Words of War

Guiding Question:

How can eyewitness accounts personalize the story of war?


Using interactive technology from the American Battle Monuments Commission, Ernie Pyle columns, a column from the Stars and Stripes, and primary and secondary sources, students will create an eyewitness account to personalize the story of war.


Historical Context

The Battle of San Pietro was key in breaking through the Germans' Winter Line and eventually capturing Rome. World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle had just returned to the Italian front after a hiatus in the States. He felt that he was in a writer’s slump and wanted to write what he felt he knew and that was the men of the American infantry. After returning from the San Pietro battlefield, Pyle locked himself in a hotel room to pour his heart into a personal piece on what he just witnessed. The result was “The Death of Captain Waskow.” It won Pyle a Pulitzer and made him a household name.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Compare and contrast personalized accounts with a traditional news story;
  • Understand the role of the Battle of San Pietro in the invasion of Italy; and
  • Understand, interpret, and synthesize information about the role of journalism in World War II.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2.C Use appropriate and varied transitions and syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.3.9-12. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context.
D2.His.13.9-12. Critique the appropriateness of the historical sources used in a secondary interpretation.


Lesson Preparation


Activity One: The Battle of San Pietro (40 minutes)

  • Project the photograph of Herman Ohme from the ABMC Fallen Hero profile page.
    • Ask students, What do you notice about this photograph?
    • Play the eulogy for Herman Ohme from the ABMC Fallen Hero profile page.
    • Project the Entering Italy Interactive Timeline. Ask students to try to pinpoint the timeframe in which Ohme last fought. Click on “Oct. 9-15, 1943 Briefing” at the bottom of the interactive. Using the encyclopedia scroll on the right side, click on San Pietro, Italy. Read the text aloud to students.
  • Point to the Battle of San Pietro, located halfway between Naples and Rome. Tell students the background of the Battle of San Pietro. The secondary source, “The Battles for San Pietro,” can provide background knowledge if needed.
  • Show an excerpt from the film San Pietro. Play from 8:18 to 12:10.
    • Ask students to list with at least five facts about the Battle of San Pietro they learned from the film clip. Discuss these facts.
  • Distribute the “‘Winter Line’s’ Outskirts Now in Hands of Yank Infantry.” Lead a small or large-group discussion with students using the following questions:
    • What was in the Americans' hands? What city had been captured?
    • Describe the terrain the Americans had to endure.
    • Describe the fighting the Americans had to endure.
    • Describe the German strongholds that the Americans had to break through at this time.
    • What is the Winter Line?
    • How would you describe the writing style of the author of this article?
  • Instruct students to look at the News Writing versus Feature Writing Handout. Ask them to read the hard news description and answer the first question.

Activity Two: The Death of Captain Waskow (40 minutes)

Assessment Materials

  • Students will use the following prompt to write a feature story using Ernie Pyle’s personal touch.
  • Prompt: Using the information from the Herman Ohme Fallen Hero Profile and the “88th Infantry Division in Italy” secondary source, write a feature story like “The Death of Captain Waskow” about the reaction to Ohme’s death on the battlefield.
  • The article can be assessed using the Assessment Rubric.

Methods for Extension

  • Students with interest in Ernie Pyle’s columns may read more columns and choose a battle from which Pyle reported to write their own version of the story. Pyle’s “Omaha Beach after D-Day” is a great example.
  • Teachers can show students a photograph of the makeshift memorial American GIs created at Pyle’s gravesite. Instruct students to design their own memorial for Pyle. What would it say? What symbols would be used?
  • Students could write a biographical sketch of Ernie Pyle to learn more about how he got started in the journalism business and his career before the war as a travel writer.


  • Students who struggle with writing could outline their story or create a list of questions that would be asked to soldiers present at the Battle of San Pietro.


Return to Activity

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Other Sources