

    He said the potato farmers would give the germans pie. He got bupkis.

    Re: Super Man. Those GI’s were Super Men although none of them knew it.

  7. My father was in several parts of Germany, and after the war had occasions to guard German prisoners. I now wonder if he ever had occasion to tell young Private Ratzinger to “Keep moving, bud.”

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