Ernest Taylor Pyle (August 3, 1900 – April 18, 1945) was a Pulitzer Prize–winning American journalist. As a roving correspondent for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, he earned wide acclaim for his accounts of ordinary people in rural America, and later, of ordinary American soldiers during World War II. His syndicated column ran in more than 300 newspapers nationwide.
From 1935 through 1941 he traveled throughout the United States, writing about rural towns and their inhabitants. After the U.S. entered World War II, he lent the same distinctive, folksy style to his wartime reports, first from the home front, and later from the European and Pacific theatres. He was killed by enemy fire on Iejima during the Battle of Okinawa.
At the time of his death he was among the best-known American war correspondents. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for his spare, poignant accounts of "dogface" infantry soldiers from a first-person perspective. "No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told", wrote Harry Truman. "He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen."
Pyle was born to William Clyde Pyle and Maria Taylor near Dana, Indiana, on August 3, 1900. After attending local schools, he joined the United States Navy Reserve during World War I at age 17. He served three months of active duty until the war ended, then finished his enlistment in the reserves and was discharged with the rank of Petty Officer Third Class.
After the war Pyle attended Indiana University, editing the Indiana Daily Student newspaper and traveling to the Orient with his fraternity brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. With only a semester left he quit to accept a job at a newspaper in LaPorte, Indiana.
He worked there for three months before moving to Washington, D.C., where he served as a reporter for the tabloid newspaper, The Washington Daily News. All the editors were young, including Editor-in-Chief John M. Gleissner (one of Warren G. Harding's drinking buddies); Lee G. Miller (later author of An Ernie Pyle Album – Indiana to Ie Shima); Charles M. Egan, Willis "June" Thornton; and Paul McCrea. In 1932, Pyle was named managing editor and served in the post for three years, all the while fretting that he was unable to do any writing.
In Washington, he met Geraldine "Jerry" Siebolds, and they married in 1925. They had a tempestuous relationship; Jerry suffered from alcoholism and intermittent bouts of mental illness. Pyle later described her as his "fearful and troubled wife ... desperate within herself since the day she was born." She died from complications of influenza at Albuquerque on November 23, 1945. "She had been in ill health since her husband was killed while covering operations of American troops on Ie Shima last April 18."
Birth of a columnist
In 1926 Pyle tired of working at a desk and quit his job. Over the following two years he and his wife traveled over 9,000 miles across the United States in a Ford roadster. In 1928 he returned to the The Washington Daily News, and for the following four years served as the country's first and best-known aviation columnist. As Amelia Earhart later said, "Any aviator who didn't know Pyle was a nobody."
In 1932 Pyle once again became managing editor of the The Washington Daily News. Two years later he took an extended vacation in California to recuperate from a severe bout of flu. Upon his return, to fill in for the paper's vacationing syndicated columnist Heywood Broun, he wrote a series of 11 columns about his stay in California and the people he had met there.
The series proved unexpectedly popular with both readers and colleagues. G.B. ("Deac") Parker, editor-in-chief of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, said he had found in Pyle's vacation articles "a Mark Twain quality that knocked my eye out." In 1935 Pyle once again resigned his position as managing editor to accept an offer from the Scripps-Howard Alliance to write his own national column. Traveling the highways and back roads of the country and the Americas, he wrote about the unusual places and people he met. Selected columns were later published posthumously in Home Country (1947).
Perpetually dissatisfied with his writing, Pyle suffered from bouts of deep depression. He continued his daily column until a few months after the United States entered World War II on December 8, 1941.
World War II
Pyle became a war correspondent and applied his intimate style to combat reporting. Instead of recounting the movements of armies or the activities of generals, Pyle generally wrote from the perspective of the common soldier.
Their life consisted wholly and solely of war, for they were and always had been front-line infantrymen. They survived because the fates were kind to them, certainly – but also because they had become hard and immensely wise in animal-like ways of self-preservation.
This "everyman" approach gained him additional popularity, and eventually, the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. 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. Reinforcing his status as the "dogface's" best friend, Pyle wrote a column in 1944 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."
Pyle interrupted his reporting several times during the war with leaves to return home to care for his wife while they were still married. After his return to the United States 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. They remarried by proxy while Pyle was in Africa on March 10, 1943.
In addition to marital difficulties, Pyle also had to recuperate from the stresses of combat, which he often wrote poignantly about.
After the North African and Italian campaigns, Pyle relocated to England to cover the Allied landing at Normandy. On D-Day he wrote:
The best way I can describe this vast armada and the frantic urgency of the traffic is to suggest that you visualize New York city on its busiest day of the year and then just enlarge that scene until it takes in all the ocean the human eye can reach clear around the horizon and over the horizon. There are dozens of times that many.-On preparations to invade at Normandy
Pyle was nearly killed a month later in the accidental bombing by the Army Air Forces at the onset of Operation Cobra near Saint-Lô in Normandy in July 1944. A month after witnessing the liberation of Paris in August 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 "war neurosis." He hoped that a rest at his home in New Mexico would restore his vigor to go "warhorsing around the Pacific".
In planning to cover the U.S. activities in the Pacific, Pyle butted heads with the U.S. Navy; it had a policy forbidding the use of the names of sailors in reporting. He won an unsatisfying partial victory as the ban was lifted exclusively for him. His first cruise was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Cabot. He thought the crew had an "easy life" in comparison to that of the infantry in Europe and he wrote several unflattering portraits of the Navy.
Fellow correspondents, newspaper editorials and GIs criticized ex-Navy man Pyle for giving apparent short shrift to the difficulties of the naval war in the Pacific. During the tiff, he admitted that his heart was with the infantrymen in Europe, but he persevered to report on the Navy's efforts during the invasion of Okinawa. He was noted for having premonitions of his own death; he predicted before landing that he would not be alive a year hence.
On April 17, 1945, Pyle came ashore with the Army's 305th Infantry Regiment of the 77th "Liberty Patch" Division on Iejima (then known as Ie Shima), a small island northwest of Okinawa. The following day, after local enemy opposition had apparently been neutralized, he was traveling by jeep with Lt. Col. Joseph B. Coolidge, the commanding officer of the 305th, toward Coolidge's new command post when the jeep encountered enemy machine gun fire. The men immediately took cover in a nearby ditch. "A little later Pyle and I raised up to look around," Coolidge reported. "Another burst hit the road over our heads ... I looked at Ernie and saw he had been hit." A bullet had entered Pyle's left temple just under his helmet, killing him instantly.
Pyle was buried with his helmet on, among other battle casualties, with an infantry private on one side and a combat engineer on the other. The men of the Army unit he was covering erected a monument, which still stands, at the site of his death. Its inscription reads, “At this spot the 77th Infantry Division lost a buddy. Ernie Pyle, 18 April 1945.” Eleanor Roosevelt, who frequently quoted Pyle's war dispatches in her newspaper column, My Day, paid tribute to him there the following day: "I shall never forget how much I enjoyed meeting him here in the White House last year," she wrote, "and how much I admired this frail and modest man who could endure hardships because he loved his job and our men."
Though newspapers reported that Geraldine "took the news bravely", her health declined rapidly in the months following Pyle's death. She died on November 23, 1945. They had no children.
After the war Pyle's remains were re-interred at the Army cemetery on Okinawa, and later at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. In 1983 he was awarded the Purple Heart—a rare honor for a civilian—by the 77th Division's successor unit, the 77th Army Reserve Command.
Legacy and honors
To honor Pyle's passing, the employees of Boeing-Wichita, through the 7th War Loan Drive, paid for and built a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Serial Number 44-70118, and dedicated it on May 1, 1945, as The Ernie Pyle. The Ernie Pyle was ferried to the Pacific War Theater by a crew commanded by Lieutenants Howard F. Lippincott and Robert H. Silver. Initially assigned to the Second Air Force at Kearney Air Force Base, it was sent to the Twentieth Air Force, Pacific Theater of Operations, on May 27, 1945. The nose art was removed when the aircraft reached its intended operations base in the Pacific, as the base commander thought it would become a prime target of the Japanese. The Ernie Pyle survived the war and was returned to the United States on October 22, 1945. It was stored at Pyote AAF, Texas, and disposed of as surplus on March 25, 1953.
Other tributes to Pyle include:
- In 2007 the Ernie Pyle House/Library was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
- The producers of the 1945 film, The Story of G.I. Joe, which starred Burgess Meredith as Pyle, donated a major portion of the proceeds to the scholarships at Indiana.
- At Indiana University, the School of Journalism is housed in "Ernie Pyle Hall." Scholarships, established soon after his death, are given to students with a military service record, an ability in journalism and promise of future success.
- In 1947, Pyle's last home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was adapted as the first branch library of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library System, named in his honor. The Ernie Pyle Library holds a small collection of adult and children's books, as well as Pyle memorabilia and archives.
- His papers and archives are held chiefly by the Lilly Library at Indiana University, the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site at Dana, Indiana and the Wisconsin State Historical Society.
- The Ernie Pyle State Historic Site in Dana includes Pyle's boyhood farmhouse, fully restored. The site also features a World War II-era Quonset hut containing many of Pyle's army artifacts, (including his Purple Heart), plus items donated by the people of the community.
- In 1970 a plaque honoring Pyle was placed at his burial site at the National Memorial Cemetery on Oahu by his nephew, Bruce L. Johnson.
- In 1971 a 16-cent United States postage stamp was issued in his honor.
- Elementary schools near Pyle's hometown of Dana, Indiana, in Indianapolis, Indiana, and in Bellflower and Fresno, California, are named for him in addition to a middle school in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
- US 36 in Indiana from Danville to the Indiana/Illinois border is known as the Ernie Pyle Memorial Highway. There is also a memorial rest park on U.S. 36 just southeast of Dana named in Pyle's honor.
- A small island in Cagles Mill Lake near the town of Cunot in Owen County, Indiana, bears his name.
- Under the Occupation, the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater in downtown Tokyo was renamed the Ernie Pyle Theater and was popular with many GIs from 1945 to 1955.
- On November 11, 1999 Peanuts creator Charles Schulz wrote and drew a comic strip of Snoopy honoring Ernie Pyle and it said "Ernie Pyle-To Remember".
- In the fall of 2014, a bronze statue of Pyle was erected in front of Franklin Hall on the Indiana University Campus. Franklin Hall will house the Media School, which now includes the department of journalism.
- A road at Fort Riley, Kansas bears his name, as does a street at Fort Meade, Maryland.
- The protagonist/narrator of the Argentine comic book series Ernie Pike is said to have been inspired by Pyle, although the character physically resembles its creator.
- ^ U.S. Department of the Interior. "Ernie Pyle's Home a National Historic Landmark". Archived from the original on January 25, 2007. Retrieved October 31, 2006.
- "Lake Worth Couple to Make Ernie Pyle Pilgrimage 30th", The Lake Worth Herald, May 21, 1970
- Smithsonian National Postal Museum: 16-cent Pyle
- (http://www.svcs.k12.in.us/erniepyleelementaryschool_home.aspx Ernie Pyle Elementary School)
- Ernie Pyle Elementary School
- Ernie Pyle Middle School, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
- "US 36". Highway Explorer – Indiana Highway Ends. Retrieved 2013-04-27.
- Ernie Pyle Lake. mapcarta.com. Retrieved February 9, 2015.
- Graham, A. (October 15, 2014). Spelling error identified on new Ernie Pyle sculpture. statue IDSnews.com. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
- Ernie Pike at The Crib Sheet, retrieved September 14, 2016.