Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle
photo from USS Cabot
Ernie Pyle home in Dana IN,
from Indiana State Museum 2002
Ernie Pyle home in Albuquerque NM, photo by Bianca Clinch 8/02
exhibit in Ernie Pyle home in Albuquerque NM, photo by Bianca Clinch 8/02 - big
exhibit in Ernie Pyle home in Albuquerque NM, photo by Bianca Clinch 8/02

"The American campaign against the Japanese on Okinawa still raged when a war correspondent new to the Pacific theater stepped ashore on Ie Shima, a small island just west of Okinawa. Traveling with a group of infantrymen, the reporter was killed by a sniper's machine-gun bullets. Saddened by their loss, the soldiers paid tribute to their fallen friend with a simple plaque reading: "At this spot, the 77th Infantry Division lost a Buddy, Ernie Pyle, 18 April 1945."

To the millions on the American home front during World War II, Ernie Pyle's column offered a foxhole view of the struggle as he reported on the life, and sometimes death, of the average soldier. When he died, Pyle's readership was worldwide, with his column appearing in 400 daily and 300 weekly newspapers. Noble Prize-winning author John Steinbeck, a Pyle friend, perhaps summed up the reporter's work best when he told a Time magazine reporter:

"There are really two wars and they haven't much to do with each other. There is the war of maps and logistics, of campaigns, of ballistics, armies, divisions and regiments--and that is General [George] Marshall's war. Then there is the war of the homesick, weary, funny, violent, common men who wash their socks in their helmets, complain about the food, whistle at the Arab girls, or any girls for that matter, and bring themselves through as dirty a business as the world has ever seen and do it with humor and dignity and courage--and that is Ernie Pyle's war."

Ernest Taylor Pyle was born on Aug. 3, 1900, on the Sam Elder farm, located south and west of Dana, where his father was then tenant farming. Pyle, the only child of Will and Maria Pyle, disliked farming, once noting that "anything was better than looking at the south end of a horse going north." After his high school graduation, Pyle--caught up in the patriotic fever sweeping the nation upon America's entry into World War I--enlisted in the Naval Reserve. Before he could complete his training, however, an armistice was declared in Europe.

In 1919 Pyle enrolled at Indiana University in Bloomington. He left the university in 1923, just short of finishing a degree in journalism, to accept a reporter's job at the LaPorte Herald. A few months later, lured by an offer of an extra $2.50 per week, Pyle joined the staff of the Washington (D.C.) Daily News, part of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain.

On July 25, 1925, Pyle married Minnesota native Geraldine Siebolds. By 1926 the Pyles had quit their jobs to barnstorm around the country, traveling 9,000 miles in just 10 weeks. Pyle returned to the Washington Daily News in 1927 and began the country's first-ever daily aviation column. He was the newspaper's managing editor for three years before becoming a roving columnist for Scripps-Howard. In the next six years, he crossed the continent some 35 times. Columns from this period were compiled in the book Home Country.

Pyle journeyed to England in 1940 to report on the Battle of Britain. Witnessing a German fire-bombing raid on London, he wrote that it was "the most hateful, most beautiful single scene I have ever known." A book of his experiences during this time, Ernie Pyle in England, was published in 1941. A year later he began covering America's involvement in the war, reporting on Allied operations in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and France. The columns he wrote based on his experiences during these campaigns are contained in the books Here is Your War and Brave Men.

Although Pyle's columns covered almost every branch of the service--from quartermaster troops to pilots--he saved his highest praise and devotion for the common foot soldier. "I love the infantry because they are the underdogs," he wrote. "They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars can't be won without."

The Hoosier reporter's columns not only described the soldier's hardships, but also spoke out on his behalf. In a column from Italy in 1944, Pyle proposed that combat soldiers be given "fight pay," similar to an airman's flight pay. In May of that year, Congress acted on Pyle's suggestion, giving soldiers 50 percent extra pay for combat service, legislation nicknamed "the Ernie Pyle bill."

Despite the warmth he felt for the average G.I., Pyle had no illusions about the dangers involved with his job. He once wrote a friend that he tried "not to take any foolish chances, but there's just no way to play it completely safe and still do your job." Weary from his work in Europe, Pyle grudgingly accepted what was to be his last assignment, covering the action in the Pacific with the Navy and Marines. He rationalized his acceptance, noting, "What can a guy do? I know millions of others who are reluctant too, and they can't even get home."

The infantrymen who received Pyle's body after his death found in his pockets a draft of a column he intended to release when the war in Europe ended. In that column Pyle wrote that he would not soon forget "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."

(Biographical sketch from the Indiana Historical Society)

Ernie Pyle home in Albuquerque NM, now a branch library
photo by Bianca Clinch 8/02
Ernie Pyle home in Albuquerque NM
ca. 1945 from Penny Postcards

Ernie Pyle, photo from DAB
Henry T. Waskow memorial Ernie Pyle home in Albuquerque NM, photo by Bianca Clinch 8/02 - big

"With the outbreak of World War II, Pyle went overseas. His coverage of the Nazi bombing of London in 1940 was so graphic that his dispatches were cabled back for British readers. As he accompanied the military forces to the successive fronts, his daily war reports, written in folksy style and including the names and hometowns of countless "G.I. Joes," made many readers feel that he was writing them personal letters. During the North African campaign he developed deep affection for the combat infantryman. The rugged invasion of Sicily in July 1943 exhausted "the little guy"--he weighed only 110 pounds--and he flew home to Albuquerque, N. Mex., for rest and to patch up his homelife. His wife, to whom he was devoted, had for some years suffered from an emotional disorder that involved periodic depression, compulsive drinking, and more than one suicide attempt. With the concurrence of her doctors he had divorced her in 1942, in a futile attempt to stimulate her efforts toward mental health, but had remarried her by proxy on Mar. 10, 1943. She died late in 1945. A home-front celebrity at the age of forty-three, Pyle was showered with lecture and radio invitations, virtually all of which he rejected, though he did authorize a motion picture based on his war career, The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), with Burgess Meredith as Pyle. Returning to the Italian front, he wrote his most famous column, on the death of Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas, to which the Washington Daily News devoted its entire front page (Jan. 10, 1944). Although ill with anemia, Pyle covered the Anzio beachhead, where he narrowly escaped death. In April 1944 he went to England and, while awaiting the invasion of Normandy, received the Pulitzer Prize for his war correspondence. After covering the liberation of Paris, Pyle, who had been overseas twenty-nine months and had written 700,000 words on the war, again returned home for a rest, though condemning himself as a "deserter." In the United States he received honorary degrees from Indiana University and the University of New Mexico. His column now appeared in more than 200 papers, with a combined circulation of 14,000,000, and a collection of his war columns published as Brave Men (1944) brought his personal earnings to more than half a million dollars."

(quote from "Ernest Taylor Pyle" by Irving Dilliard in theDictionary of American Biography.)

Ernie Pyle action figure, from Outdoor Indiana 2002

"He comes with a field jacket, utility cap, trousers, scarf, boots and a canteen, all the G.I. Joe basics. But this might be the only action figure ever to pack a typewriter instead of a gun. And it's certainly the only one that ever came with a miniature newspaper story. Hasbro's new Ernie Pyle figure commemorates the famed World War II correspondent whose dispatches from the front lines defined for many Americans what the war was like for ordinary soldiers. He won a Pulitzer for distinguished war correspondence in 1944. The figure is part of Hasbro's G.I. Joe D-Day Collection released in June. And it can be yours for a mere $19.99 retail. . . . The action figure comes with a to-scale version of the Washington Daily News. The now-defunct paper was then a flagship in the Scripps Howard chain, which Pyle worked for. Just like the real thing, the toy January 10, 1944, edition has a front page cleared of everything except Pyle's column, "The Death of Captain Waskow," a moving and detailed depiction of the death of one beloved captain. Unlike the real thing, Hasbro, always thinking of the kids, omits two parts of Pyle's column where he quotes soldiers saying "God damn it" while looking at the captain's body. [Rick Bray, property manager for the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site] says that column struck a chord with readers. "It was so different from what the other journalists were doing," he says. "It wasn't about how many miles [troops advanced] or how many casual ties. It was just one little guy from Dana, Indiana, writing about the death of one soldier. You can feel the heart-wrenching anguish from these soldiers." Beyond the cursing, Bray says the Ernie doll is quite authentic, barring one small--or not so small--other thing. The real Ernie Pyle was slight, arguably scrawny, Bray says. But remove the war garb and the Ernie doll is buff enough to stand up to any G.I. Joe. "

(quote from "More Over, Ken, It's Ernie Pyle" by Jill Rosen in theAmerican Journalism Review.)


WWII Timeline start | Links | Topics | Pictures | Maps | Mobilization | revised 4/15/07 by Steven Schoenherr