Ernest Taylor "Ernie" Pyle (August 3, 1900 – April 18, 1945) was a Pulitzer Prize–winning American journalist, known for his columns for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, where he worked as a roving correspondent from 1935 through most of World War II.
Before the war he traveled extensively throughout the United States, writing about out-of-the-way towns and their inhabitants in a distinctive, folksy style. After the United States entered World War II he reported from the home front and both the European and Pacific theatres, including actions in North Africa, Europe and the Pacific. He was killed in combat on Iejima during the Battle of Okinawa.
At the time of his death his columns were running in more than 300 newspapers, and he was among the best-known American war correspondents. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for his spare, first-person reporting, which highlighted the role and plight of the common "dogface" infantry soldier. "No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told," wrote Harry Truman. "He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen."
Pyle was born to William Clyde Pyle and Maria Taylor near Dana, Indiana, on August 3, 1900. After attending local schools, he joined the United States Navy Reserve during World War I at age 17. He served three months of active duty before the war ended, finishing his reserve service later with the rank of Seaman Third Class.
After the war, Pyle attended Indiana University, editing the Indiana Daily Student newspaper and traveling to the Orient with his fraternity brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. With only a semester left he quit to accept a job at a newspaper in LaPorte, Indiana.
He worked there for three months before moving to Washington, D.C., where he served as a reporter for the tabloid newspaper, The Washington Daily News. All the editors were young, including Editor-in-Chief John M. Gleissner (one of Warren G. Harding's drinking buddies); Lee G. Miller (later author of An Ernie Pyle Album – Indiana to Ie Shima); Charles M. Egan, Willis "June" Thornton; and Paul McCrea. In 1932, Pyle was named managing editor and served in the post for three years, all the while fretting that he was unable to do any writing.
In Washington, he met Geraldine "Jerry" Siebolds, and they married in 1925. They had a tempestuous relationship. She suffered from intermittent bouts of mental illness and alcoholism. Pyle described her later as his "fearful and troubled wife," "desperate within herself since the day she was born."
Birth of a columnist
In 1926 Pyle tired of working at a desk and quit his job. He and his wife headed out on the road to see America in a Ford roadster. They traveled more than 9,000 miles before he returned to his job with the The Washington Daily News. In 1928, he became the country's first aviation columnist, a position he held for four years. The famed aviator Amelia Earhart summed it up: "Any aviator who didn't know Pyle was a nobody."
In 1932 Pyle became managing editor of the The Washington Daily News. Two years later, he spent time on a leisurely trip to California to recuperate from a severe bout of flu. Upon his return, the paper's journalists suggested that he write some columns about his trip to fill in for the vacationing syndicated columnist Heywood Broun. The series of 11 columns was a hit.
G.B. ("Deac") Parker, editor-in-chief of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, said he had found in Pyle's vacation articles "a Mark Twain quality that knocked my eye out. In 1935, the Scripps-Howard Alliance offered the chance to write a national column, and Pyle gave up his tasks as managing editor. He wandered around the country and the Americas in his car, writing columns about the unusual places and people he met in his ramblings. Select columns were later collected and published posthumously in Home Country (1947).
World War II
Pyle became a war correspondent and applied his intimate style to combat reporting. Instead of recounting the movements of armies or the activities of generals, Pyle generally wrote from the perspective of the common soldier.
Their life consisted wholly and solely of war, for they were and always had been front-line infantrymen. They survived because the fates were kind to them, certainly – but also because they had become hard and immensely wise in animal-like ways of self-preservation.
This "everyman" approach gained him additional popularity and the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Among his most widely read and reprinted columns is "The Death of Captain Waskow." His wartime writings are preserved in four books: Ernie Pyle In England, Here Is Your War, Brave Men and Last Chapter. Reinforcing his status as the "dogface's" best friend, Pyle wrote a column in 1944 urging that soldiers in combat get "fight pay" just as airmen were paid "flight pay." Congress passed a law authorizing $10 a month extra pay for combat infantrymen. The legislation was called "The Ernie Pyle bill."
Pyle interrupted his reporting several times during the war with leaves to return home to care for his wife while they were still married. After his return to the United States for a vacation, he wrote to his college roommate, Paige Cavanaugh: "Geraldine was drunk the afternoon I got home. From there she went on down. Went completely screwball. One night she tried the gas. Had to have a doctor." The two were divorced on April 14, 1942. They remarried by proxy while Pyle was in Africa on March 10, 1943.
In addition to marital difficulties, Pyle also had to recuperate from the stresses of combat, which he often wrote poignantly about.
The best way I can describe this vast armada and the frantic urgency of the traffic is to suggest that you visualize New York city on its busiest day of the year and then just enlarge that scene until it takes in all the ocean the human eye can reach clear around the horizon and over the horizon. There are dozens of times that many.-On preparations to invade at Normandy
Pyle was nearly killed a month later in the accidental bombing by the Army Air Forces at the onset of Operation Cobra near Saint-Lô in Normandy in July 1944. A month after witnessing the liberation of Paris in August 1944, Pyle publicly apologized to his readers in a column on September 5, 1944, that he had "lost track of the point of the war" and that another two weeks of coverage would have seen him hospitalized with "war neurosis." He hoped that a rest at his home in New Mexico would restore his vigor to go "warhorsing around the Pacific".
In planning to cover the U.S. activities in the Pacific, Pyle butted heads with the U.S. Navy; it had a policy forbidding the use of the names of sailors in reporting. He won an unsatisfying partial victory as the ban was lifted exclusively for him. His first cruise was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Cabot. He thought the crew had an "easy life" in comparison to that of the infantry in Europe and he wrote several unflattering portraits of the Navy.
Fellow correspondents, newspaper editorials and GIs criticized ex-Navy man Pyle for giving apparent short shrift to the difficulties of the naval war in the Pacific. During the tiff, he admitted that his heart was with the infantrymen in Europe, but he persevered to report on the Navy's efforts during the invasion of Okinawa. He was noted for having premonitions of his own death; he predicted before landing that he would not be alive a year hence.
On April 18, 1945, Pyle died on Iejima (then known as Ie Shima), an island northwest of Okinawa Island, after being hit by Japanese machine-gun fire. He was traveling in a jeep with Lieutenant Colonel Joseph B. Coolidge (commanding officer of the 305th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division) and three other men. The road, which ran parallel to the beach 200 or 300 yards inland, had been cleared of mines, and hundreds of vehicles had driven over it. As the vehicle reached a road junction, Japanese troops began firing a machine gun located on a coral ridge about a third of a mile away. The men stopped their vehicle and jumped into a ditch. Pyle and Coolidge raised their heads to look around for the others; when they spotted them, Pyle smiled and asked Coolidge, "Are you all right?" Those were his last words. The machine gun began shooting again, and Pyle was struck in the left temple (the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site in Dana, Indiana, contains a telegram from the government to Pyle's father stating Pyle was killed by a sniper). The colonel called for a medic, but none was present. It made no difference as Pyle had been killed instantly. Eleanor Roosevelt, who frequently quoted Pyle in her newspaper column, My Day, took note of his death.
Pyle was buried with his helmet on, in a long row of graves among other soldiers, with an infantry private on one side and a combat engineer on the other. At the 10-minute service, the Army, Navy and Marine Corps were all represented, and a monument was erected in his memory at the site. When Okinawa was returned to Japanese control in 1971, the Ernie Pyle monument was one of three American memorials allowed to remain in place.
His remains were re-interred at the Army cemetery on Okinawa, and later at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Pyle was among the few American civilians to be awarded the Purple Heart, as noted on his gravestone.
Legacy and honors
To honor Pyle's passing, the employees of Boeing-Wichita, through the 7th War Loan Drive, paid for and built a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Serial Number 44-70118, and dedicated it on May 1, 1945, as The Ernie Pyle. The Ernie Pyle was ferried to the Pacific War Theater by a crew commanded by Lieutenant Howard F. Lippincott (USAF Lt. Colonel, ret., dec.) and Lieutenant Robert H. Silver (deceased). Initially assigned to the Second Air Force at Kearney Air Force Base, it was sent to the Twentieth Air Force, Pacific Theater of Operations, on May 27, 1945. The nose art was removed when the aircraft reached its intended operations base in the Pacific, as the base commander thought it would become a prime target of the Japanese. The Ernie Pyle survived the war and was returned to the United States on October 22, 1945. It was stored at Pyote AAF, Texas, and disposed of as surplus on March 25, 1953.
Other tributes to Pyle include:
- In 2007 the Ernie Pyle House/Library was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
- The producers of the 1945 film, The Story of G.I. Joe, which starred Burgess Meredith as Pyle, donated a major portion of the proceeds to the scholarships at Indiana.
- At Indiana University, the School of Journalism is housed in "Ernie Pyle Hall." Scholarships, established soon after his death, are given to students with a military service record, an ability in journalism and promise of future success.
- In 1947, Pyle's last home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was adapted as the first branch library of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library System, named in his honor. The Ernie Pyle Library holds a small collection of adult and children's books, as well as Pyle memorabilia and archives.
- His papers and archives are held chiefly by the Lilly Library at Indiana University, the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site at Dana, Indiana and the Wisconsin State Historical Society.
- The Ernie Pyle State Historic Site in Dana includes Pyle's boyhood farmhouse, fully restored. The site also features a World War II-era Quonset hut containing many of Pyle's army artifacts, (including his Purple Heart), plus items donated by the people of the community.
- Pyle is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. In 1970, a plaque was presented to the people of Hawaii to honor Pyle by his nephew, Bruce L. Johnson.
- A stone monument was erected on Ie Shima at the site where Pyle was killed. Its truncated pyramid shape echoes the insignia of the "Statue of Liberty" Division, which invaded the island. It bears the inscription: "At this spot the 77th Infantry Division lost a buddy, Ernie Pyle, 18 April 1945".
- In 1971, Pyle was depicted on a 16-cent United States postage stamp issued in his honor.
- Elementary schools near Pyle's hometown of Dana, Indiana, in Indianapolis, Indiana, and in Bellflower and Fresno, California, are named for him in addition to a middle school in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
- US 36 in Indiana from Danville to the Indiana/Illinois border is known as the Ernie Pyle Memorial Highway. There is also a memorial rest park on U.S. 36 just southeast of Dana named in Pyle's honor.
- A small island in Cagles Mill Lake near the town of Cunot in Owen County, Indiana, bears his name.
- The Ernie Pyle Theater in downtown Tokyo was visited by many GIs from 1945 to 1955.
- In the fall of 2014, a bronze statue of Pyle was erected in front of Franklin Hall on the Indiana University Campus. Franklin Hall will house the Media School, which now includes the department of journalism.
A road at FT. Riley, ks bears his name.
- Statement by the President on the Death of Ernie Pyle. Truman Library archive. Retrieved February 9, 2015.
- Miller 1946 pp. 13–15
- Miller 1946
- Miller 1946 pp. 16–17
- Johnson, Owen V. (April 15, 2005). "Ernie Pyle: 60 years after his death". Indiana University School of Journalism. Retrieved June 21, 2009.
- Miller, Lee G., The Story of Ernie Pyle, New York: Viking Press 1950
- The War | Pbs
- Tobin, p. 196.
- Nicholas Rankin (2011) Ian Fleming's Commandos: The Story of 30 Assault Unit in WWII.
- Tobin, p. 201.
- Tobin, p. 234.
- Tobin, p. 228.
- Tobin, p. 231.
- Tobin, p. 236.
- Tobin, p. 238.
- Nichols, David (1986). Ernie's war: the best of Ernie Pyle's World War II dispatches. New York City: Random House. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-394-54923-1.
- Allen, D. (April 20, 2004). Ie Shima: Island off Okinawa holds annual event honoring newsman Ernie Pyle. Stars and Stripes archive. Retrieved July 8, 2015.
- Associated Press (April 23, 1983). "A Purple Heart for Ernie Pyle". The Telegraph. p. 4.
- U.S. Department of the Interior. "Ernie Pyle's Home a National Historic Landmark". Archived from the original on January 25, 2007. Retrieved October 31, 2006.
- "Lake Worth Couple to Make Ernie Pyle Pilgrimage 30th", The Lake Worth Herald, May 21, 1970
- Second to None! The story of the 305th Infantry in World War II, Washington: Infantry Journal Press (1949), p.162. Photo caption: "We pay our final respects to Ernie Pyle, the Doughboy's best friend."
- Smithsonian National Postal Museum: 16-cent Pyle
- (http://www.svcs.k12.in.us/erniepyleelementaryschool_home.aspx Ernie Pyle Elementary School)
- Ernie Pyle Elementary School
- Ernie Pyle Middle School, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
- "US 36". Highway Explorer – Indiana Highway Ends. Retrieved 2013-04-27.
- Ernie Pyle Lake. mapcarta.com. Retrieved February 9, 2015.
- Graham, A. (October 15, 2014). Spelling error identified on new Ernie Pyle sculpture. [http://www.idsnews.com/article/2014/10/spelling-error-on-ernie-pyle- statue IDSnews.com]. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
- Miller, Lee G., An Ernie Pyle Album – Indiana to Ie Shima: Wm. Sloane Associates, 1946, pp. 13–15
- Tobin, James (1997). Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to World War II. Free Press, ISBN 0-684-86469-X; Simon & Schuster (2000), ISBN 978-0-684-86469-3, p. 196.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ernie Pyle.|
- The Wartime Columns of Ernie Pyle, Indiana University School of Journalism
- The War Correspondent, The Ernie Pyle Center, Fort Totten, NY
- Ernie Pyle House/Library, Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Obituary: "Ernie Pyle Is Killed on Ie Island; Foe Fired When All Seemed Safe", New York Times, April 19, 1945
- Interview with James Tobin on Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to World War II, Booknotes, August 10, 1997
- "Ernie Pyle", American Writers: A Journey Through History, C-SPAN
- "Ernie Pyle". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2008-01-24.
- Photos of Ernie Pyle from Story of G.I. Joe,1944 by Ned Scott