Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ernie Pyle (August 3, 1900 – April 18, 1945)

Ernest Taylor Pyle (August 3, 1900 – April 18, 1945) was an American journalist who wrote as a roving correspondent for the Scripps Howard newspaper chain from 1935 until his death in combat during World War II. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1944. His articles, about the out-of-the-way places he visited and the people who lived there, were written in a folksy style, much like a personal letter to a friend. He enjoyed a following in some 300 newspapers.

Following the entry of the U.S. into World War II, Pyle became a war correspondent, applying his intimate style to the war. Instead of the movements of armies or the activities of generals, Pyle generally wrote from the perspective of the common soldier, an approach that won him not only further popularity but also the Pulitzer Prize. 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.

After his return 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, and remarried by proxy while Pyle was in Africa on March 10, 1943. In 1944, he wrote a column 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."

He reported from the United States, Europe, Africa, and the Pacific. His reporting was interrupted several times by leaves to return home to care for Jerry while they were still married and to recuperate from the stresses of combat, including nearly being killed in the accidental bombing by the Army Air Forces at the onset of Operation Cobra near Saint-Lô in Normandy in July 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 a war neurosis. He hoped that a rest in his home in New Mexico would restore his vigor to go "warhorsing around the Pacific".

When Pyle decided to cover events in the Pacific, he butted heads with the U.S. Navy over its policy forbidding the use of the actual names of sailors in his reports and won an unsatisfying partial victory in that the ban was lifted only for him. His first cruise was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Cabot, in which he saw an "easy life" in comparison to the infantry in Europe, resulting in several unflattering portraits of the Navy. Pyle was soon criticized by fellow correspondents, newspaper editorials, and G.I.s for giving apparent short shrift to the difficulties of the war in the Pacific. During the tiff he admitted that his heart was with the infantrymen in Europe, but he persevered to report on their efforts during the invasion of Okinawa. He was noted for having premonitions of his own death and predicted before landing that he would not be alive a year hence.

On April 18, 1945, Pyle died on Ie Shima, an island off Okinawa Honto, after being hit by Japanese machine-gun fire. He was travelling 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 two or three hundred yards inland, had been cleared of mines, and hundreds of vehicles had driven over it. As the vehicle reached a road junction, an enemy machine gun located on a coral ridge about a third of a mile away began firing at them. 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 (however, 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 were present. It made no difference—Pyle had been killed instantly.

He was buried with his helmet on, laid to rest 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 ten-minute service, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Army were all represented. Pyle was later reburied at the Army cemetery on Okinawa, then moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific located in Honolulu. When Okinawa was returned to Japanese control after the war, the Ernie Pyle monument was one of only three American memorials allowed to remain in place. Pyle was among the few American civilians killed during the war to be awarded the Purple Heart.