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‘The War Correspondent’–Ernie Pyle August 31, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in History.

Since I am on the topic of history in my previous post I shall continue with the lessons.

Ever heard of Ernie Pyle? Some have, many have not. Ernie was a columnist, first at the now defunct Washington Daily News and then, later, (1935-1945) as a roving correspondent and columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.

His dispatches from the front in Europe during WWII were widely read and still held in very high esteem among journalists and the reading public alike. His style was downhome and folksy and with it he managed to bring a far away war home for those Americans who were not doing the fighting. Ernie Pyle put the reader in the middle of battle’s carnage and brought a face to the millions of American service members overseas.

He did this while endearing himself to the men whose stories he worked so hard to tell.

Today he is remembered for those columns and for the great sacrifice he made to bring home a war that took both a psychological and physical toll on him and the soldiers and Marines he served with.

Ernie died a warrior’s death on a war-torn landscape. It was April 18, 1945 on the island of Ie Shima, not far from Okinawa Island. Driving along in a jeep with several soldiers, the vehicle suddenly came under machine gun fire from a Japanese sniper position. The troops, and Pyle, dove out of the Jeep for cover; after a few minutes Pyle raised his head up in search of one of the soldiers in their group. A Japanese bullet pierced his skull and he was killed instantly. His mortal remains rest at The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

The School of Journalism at Indiana University, Pyle is an alum, compiled multiple columns by Pyle beginning in 2003. Some of his most famous works can be found there, including: The Death of Captain Waskow, The God-Damned Infantry and the column famously found on his body after his death , On Victory in Europe.

Several lines near the end of that final column read as eloquently as any famous work of poetry.

“But there are many of the living who have had burned into their brains forever the unnatural sight of cold dead men scattered over the hillsides and in the ditches along the high rows of hedge throughout the world.

Dead men by mass production – in one country after another – month after month and year after year. Dead men in winter and dead men in summer.

Dead men in such familiar promiscuity that they become monotonous.

Dead men in such monstrous infinity that you come almost to hate them.”

Ernie Pyle died like he lived, on the edge, and doing what he loved. He showed the world what it meant to be a member of the “God-Damned Infantry” and face death and destruction as part of a daily routine.

His essence is well summed up by the April 8, 1945 photo featured in the New York Times. It showed Ernie moving with a Marine patrol, one man behind point. Instead of a weapon, Ernie carried writing pads.

Ernie Pyle lives on through his reporting, (the type of which there isn’t nearly enough of today) much of which is available in one of the compilations of his work. He is remembered through memorials, state historic sites and libraries in the places he lived and died.

The memorial on le Shima island carries a simple inscirption:

18 APRIL, 1945”

President Ronald Reagan awarded him a posthumous Purple Heart.


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