Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Revisiting The Legacy Of Ernie Pyle 60 Years Later

By all accounts, Ernie Pyle acted, felt and wrote like an Everyman, which is what made his dispatches from America and World War II battlefield so compelling for millions of readers. Cut down by a Japanese sniper's bullet on April 19, 1945, his legend and legacy were polished in the ensuing decades and hardly diminished over the years.
As proof, he's part of a frightfully small fraternity of journalists who adorn a postage stamp.
Pyle's just-folks approach is remembered fondly in Dana, Indiana, near where Pyle grew up. It's home to the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site, that's as much a homage as history lesson. Charles Howard, writing for Scripps-Howard News Service, tells why it's worth the trip.
By the way, Pyle roamed the world for Scripps Howard, and he was nothing, if not prolific, says Chuck Woodbury. http://www.outwestnewspaper.com/erniepyle.html. In fact, Pyle cranked out a column six days a week from wherever he was. Sometimes that was Albuquerque, home to the Ernie Pyle Memorial Library, housed in the only home he ever owned. The public Pyle never betrayed a troubled private life, marked by his alcoholism and a wife who twice tried to kill herself.
On the 50th anniversary of Pyle's death David Andrews in Stars and Stripes Pacific, wrote about how Pyle would likely wash out of the modern newsroom, identifying perhaps too closely with the troops, often forgetting to identify a soldier and at times being overly provincial or sentimental. Yet it was also that style that brought the war a little closer to home for millions. http://www.toad.net/~andrews/pyle.htmlWith one simple sentence about the death of an Army captain, Pyle erased any illusions about the glory of war.
"You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don't ask silly questions."
It was such dispatches that elevated Pyle to a media superstardom as bright as any network anchor could aspire to then and now. Rare is the correspondent whose death would be felt by so many, so deeply (the untimely passing of David Bloom in Iraq comes close albeit for different reasons).
As James Tobin noted in his 1998 book "Ernie Pyle's War":

The bulletin went via radio to a ship nearby, then to the United States and on to Europe. Radio picked it up. Reporters rushed to gather comment. In Germany General Omar Bradley heard the news and could not speak. In Italy General Mark Clark said, "He helped our soldiers to victory." Bill Mauldin, the young soldier-cartoonist whose warworn G.I.'s matched the pictures Pyle had drawn with words, said, "The only difference between Ernie's death and that of any other good guy is that the other guy is mourned by his company. Ernie is mourned by the Army."

It's hard to imagine too many Pentagon higher-ups getting worked up over the death of a reporter today.
Pyle famously wrote: "War makes strange giant creatures out of us little routine men who inhabit the earth."
Fortunately for us, there was nothing routine about Ernie Pyle.

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