That Royal is dead weight and can get heavy, but a correspondent doesn’t travel without one. To get around, they hitched rides in official vehicles, jeeps, PT boats, destroyers, carriers, Higgins boats, planes – anyhow and any way to get from one set of action to the other in order to do their job of telling the citizens back home about the life of the men and women on the front lines defending us against the Japanese and the Germans. One name kept jumping out at me and I decided to read about this unassuming and simple man who brought so much to the American people back home reading newspapers and magazines to get their information. I’d like to introduce you to Ernie Pyle.
Ernie was born in Dana, Indiana on August 3rd, 1900. He was a farm boy who wanted nothing more than to get away from a life of digging dirt and caring for farm animals. A small boy grew into a man small in physical stature, but tall in terms of ambitions and the desire to see and write about the world. To that end, he ended up working for Scripps-Howard and was with them until his untimely death in 1945.
Ernie was ever the vagabond, never kept his boots in one place for long. Working a desk at an inside job depressed and suppressed him, so he set out with his wife on the road to become a roving reporter. At first it was a Model-T, later in life they moved up to a Dodge convertible packed with everything they needed for life on the road. Home was the cheap hotel in the next town or the home of a friend they met as they happened to pass through a familiar town. His daily columns were written and transmitted verbally over the phone to a person taking shorthand on the other end. This was their lifestyle for years before he decided to set up a home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Even with a home base there, the wanderer in him crept into every aspect of his life. He got the opportunity to satisfy this lust by traveling to Europe at the beginning of WW2 to cover the actions of the ground troops. Never one to just sit on the sidelines and get news second-hand, Ernies’s hallmark was the fact that he was with the advancing troops as they hit the shore, or on deck as the ship was being fired upon. His sympathies grew for the men who trundled through dirt, mud, bombed out cities and rubble, bodies on the ground of friend and enemy alike. He got to know them, reported about them by name and home town in his articles. As his travels progressed, his columns back home were picked up by more and more news agencies and he became a household name to the people who had sons, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts serving in all aspects of the war.
He spent the majority of his time during the war, about 2.5 years over in the European and African theater. In 1944 he returned home to New Mexico for a break, as the stresses of things he was seeing and experiencing began to take its toll on his well-being. Soon though, he began to feel he needed to expand his coverage to the war in the south Pacific. Ernie made the fateful decision to head west and cover the Naval operations and ground troops fighting in the Pacific. It was here on the island of Ie Shima on April 18th, 1945 that a snipers bullet met his left temple just below his metal helmet. The most lauded and loved war correspondent of WW2, the common man who kept all of America enthralled with his folksy, honest and heart-felt reporting of the war lost his life in the line of duty. He helped people understand the life and death brought on by wars that are bigger than any one man or woman alone, any one country alone. The following excerpt gives you an idea of his mission as he saw it. About the upcoming victory in Europe he wrote:
“…in the joyousness of high spirits it is easy for us to forget the dead….there are so many of the living who have 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. Those are the things that you at home need not even try to understand. To you at home they are columns of figures, or he is a near one who went away and just didn’t come back. You didn’t see him lying so grotesque and pasty beside the gravel road in France. We saw him. Saw him by the multiple thousands. That’s the difference.”
Our correspondents today travel with camera crews. They transmit stories live via satellite, over broadband using cell phones or iPads. Most still put themselves in the way of danger to tell the stories that we should pay more attention to. Ernie Pyle’s observations remind us why we should never take for granted the life or death of any person we send to war in service to their country. It’s not really so far away, wherever the action takes place. It’s a smaller world than it used to be because of modern methods of communication and getting news out. We need to keep that in mind as much now, if not more.
Thank you Ernie for leading the way to personalizing these stories for the people. You have not been forgotten.