Today’s 11/11/11 edition of The New York Times has a story about the struggles of the Ernie Pyle Museum in Dana, Indiana.
Since it is 11/11, Veterans Day, but also 2011, a time when hard-core journalism is struggling, I thought a reminder of Pyle and his accomplishments might be in order.
Ernie Pyle was what they did not yet call an “embedded” reporter (they were “combat correspondents” then) following the infantry in North Africa and Europe in 1943and 1945, before he moved to the Pacific theater, where he was killed by enemy fire near Okinawa in April of 1945. He wrote about the day to day life of what he called “the mud-rain-wind-and-frost boys” and once opined, “Folks with boys over there are a damned sight more interested in reading the homely, every day, what do they eat and how do they live sort of stuff, than they are in reading the heavy strategic, as-I-predicted-in-my-analysis-back-in-1920 sort of stuff.”
He was right. Having chosen the unenviable task of conveying the reality of the front back to the home front, he performed his job with little thought to his own comfort or even his career, and found it wrenching to say goodbye to the troops in Italy to go to the Pacific. The G.I.’s loved him, and so did their families. Mothers wrote to Pyle personally, asking him to look up their sons. After he campaigned, through his columns, that combat soldiers should receive an additional “fight pay” just as pilots earned “flight pay,” Congress did indeed pass such a law, which was called “the Ernie Pyle Bill.”
A native Hoosier, Pyle attended Indiana University, which later named its School of Journalism building after him. Buried in Okinawa alongside fallen troops, Pyle was one of the few civilians to earn a Purple Heart.