Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

The Pittsburgh Press (April 9, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – Never before had I seen an invasion beach like Okinawa.

There wasn’t a dead or wounded man in our sector of it, medical corpsmen were sitting among their sacks of bandages and plasma and stretchers, with nothing to do.

There wasn’t a single burning vehicle. Not a single boat lying wrecked on the reef or shoreline. The carnage that is almost inevitable on an invasion was wonderfully and beautifully not there.

There was hardly anybody at all on the beach when we landed. The few assault waves ahead of us had pushed on inland. And all that vast welter of people and machines that make a beach hum with work were still many waves behind us.

The bulldozers and the jeeps had not yet arrived. There was no activity and hardly any sound. It was almost as though we were the original explorers.

Our little party, which was the regimental staff, moved to the foot of a bluff about 100 yards back of the beach. It was full of caves and our naval gunfire had made a rubble at the foot of the bluff. But several cave mouths still gapped open.

We decided to set up there until the colonel could get the picture in his mind, through information brought by runners, of just what was going on.

Kidded about his marksmanship

There were about a hundred men with us in addition to the officers. The men were under Sgt. Andy Anderson from Washington State. The first thing Andy had them do was to make sure there were no Japs hiding in the caves to snipe on us, for the first waves had gone through too fast to clean everybody out – if anybody had been there.

So, they would sneak up on a hole, with rifles ready. Then Andy would take out a hand grenade and throw it into the hole. But the first one hit the edge of the holes and rolled down outside.

Andy threw himself on the sand and all the rest of us lay flat. The grenade went off with a bang, but nobody got hurt. From then on, we kidded Andy about the fine display of Marine marksmanship he had given us.

In addition to being great fighters, I believe the Marines are the friendliest bunch I’ve ever been with. I’ve never had any trouble with people being unfriendly, but these Marines seem to have it bred into them to be pleasant and to make you feel at home.

Nothing like Okinawa had ever happened to them before. They’re accustomed to butchery on the beaches. They’d kept saying to me, “If you could just have been with us before, we’d have shown you some excitement.”

And I would reply, “Brother, I’ve had all the excitement I need for a lifetime. This kind of invasion suits me fine.”

The souvenir hunters

I started wandering up and down the beach. One boy was carrying a little vase in his hand, saying, “Here’s the first souvenir of Okinawa!”

He was James Cosby, pharmacist first class, of Cereal Spring, Illinois (All medical corpsmen with the Marines are actually in the Navy, you know). He had found the vase lying outside one of the burial vaults. It had blue Japanese characters on it.

Then I noticed a tall and heavily laden Marine, carrying a big roll of telephone wire on his shoulders and leading a white nanny goat, tied to a string. I stopped him, and said, “Would you like to have you and your goat in the newspapers?”

He grinned and said, “Sure, why not?”

He was Pvt. Ben Glover of Baird, Texas. He was a telephone lineman at home, and that’s what he is here. Linemen are always among the first ashore.

By evening of Love Day, scores of Marines had baby goats for pets and were leading them around. There are lots of goats on Okinawa and the little ones were so white and so cute that we animal-loving Americans couldn’t resist adopting them.

I saw one Marine who had commandeered a horse and had it carrying his pack. Another had a bicycle. By Love Day plus three, I’m sure they’ll be carrying little Japanese babies on their backs. Americans are the darndest people! Why can’t everybody be like them?

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 10, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – Since this island is the closest to Japan we’ve landed on and since we seem to feel this really is Japan, rather than just some far outpost, I’ll try to describe to you what it looks like.

Actually it doesn’t look a great deal different from most of America. In fact, it looks much more like America than anything the Marines have seen for the last three years.

The climate is temperate rather than tropical, and so is the vegetation. There are tropical-like trees on and near the beaches – I think they’re pandanus bushes. But there also are many trees of the fir family with horizontal limbs.

The country over which my regiment passed during the first two days was cultivated. It rose gradually from the sea and was all formed into small fields.

It didn’t look at all unlike Indiana in late summer when things have started to turn dry and brown, except that the fields were much smaller.

The wheat, which looks just like ours, is dead ripe in the fields now. The Marines are cutting it with little sickles. In other fields are cane and sweet potatoes.

Each field has a ditch around its edge, and dividing the fields are little ridges about two feet wide. On top of the ridges are paths where the people walk. All through the country are narrow dirt lanes and now and then a fairly decent gravel road.

As you get inland, the country becomes rougher. In the hills there is less cultivation and more trees. It is really a pretty count We had read about what a worthless place Okinawa was, but I think most of us have been surprised about how pretty it is.

Okinawa civilians pitiful

Okinawa civilians we bring in are pitiful. The only ones left seem to be real old or real young. And they all are very, very poor.

They’re not very clean. And their homes are utterly filthy. Over and over, you hear Marines say, “This could be a nice country if the people weren’t so dirty.”

Obviously, their living standard is low. Yet I’ve never understood why poverty and filth need to be synonymous. A person doesn’t have to be well off to get clean. But apparently he has to be well off to want to keep clean. We’ve found it that way clear around the world.

The people here dress as we see Japs dressed in pictures: women in kimonos and old men in skintight pants. Some wear a loose, knee-length garment that shows their skinny legs.

The kids are cute as kids are all over the world. I’ve noticed Marines reaching out and tousling their hair as they marched past them. We’re rounding up all the civilians and putting them in camps. They are puzzled by it all.

They’re scared to death

Most of the farm families must have got out when our heavy bombardments started. Lots of farmhouses have either been demolished or burned to the ground before we came. Often, in passing a wrecked farmhouse, you smell the sickening odor of death inside.

But there are always people you won’t leave, no matter what. We couldn’t help feeling sorry for the Okinawans we picked up in the first few days. We found two who spoke a little English. They had once lived in Hawaii. One was an old man who had a son (Hawaiian-Japanese) somewhere in the American Army.

They were all shocked from the bombardment and yet I think rather stupid too, so that when they talked they didn’t make much sense.

I don’t believe they had any idea of what it was all about. As one Marine officer said, “The poor devils. I’ll bet they think this is the end of the world.”

They were obviously scared to death. On Love Day, the Marines found many of them hiding from us in caves. They found two old women, 75 or more, in a cave, caring for a paralyzed girl. She wasn’t wounded, just paralyzed from natural causes. One of the old ladies had a small dirty sack with some money in it. When the Marines found her, she cried and tried to give them the money – hoping I suppose that she could buy herself off from being executed.

After all the propaganda they’ve been fed about our tortures, it’s going to be a befuddled bunch of Okinawans when they discover we brought right along with us, as part of the intricate invasion plan, enough supplies to feed them, too!

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 11, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (via Navy radio) – During our first afternoon on Okinawa my group of Marines went about a mile and a half inland. Our vehicles were not ashore yet, so we had to pack on our backs everything we had.

Personally, I was overladen as usual. I had two canteens, a musette bag, a blanket rolled up in a Poncho, three rubber life preservers, a shovel, and assorted knives, first aid kits, etc. Furthermore, I had on two pairs of pants, was carrying two jackets, and it was hotter than hell.

The result of all this was that for the first time in my life I couldn’t keep up. I hated to do it, but I had to sit down now and then to rest and let the others go ahead. (Moral: A lifetime of sin and crime finally catches up with you.)

Anyhow, we finally got where we were going. We stopped on a hillside, threw down our gear, connected our phones to wires on the ground, and were ready for business. That is, the others were. Me, I lay down on the grass and rested for an hour.

After that we began getting ready for the night. We figured the Japs would bomb us all night, that their artillery soon would start up from the hills, and that when it got dark, some slinky infiltrators would start infiltration.

So, we dug foxholes. The slope was so steep I chose a nice depression at the foot of a small embankment that didn’t require much digging.

The why of the life preservers

Now we come to the life preservers. You may have wondered why I was carrying three lifebelts on dry land. Well, I knew what I was doing all right.

I just blew up my three life preservers, spread them in the foxhole and I had the nicest improvised Simmons you ever saw. We finally got onto that trick after a few invasions in Europe and I slept all last summer in France comfortably on three blown-up preservers.

And it was worth the struggle of carrying them just to see the reaction of the Marines. They would come up to look at this stranger device and stand there, staring, and then say: “Well, I’ll be damned. Why in the hell couldn’t I have thought of that?”

Then we got out our K rations and my friend, Maj. Reed Taylor, came and squatted Indian-fashion while I made hot coffee for us with some new heat tablets the Marines had issued. By the time we finished, it was almost dark.

Everybody who wasn’t on guard at the edge of our little camp, or who wasn’t standing duty at the field telephones went to bed, for in Jap country you don’t move around at night unless you have to.

Only one with a blanket, too

Going to bed was merely a figure of speech for everybody except me. I seemed to be the only one who had brought a blanket and I definitely was the only one who had nice soft life preservers to sleep on.

The others slept on the ground in their foxholes with their ponchos wrapped around them. A poncho is wind and waterproof, but it has no warmth. In fact, it seems to draw all the warmth out of your body and transmit it into the air.

The day had been hot, but the night got mighty cold. And a very heavy dew came gradually, soaking everything. All the others practically froze and got very little sleep. But for once in my life, I was warm as a bug.

But I didn’t sleep too much. There’s always a flaw somewhere. My flaw was the mosquitoes. I’ve never been so tortured by mosquitoes as that first night on Okinawa.

They were persistent. They were tenacious. And they were the noisiest mosquitoes I’ve ever associated with. They were so noisy that when I pulled the blanket over the side of my face and covered my ears tight, I could still hear them. That’s really true.

Puts blanket over head

I doused my face twice with the mosquito repellant which the Marines had issued, but it did no good whatever. It was 11 o’clock before I finally got asleep. At 2 a.m. I awakened and knew something was wrong. What was wrong was my face.

My upper lip was swollen so that I thought I had a pigeon egg under it. My nose was so swollen the skin was stretched tight over it. And my left eye was nearly shut.

After that I just went under the blanket and decided to suffocate. That way I did sleep, but the next morning I was groggy and dopey from sleeping so long without air.

Those mosquitoes really put a scare into me. For they say Okinawa is malarial and I certainly got enough mosquito venom that night to malarize half of California. So bright and early, I started taking atabrine for the first time in my life.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 12, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (via Navy radio) – Our first night on Okinawa was uncanny and full of old familiar sounds – the exciting, sad, weary little sounds of war.

It had been six months since I’d slept on the ground, or heard a rifle shot. With the Marines it was about the same.

I was tagging along with a headquarters company of a regiment. We were on a pretty, grassy slope out in the country. The front lines were about a thousand yards ahead. Other troops were bivouacked all around us.

There were still a few snipers hiding around. An officer was brought in just before dark, shot through the arm. So, we were on our toes.

Just at dusk, three planes flew slowly overhead in the direction of the beach. We paid no attention, for we thought they were ours. But they weren’t.

In a moment all hell cut loose from the beach. Our entire fleet and the guns ashore started throwing stuff into the sky. I’ve never seen a thicker batch of ack-ack.

As one of the Marines said, there were more bullets than there was sky. Those Jap pilots must have thought the world was coming to an end to fly into a lead storm like that only 10 hours after we had landed on Okinawa. All three were shot down.

No country sounds at all

As deep darkness came on, we got into our foxholes and settled down for the night. The countryside became as silent as a graveyard – silent, that is, between shots. The only sounds were war sounds. There were no country sounds at all. The sky was a riot of stars.

Capt. Tom Brown was in the foxhole next to me. As we lay there on our backs, looking up into the starry sky, he said:

“There’s the Big Dipper. That’s the first time I’ve seen that since I’ve been in the Pacific.” For, you see, Marines of this division have done all their fighting under the Southern Cross, where our Big Dipper doesn’t show.

As full darkness came, flares began lighting the country ahead of us over the front lines. They were shot in shells from our battleships, timed to burst above our lines, and float down on parachutes. This was to keep the country lighted up so we could see the Japs if they tried to infiltrate, which is one of their favorite tricks.

The flares were shot up several per minute from dusk until the moon came out full. It was very bright after that and the flares were not needed.

But all night long, two or three ships kept up a slow shelling of the far hills where the Japs were supposed to be. It wasn’t a bombardment; just two or three shells per minute. They passed right over us and I found that passing shells have the same ghostly “window shade rustle” on this side of the world as on the other.

My foxhole was only about 20 feet from where two field telephones and two field radios were lying on the ground. All night, officers sat on the ground at these four pieces of communications and directed our troops.

Conversation startlingly familiar

As I lay there listening in the dark, the conversation was startlingly familiar – the words and the thoughts and the actions exactly as I’d known them for so long in the infantry.

All night I could hear these low voices over the phones – voices in the darkness, voices of men running the war at the front.

Not long after dark the rifle shots started. There would be a little flurry far ahead, maybe a dozen shots. Then silence for many minutes.

Then there would be another flurry, way to the left. Then silence. Then the blurt of a machine gun closer, and a few scattered single shots sort of framing it. Then a long silence. Spooky.

All night it went like that. Flares in the sky ahead, the crack of big guns behind us, then of passing shells, a few dark figures coming and going in the night, muted voices at the telephones, the rifle shots, the mosquitoes, the stars, the feel of the damp night air under the wide sky – back again at the kind of life I had known so long.

The old familiar pattern, unchanged by distance or time from war on the other side of the world. A pattern so imbedded in my soul that, coming back into it again, it seemed to me as I lay there that I’d never known anything else in my life. And there are millions of us.

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Editorial: Symphony of words

For our money there’s nobody in the business who can write like Ernie Pyle. Sometimes Ernie outdoes himself. For instance, this description of a night in Okinawa, taken from his column which is printed on the first page of the Section today:

Not long after dark the rifle shots started. There would be a little flurry far ahead, maybe a dozen shots. Then silence for many minutes.

Then there would be another flurry, way to the left. Then silence. Then the blurt of a machine gun closer, and a few scattered single shots sort of framing it. Then a long silence. Spooky.

All night it went like that. Flares in the sky ahead, the crack of big guns behind us, then as passing shells, a few dark figures coming and going in the night, muted voices at the telephones, the rifle shots, the mosquitoes, the stars, the feel of the damp night air under the wide sky – back again at the kind of life I had known so long.

The old familiar pattern unchanged by distance or time from war on the other side of the world. A pattern so imbedded in my soul that, coming back into it again, it seemed to me as I lay there that I’d never known anything else in my life. And there are millions of us.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 13, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – Our war with Japan has gone well in the last few weeks.

We are firmly on Okinawa, which is like having your foot in the kitchen door.

Our wonderful carrier pilots have whittled down the Jap air force daily. Our anti-aircraft from ships and from shore batteries has plugged Jap fliers for the highest ratio I’ve ever known from ack-ack.

Our task forces have absolutely butchered the only Jap task force to put to sea in many months. B-29s are hitting Japan, with fighter escort from Iwo Jima. Airfields are springing up on Okinawa. We all say we sure are glad we are not in the Japs’ shoes.

One main question asked over here now is, “How long will the Japs hold out?” There are all kinds of opinions, but actually nobody knows.

We don’t know, because no one in his right mind can pretend to understand the Oriental manner of thinking. They are unpredictable. They are inconsistent. As one officer said, “They are uncannily smart one day, and dumb as hell the next.”

Jap claims ridiculous

Their values are so different from ours. The news broadcasts from Tokyo and Shanghai are an example. These broadcasts are utterly ridiculous.

During our first week on Okinawa, they constantly told of savage counterattacks when there weren’t any. They told of driving a large part of our landing forces back to the boats and far out to sea, when actually they fired only a few shots onto the beaches.

On D-Day plus four, they broadcast that despite their counterattacks we finally succeeded in landing 6,000 troops. The truth is that by sunset of

Everything that Tokyo said about us was a downright lie. Yet maybe Tokyo really believed it. No one can tell. The Japs don’t think as we do.

The crippled Jap air force cannot do us anything but spasmodic harm from now on. And their navy needn’t ever be considered. If you could see the colossal naval power we have here, you could hardly believe your eyes. It’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in this war.

More supplies arriving

We have plenty of troops in reserve, and new convoys of supplies have already begun to arrive just as we finished unloading the original massive supply fleet.

On Okinawa, the majority of the Japs are on the southern tip, and in considerable strength. The northern area is being combed and a few scattered ones mopped up.

There is tough fighting in the South and it will remain tough to the end. I’ve heard some officers say the south end of Okinawa may turn into another Iwo Jima. That will mean heavy casualties on our side, but the end of Okinawa is inevitable.

And while the Army’s XXIV Corps of infantry is doing that job, the rest of the island apparently is wide open for us to develop and we are doing it with our usual speed.

This island has everything we could want in such an island. There is plenty of room for more airfields, room for roads and vast supply dumps and anchorages for ships. And the civilians from whom we had expected trouble are docile and harmless.

Island to be built quickly

The way Americans can build, this island can be transformed in two months. Before long it could look like Guam or Pearl Harbor. We are in Japan’s backdoor and while we are here, they can’t really do very much to us.

Of course, Japan’s vast land armies are still almost intact. But if it does come to the great mass land warfare of Continental Europe, we now are able to build up strength for that warfare right on the scene.

There is a fighting spirit among us. People are conjecturing about the possibility of the Pacific War ending sooner than we had ever allowed ourselves to think.

For years it looked endless, but now you hear people talk about being home maybe by Christmas. Some really believe they will. Others have their fingers crossed, but they are more hopeful than ever before.

Instead of a war weariness, there seems to be a new eagerness among our forces to sweep on and on, and wind the thing up in a hurry.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 14, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – The bulk of the battle of Okinawa is being fought by the Army – my old friend, the doughfoots. This time the Marine had it easy, and by the turn of circumstance the Army is the one that has the job to do.

But my self-assignment on the Okinawa blitz was to write about the Marines and that’s what I continue to do. I landed with the Marines, crossed the island with them, and have been living with them amidst fleas, mosquitoes, goats and a few Japs, hiding under bushes. So naturally I want to tell you about them.

Marine Corps blitzes out here have all been so bitter and the Marines have performed so magnificently that I had conjured in a mental picture of a Marine that bore a close resemblance to a man from Mars. I was almost afraid of them myself.

I did find the Marines confident, but neither cocky nor smart-alecky. I found they have fears, and qualms, and hatred for war the same as anybody else. They want to go home just as badly as any soldiers I’ve ever met. I found them good, human Americans.

They are proud to be Marmes. They wouldn’t be in any other branch of the service. Yet they are not arrogant about it. And I found they have a healthy respect for the infantry.

One day we were sitting on a hillside talking about the infantry. One Marine spoke of a certain Army division – a division they had fought beside – and was singing 15 praises.

In peacetime, when the Marine Corps was a small outfit, with its campaigns highlighted, and everybody was a volunteer you could understand why Marines felt so superior.

But since the war the Marine Corps has grown into hundreds of thousands of men. It has been diluted, so to speak. Today it is an outfit of ordinary people – some big, some little, some even draftees. It has changed, in fact, until Marines look exactly like a company of soldiers in Europe.

Yet that Marine Corps spirit still remains. I never did find out what perpetuates it. They’re not necessarily better trained. They’re no better equipped and often not as well supplied as other troops. But a Marine still considers himself a better soldier than anybody else, even though nine-tenths of them don’t want to be soldiers at all.

The Marines are very cognizant of the terrible casualties they’ve taken in this Pacific War. They’re even proud of that too, in a way. Any argument among Marine units is settled by which has had the greatest casualties.

Many of them even envisioned the end of the Marine Corps at Okinawa. If the Marine divisions had been beaten up here as they were on Iwo Jima, the boys felt it would have been difficult to find enough men of Marine Corps caliber to reconstitute all the divisions.

They even had a sadly sardonic song about their approach to Okinawa, the theme of which was “Goodbye, Marines!”

So, you see, Marines don’t thirst for battles.

I’ve read and heard enough about Marines to have no doubts whatever about the things they can do when they have to. No Marine need ever apologize for anything.

The Marines are O.K. for my money, in battle or out.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 16, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – We camped one night on a little hillside that led up to a bluff overlooking a small river. The bluff dropped straight down for a long way. Up there on top of the bluff it was just like a little park.

The bluff was terraced, although it wasn’t farmed. The grass on it was soft and green. And those small, straight-limbed pine trees were dotted all over it.

Looking down from the bluff, the river made a tum and across it was an old stone bridge. At the end of the bridge was a village – or what had been a village.

It was not just a jumble of ashes and sagging matched roofs from our bombardment. In every direction, little valleys led away from the turn in the river.

It was as pretty and gentle a sight as you ever saw. It had the softness of antiquity about it and Japanese prints. And the sad, uncanny silence that follows the bedlam of war.

A bright sun made the morning hot and a refreshing little breeze sang through the pine trees. There wasn’t a shot nor a warlike sound within hearing. I sat on the bluff for a long time, just looking. It all seemed so quiet and peaceful. I noticed a lot of the Marines sitting and just looking too.

Looks like home

You could come from a dozen different parts of America and still find scenery on Okinawa that looked like your country at home.

Southern boys say the reddish clay and the pine trees remind them of Georgia. Westerners see California in the green rolling hills, partly wooded, paryly patchworked wirth little green fields. And the farmed plains look like our Midwest.

Okinawa is one of the few places I’ve been in this war where our troops don’t gripe about what an awful place it is. In fact, most of the boys say they would like Okinawa if it weren’t at war with us and if the people weren’t so dirty.

The countryside itself is neat and the little farms are well kept. So far, the Okinawa climate is superb and the vistas undeniably pretty. The worst crosses to bear are the mosquitoes, fleas and the sight of the pathetic people.

Fine group of poor roads

Most of the roads on Okinawa are narrow dirt trails for small horse-drawn carts. Then there are several wider gravel roads. One man aptly described it as “an excellent network of poor roads.”

Our heavy traffic of course has played hob with the roads. Already they are tire-deep in dust and troops on the road have mask-like faces, caked with dust.

Bulldozers and scrapers are at work constantly.

I’ve mentioned before about our fear of snakes before we got here. All the booklets and literature given us ahead of time about Okinawa dwelt at length on snakes. They told us there were three kinds of poisonous adders, all three being fatal. The booklets warned us not to wander off the main roads, not to stop under the trees or snakes would drop on us (as if you could fight a war without getting off the roads!). In some of the troop briefings, they had the Marines more scared of snakes than Japs.

Few snakes seen

Well, I’ve kept a close watch and made a lot of inquiries. And the result is that in the central part of Okinawa where we’ve been there are just practically no snakes at all.

Our troops have walked, poked, sprawled and slept on nearly every square yard of the ground. And in my regiment, for one, they have seen only two snakes.

One was found dead. The other was killed by a battalion surgeon, coiled into a gallon glass jar, and sent to the regimental command post as a souvenir. It was a vicious rattler, a type called habu.

Those are the only snakes I’ve heard of. There was a rumor that in one battalion they have caught and made pets of a couple of snakes, but I don’t believe it.

The local people sav the island was very snaky up until the middle 30s when they imported some mongooses which killed most of the snakes. But we haven’t seen any mongooses so we don’t know whether the story is true or not.

Correspondent John Lardner says his only explanation is that St. Patrick came through here once as a tourist and took all the snakes with him.

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The Pittsburgh Press (April 17, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – After a couple of days with the headquarters of the Marine Regiment I moved to a company and lived and marched with them for several days. The company is a part of the 1st Marine Division.

At first, I introduced myself to the company commander and he took me on a half hour’s walking trip around the company area before turning me loose with the men.

They had turned in for the night and put out perimeter defenses so no infiltrating Japs could get through and any big attack could be dealt with.

A company was on a hill about 3,000 yards long and about a hundred yards wide. The men were dug in down the sides of the hill. There was a mortar platoon at the foot of the hill, all set up to throw mortars any direction.

Our part of the island had not then been declared “secured,” and we had even received warning of possible attacks from sea that night. So, nobody was taking any chances.

Perfect defense position

“This is the most perfect defensive position we’ve ever had in our lives,” the company commander said. “One company could hold off a whole battalion for days. If the Japs had defended these hills, they could have kept us fighting for a week.”

The company commander was a young man with a soft Southern tongue and his black hair was almost shaved. He was a little yellow from taking atabrine.

He is Capt. Julian Dusenbury from Claussen, South Carolina. He is easy going with his men, and you could tell they liked him. It happened that his birthday was on April 1 – the Easter Sunday we landed on Okinawa. He was 24 that day. His mother had written him she hoped he’d have a happy birthday.

“That was the happiest birthday present I ever had,” he said, “going through Love Day without a single casualty in the company.”

Best of bargain

While I was aboard ship somebody had walked off with my fatigue and combat jackets. So, the ship gave me one of those Navy jackets, lined with fleece, which is actually much warmer and nicer than what I’d had.

On the back it had stenciled in big white letters: U.S. Navy. I had it on when I first walked through the company’s defense area. Later that evening we were sitting on the ground around a little fire, warming our supper of K rations. By that time, I’d got acquainted with a good many of the boys and we felt at home with one another.

We had some real coffee and we poured it into our canteen cups and sat around drinking it before dark.

Lot of laughs

Then one of the boys started laughing to himself and said to me:

You know, when you first showed up, we saw that big Navy stenciled on your back and after you passed, I said to the others: “That guy’s an admiral, Look at the old grey-haired guy. He’s been in the Navy all his life. He’ll get a medal out of this, sure as hell.”

The originator of this bright idea was Pvt. Albert Schwab of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He’s a flamethrower and flamethrowers have to be rugged guys, for the apparatus they carry weighs about 75 pounds, and also they are very much addicted to getting shot at by the enemy.

But to see Albert sitting there telling that joke on himself and me, you’d never know he was a rugged guy at all. I’m not an admiral and I won’t get any medal, but you do get a lot of laughs out of this war business when things aren’t going too badly.

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FLASH: Ernie Pyle killed in action at Ie Island

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I was not looking forward to this sad day. Thank you Ernie for your insightful observations on our common human condition during the war. You will be missed as a friend to all, particularly, the infantryman.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 18, 1945)

Ernie Pyle dies in action

Famed war reporter killed by Jap bullet on Ie, off Okinawa

Ernie Pyle – He joins thousands of his beloved G.I. Joes.

WASHINGTON (UP) – Ernie Pyle, the greatest frontline reporter of this war, was killed in action this morning.

The skinny little Scripps-Howard and Pittsburgh Press war reporter – beloved of U.S. fighting men the world over – was killed by a Japanese machine gun bullet on the little island of Ie, off Okinawa.

He was killed, Secretary of the Navy Forrestal said, in the company of “the foot soldiers, the men for whom he had the greatest admiration.”

Vice Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner, commander of amphibious forces in the Pacific, reported from Guam that Mr. Pyle was killed outright about 10:15 a.m. Guam Time (Tuesday night ET) under Japanese machine gun fire on the outskirts of the town of Ie, on the island of Ie, four miles west of Okinawa.

Often close to death

He had come close to death countless times before – in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and France.

Mr. Pyle started covering the war in England and North Africa. He stayed with it, except for a brief furlough home, until the Americans were sweeping the Germans out of France.

Then he came home again, leaving the front, he explained, simply because he couldn’t stand the sight and smell of death any longer.

He didn’t want to go to war again, but he felt he owed it to America’s soldiers and sailors and Marines to report what they were doing in the Pacific.

He landed on Okinawa on what they called “Love Day” – the day of the first assault.

Truman expresses grief

The news of Mr. Pyle’s death saddened an already bereaved White House. A few moments after the report got out, President Truman said:

The nation is quickly saddened again by the death of Ernie Pyle. No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told. More than any other man he became the spokesman of the ordinary American in arms doing so many extraordinary things. It was his genius that the mass and power of our military and naval forces never obscured the men who made them.

He wrote about a people in arms as people still, but a people moving in a determination which did not need pretensions as a part of power.

Nobody knows how many individuals in our forces and at home he helped with his writings. But all Americans understand now how wisely, how warmheartedly, how honestly he served his country and his profession. He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen.

Mr. Pyle was a foxhole reporter. He said he knew nothing about strategy or tactics. What interested him was the G.I. in the dust and the muck. So that is what he wrote about.

He had spent the years before the war writing a rambling column about places he had seen and people he had met.

He lacked the physique for war. He was slight, weatherbeaten, gray-haired, and balding. He was ill much of the time. He was no longer young – he would have been 45 on August 3.

But he liked people. When he went to war, he kept on writing about people. The people he wrote about were in fox-holes, so Emie spent a lot of time in foxholes.

Secretary Forrestal said in a statement that Mr. Pyle “was killed instantly by Japanese machine gun fire while standing beside the regimental commanding office of Headquarters Troops, 77th Division, U.S. Army.”

Mr. Forrestal added:

Mr. Pyle will live in the hearts of all servicemen who revered him as a comrade and spokesman. More than anyone else, he helped America to understand the heroism and sacrifices of her fighting men. For that achievement, the nation owes him its unending gratitude.

Secretary of War Stimson was shocked into momentary silence by the news. Then he said:

I feel great distress. He has been one of our outstanding correspondents. This is the first I have heard of his death. I’m so sorry.

Speaker Sam Rayburn voiced the sentiment of his congressional colleagues: “I think he was one of the great correspondents of all time.”

Once in North Africa, some German Stukas began dive-bombing and strafing the place where Ernie was. He dived into a ditch behind a soldier.

When the raid was over, he nudged the soldier and said, “Whew, that was close, eh?” The soldier didn’t answer. He was dead.

Mr. Pyle, saying over and over again that he was constantly afraid, went from near-miss to near-miss, from North Africa to Ie.

Once at Anzio a bomb knocked him out of his bunk. He reported it, but most of the column for that day was about the others who were in the hut with him. He told how Robert Vermillion, United Press reporter, tried to get out from under the debris and couldn’t. Said Vermillion, “Hey, somebody get me out of here.”

In France, Mr. Pyle finally saw all the death he could stand for a while. He wrote candidly that he could no longer take it. He had to come home.

Soldiers wrote him letters telling him they knew just how he felt, and they didn’t blame him.

But Mr. Pyle couldn’t stay away from a war that he felt was his as much as it was the Joes fighting it. So, he went to Okinawa.

In the Pacific he went aboard an aircraft carrier n Vice Adm. Marc A. Mitscher’s task force. He covered two naval air attacks on Tokyo in February and the invasion of Iwo Jima.

But he couldn’t stay away from the foot soldier, so he asked to be assigned to the Marines for the Okinawa campaign.

Before he departed, he had his belongings packed. He left instructions for their shipment if anything happened to him.

Went in with Marines

He went ashore at Okinawa with the 1st Marine Division. Then he went with an Army division to invade Ie last Monday. He watched the Doughboys move quickly ashore and capture the island’s three-strip airfield and gain control of the western two-thirds of the island.

It was as the troops pushed eastward to root out Japs dug in on the Iefusugu Mountain north of the town of Ie that Mr. Pyle was killed.

Everywhere he went, Mr. Pyle found fighting men looking for him. They told him their stories, and he always got their names and addresses right.

If he slept on the ground with a bunch of exhausted soldiers, he wrote a column about them in the morning. If the bombs came close, he told how the men took it.

Told everything

If they were hungry and dirty and homesick and grumpy and sick of war, he told about that, too.

Ernie’s columns about combat troops won them an increase in pay. He didn’t pretend to be a molder of opinion, he just thought that if airmen and others got extra pay for combat duty, the men with the rifles ought to get it, too. He said it would be good for their morale Congress agreed.

Mr. Pyle didn’t know any long words. At any rate, he never used them. He could write with great feeling and sharp discernment, with poetic feeling, even.

Loved by all

What he wrote hit a day laborer as hard as it hit a college professor.

The ordinary people loved him; witness the stream of letters-to-the-editor which flowed constantly into the newspapers which carried his column.

The learned also loved him, and showed him their respect. Witness the honorary degree bestowed upon him by his alma mater, Indiana University. They called the degree “Doctor of Humane Letters.”

Born in 1900 on farm

Ernie Pyle was born August 3. 1900, on a farm near Dana, Indiana. His father, William C. Pyle, still lives there. His mother, about whom he wrote from time to time in his column, died while he was in England in March 1941.

His full name is Ernest Taylor Pyle. Taylor was his mother’s maiden name.

He was married July 7, 1925, to Geraldine Siebolds, then a Civil Service Commission government clerk in Washington. She came from Stillwater, Minnesota. Mrs. Pyle lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they built a home a few years ago.

Went to Indiana U

Ernie attended Indiana University for three and a half years and quit without graduating. He broke into the newspaper business on the La Porte (Indiana) Herald, then was moved to Washington, D.C., by the late Earl Martin, then editor of Scripps-Howard’s Washington Daily News.

He worked on The News from 1923 to 1926, when he was overcome by a yen for travel. He and “Jerry” drew out their savings, bought a Ford Model-T roadster, and the two of them drove clear around the rim of the United States in a leisurely way.

The trip wound up in New York, and Ernie worked as a desk man on The Evening World and The Evening Post for a year or two, until he was talked into returning to The Washington News as telegraph editor. There he worked up a terrific interest in aviation and started doing an aviation column on the side. It was a success and Ernie had an enormous acquaintance among airmen who are veterans of those days.

How column was born

He was made aviation editor of the Scripps-Howard Newspapers. Then in 1932 he was appointed managing editor of The Washington News.

Early in 1935, the Pyles took a vacation in Arizona. When they got back, the late Heywood Broun happened to be taking a vacation too, so Ernie wrote a dozen columns about his own vacation experiences to fill the Broun spot in The News. They made good reading and the eventual result was a decision by G. B. Parker, editor-in-chief of the Scripps-Howard Newspapers.

He and Jerry set out

So, Ernie and Jerry set out, by auto. The first of his columns appeared August 8, 1935, under a Flemington, New Jersey, dateline. He has been writing a piece a day ever since, except for an occasional timeout for rest.

Those early columns were leisurely copy, concerned with scenes and people and incidents encountered as he and Jerry drove around the country. He didn’t write “news.”

The Washington News ran the pieces regularly from the start, and has never missed one. Other Scripps-Howard papers gradually began using them, and eventually all were printing them as a fixed daily feature. The United Feature Syndicate began syndicating the column to non-Scripps-Howard papers.

Combed the continent

In those first few years Ernie, usually with Jerry traveling beside him, combed the United States, Canada, Mexico, Alaska, the Hawaiian Islands, Central and South America. He traveled by train, by plane, by boat, on horseback, muleback and by truck, but most of the time he drove a convertible coupe.

He spent several days at the leper colony on Molokai Island, went up the Yukon on a boat. flew to the Bering shore of Alaska, went down in mines and up on dams, drove from Texas to Mexico City before the famous highway was finished. He interviewed the great and the little.

His daily column contained human interest – whether whimsy or pathos, incident or personality. He eventually worked into it so much of his own personality that readers began to regard this stranger as an old friend.

Was in blitz

In 1940, Ernie went to England, and the blitz. Shortly after his arrival in London he went through the great firebombing during the holiday week of December 1940, and cabled home an account of “the most hateful, most beautiful single scene” he had ever witnessed.

Portions of the dispatch were cabled back to London and reprinted in London papers.

He spent some months in England and Scotland, and his dispatches from there were reprinted in book form.

Then he came back to the states for a rest. He was at Edmonton, Canada, preparing to shove off by plane over the new air route to Alaska, when word reached him that his wife was dangerously ill in Albuquerque. He flew to Albuquerque, and stayed with her for months until she recovered.

Just missed Pearl Harbor

Later he made all arrangements for a trip that would have taken him to Honolulu, Manila, Hong Kong and Australia. His clipper booking was cancelled to make room for propellers for the Chinese.

While he cooled his heels, this clipper arrived over the Hawaiian Islands during the Jap attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the early summer of 1942, he went to the British Isles, where he spent several months with our troops training in Northern Ireland and England.

Then came the invasion of Africa. He did not go in with the first wave, but arrived shortly thereafter.

Ernie spent much of his time living in the field with the troops. During the fighting in Tunisia, he went four and five weeks at a time without a bath, sleeping on the ground and on farmhouse floors, under jeeps and in foxholes.

Friends also killed

Many friends of Ernie’s have been killed in this war, including, aside from soldiers, Raymond Clapper of Scripps-Howard, Ben Robertson of The Harold-Tribune and Barney Darnton of The New York Times.

Ernie once wrote a friend:

I try not to take any foolish chances, but there’s just no way to play it completely safe and still do your job. The front does get into your blood, and you miss it and want to be back. Life up there is very simple, very uncomplicated, devoid of all the jealousy and meanness that float around a headquarters city, and time passes so fast it’s unbelievable. I didn’t have my clothes off for nearly a month, never slept in a bed for more than a month. It was so cold that my mind would hardly work and my fingers would actually get so stiff I couldn’t hit the keys.

Few of his readers knew it, but Mr. Pyle got a brief look at service life in the last war, although he never went overseas.

He enlisted in the Naval Reserve at Peoria, Illinois, on October 1, 1918. He was 18. He was released from active duty after the armistice but remained in the reserve and took a two weeks training cruise aboard the training ship Wilmette. He was honorably discharged on September 30, 1921, when the Navy cut down its reserve force for reasons of economy.

Mr. Pyle’s African dispatches were also published in book form.

In Sicilian invasion

Ernie was in on the invasion of Sicily, and soon after that came back to the states for a two-month rest. Then. he returned to the Mediterranean Theater, spent some months with the Fifth Army in Italy, and then went to England to await the invasion. He went into Normandy on D-Day plus one.

His column appeared in more than 300 newspapers, including the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes.

Ernie stayed in France through the battle of the breakout. He was almost killed by U.S. bombers at the time Lt. Gen. Leslie McNair was killed.

After the liberation of Paris, he decided he had “had it,” and came home for a rest in Albuquerque and a visit to Hollywood, where a film based on his experiences has just been completed.

He left early this year for the Pacific.

Gained wide honors

In 1944, Mr. Pyle was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished correspondence in 1943. He was voted the outstanding Hoosier of the year by the Sons of Indiana of New York. In October 1944, the University of New Mexico conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

In November 1944, the University of Indiana conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Sigma Delta Chi awarded him their Raymond Clapper Memorial Award for war correspondence in 1944. In both 1943 and 1944, he received a Headliner’s Club award.

Mr. Pyle’s third book, Brave Men, was the December 1944 selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club.

Dreaded going back

Lincoln Barnett, in an article in Life Magazine last month, said the G.I.s’ own war correspondent didn’t want to go back to the war – any more than any other man who braves death in the battleline.

“I dread going back and I’d give anything if I didn’t have to go,” Mr. Pyle told the author after his return from Europe. “But I feel I have no choice I’ve been with it so long I feel a responsibility.”

Ernie Pyle’s five-foot, eight-inch frame carried only 112 pounds. Despite his appearance of fragility, the sparse-haired little man lived with the fighting men, lived as they lived – and he died as they die.

Mr. Barnett wrote that:

Ernie has come to be envisaged as a frail old poet a kind of St. Francis of Assisi, wandering sadly among the foxholes, playing beautiful tunes on his typewriter. Actually, he is neither elderly, little, saintly or sad.

Extracts from article

Extracts from Mr. Barnett’s article follow:

Success thrust itself upon him… he cares nothing for the money it has brought, and is embarrassed by the fame… but he keeps going because he feels that he must.

Although Pyle is America’s No. 1 professional wanderer, he is fundamentally a sedentary person who likes nothing better than to sit in an overheated room with a few good friends. Sometimes he appears to find conversation less pleasurable than the simple circumstance of being seated.

His apparent agoraphobia is a byproduct neither of war nerves nor a swelled head. He has always been self-effacing, and he finds himself uncomfortable in his current eminence as the nation’s favorite war reporter, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of two bestsellers.

Not timid

He has been called shy, but he is not timid. His reticence is marked by quiet dignity.

He likes people as individuals and writes only nice things about those he mentions by name in his column, “But there are a lot of heels in the world,” he says, “I can’t like them.”

The Life article points out that Ernie has always been an apostle of the underdog. Seven years ago, after visiting a leper colony, he wrote that “I experienced an acute feeling of spiritual need to be no better off than the leper.”

“And so in war,” says Mr. Barnett, “Pyle has felt a spiritual need to be no better off than the coldest, wettest, unhappiest of all soldiers.”

The article relates that when Ernie gave his consent to the making of the movie, The Story of G.I. Joe, he stipulated that (1) the hero of the picture must be the Infantry and not Pyle; (2) that no attempt be made to glorify him, and (3) that other correspondents be included in the story.

The movie, in which Capt. Burgess Meredith plays Ernie, will be seen by troops overseas in June and be released to the civilian public in July.

Huge earnings

In spite of his refusal to capitalize on his fame when he returned from the European fronts, Ernie has made close to half of a million dollars in the past two years, Mr. Barnett estimates.

While he was home, he wore one suit, which he bought for $41.16 when he landed in New York. His home is a modest house in Albuquerque, which cost about $5,000. He puts his money into war bonds and, according to Mr. Barnett, quietly bestows substantial sums upon “friends, relatives, G.I.’s and anybody else he likes.”

Hundreds pray for him

The article continues:

Although Pyle disdains his affluence, he is keenly appreciative of the aureole of national esteem and affection that now envelopes him.

The emotions Pyle evokes in his public go beyond detached admiration. He is probably the only newspaper columnist for whom any notable proportion of readers have fervently prayed.

For some time after D-Day, 90 percent of all reader queries that came into Scripps-Howard offices were: Did Ernie get in safe?

His success has been achieved without much push on Emie’s part, the article maintains.

It declares that he took journalism at the University of Indiana because someone told him it would be an easy course.

Two years after going to Washington, Ernie married Geraldine Siebolds, an attractive girl from Minnesota who had a job with the Civil Service Commission. Later, when he became a roving reporter, she was known to millions as “that girl.”

He goes to war

“A small voice came in the night and said Go,” Ernie wrote in the fall of 1940. It was the same voice that had spoken to him in the leper colony in Hawaii. So, he went off to war.

Pyle’s first overseas trip in the winter of 1940-41 multiplied readers of his column by 50 percent. Stirred by the spiritual holocaust of London and his own relentless instinct for self-immolation, he produced columns of great beauty and power. But it was not until he reached North Africa the following year that the Pyle legend began to evolve.

The article tells how Ernie, afflicted by one of his periodic colds, remained in Oran while the other reporters went to the front. There he met some obscure civilians who told him about the turbulent political situation in North Africa and he scored an important scoop.

The Doughboys’ saint

Gradually, as he moved about among the soldiers, covering the “backwash” of the war, he became the patron saint of the fighting foot soldier, the article relates. But he didn’t know it for a long time.

He thought, when he wrote it, that his famous column on the death of Capt. Waskow was no good.

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Ernie ‘singled out’ by Jap gunner

By the United Press

Ernie Pyle was “singled out” by a Jap machine gunner and was killed instantly while he was talking with an officer in a command post on Ie, Larry Tighe, Blue Network reporter, reported from Guam today.

Other reporters said there was the same kind of stunned disbelief at headquarters when the news of Mr. Pyle’s death arrived as when President Roosevelt’s death was announced.

Mr. Pyle was shot three times through the temple, Blue Network Correspondent Jack Hooley said. He added that Mr. Pyle was headed for the front with Lt. Col. Joseph Coolidge of Arkansas when a burst of fire sent them scrambling from their jeep into a ditch.

After a few minutes they peered over the edge of the ditch and the gun rattled again, Col. Coolidge ducked back to find Mr. Pyle dead beside him.

Col. Coolidge crawled to safety and three tanks moved up to rescue Mr. Pyle’s body. Steady machine-gun fire pinned the men inside the tanks and finally Cpl. Alexander Roberts of New York volunteered to go alone.

He found Mr. Pyle with the fatigue cap he wore “in safe places” clutched in his hand. A chaplain and litter bearer went forward and aided in taking the body within the American lines, Mr. Hooley said.

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Ernie Pyle V Norman

Roving Reporter

By Ernie Pyle

NOTE: This column by Ernie Pyle was part of his general running story of the battle of Okinawa, written during the campaign that led to his death. It is believed that other instalments were filed by him and will be received for publication.

OKINAWA (by Navy radio) – The company commander, Capt. Julian Dusenbury, said I could have my choice of two places to spend the first night with his company.

One was with him in his command post. The command post was a big, round Japanese gun emplacement, made of sandbags. The Japs had never occupied it, but they had stuck a log out of it, pointing toward the sea and making it look like a gun to aerial reconnaissance.

Capt. Dusenbury and a couple of his officers had spread ponchos on the ground inside the emplacement and had hung their telephone on a nearby tree and were ready for business. There was no roof on the emplacement. It was tight on top of a hill and cold and very windy.

My other choice was with a couple of enlisted men who had room for me in a little gypsy-like hideout they’d made.

It was a tiny, level place about halfway down the hillside, away from the sea. They’d made a roof for it by tying ponchos to trees and had dug up some Japanese straw mats out of a farmhouse to lay on the ground.

I chose the second of these two places, partly because it was warmer, and also because I wanted to be with the men anyhow.

Mustache trouble

My two “roommates” were Cpl. Martin Clayton Jr. of Dallas, Texas, and Pvt. William Gross of Lansing, Michigan.

Cpl. Clayton is nicknamed “Bird Dog” and nobody ever calls him anything else. He is tall, thin and dark, almost Latin-looking. He sports a puny little mustache he’s been trying to grow for weeks and he makes fun of it.

Pvt. Gross is simply called Gross. He is very quiet, but thoughtful of little things and they both sort of looked after me for several days. These two have become very close friends, and after the war they intend to go to UCLA together and finish their education.

The boys said we could all three sleep side by side in the same “bed.” So, I got out my contribution to the night’s beauty rest. And it was a very much appreciated contribution too. For I had carried a blanket as well as a poncho.

These Marines had been sleeping every night on the ground with no cover, except their cold, rubberized ponchos, and they had almost frozen to death. Their packs were so heavy they hadn’t been able to bring blankets ashore with them.

Our next-door neighbors were about three feet away in a similar level spot on the hillside, and they had roofed it similarly with ponchos. These two men were Sgt. Neil Anderson of Coronado, California, and Sgt. George Valido of Tampa, Florida (Incidentally there’s another Neil Anderson in this same battalion).

So, we chummed up and the five of us cooked supper under a tree just in front of our “house.” The boys made a fire out of sticks and we put canteen cups and K rations right on the fire.

Other little groups of Marines had similar little fires going all over the hillside. As we were eating, another Marine came past and gave Bird Dog a big piece of fresh roasted pig they had just cooked, and Bird Dog gave me some. It sure was good after days of K rations.

Several of the boys found their K rations moldy, and mine was too. It was the old-fashioned kind and we finally realized they were 1942 rations and had been stored, probably in Australia, all this time.

Making conversation

Suddenly downhill a few yards. we heard somebody yell and start cussing and then there was a lot of laughter. What had happened was that one Marine had heated a K ration can and, because it was pressure packed, it exploded when he pried it open and there were hot egg yolks over him. Usually, the boys open a can a little first, and release the pressure before heating, so, the can won’t explode.

After supper we burned our K ration boxes in the fire, brushed our teeth with water from our canteens, and then just sat on the ground around the fire, talking.

Other Marines drifted along and after a while there were more than a dozen sitting around. We smoked cigarettes constantly, and talked of a hundred things.

As in all groups the first talk is of surprise at no opposition to our landing. Then the talk drifts to what do I think about things over here and how does it compare with Europe? And when do I think the war will end? Of course, I don’t know any of the answers but we’ve been making conversation out of it for months.

The boys tell jokes, they cuss a lot and constantly drag out stories of their past blitzes and sometimes they speak gravely about war and what will happen to them when they finally get home.

We talked like that for about an hour, and then it grew dark and a shouted order came along the hillside to put out the fires and it was passed on and on, and the boys drifted away to their own foxholes or hillside dugouts, and Bird Dog and Gross and I went to bed, for there’s nothing else to do after dark in blackout country.

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Tribute by Dewey

ALBANY (UP) – Gov. Thomas E. Dewey said today that the death of Ernie Pyle “is a great personal loss to this country and to American journalism.”

Indiana officials pay Pyle tribute

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana (UP) – President Herman B. Wells of Indiana University, who conferred the doctor of humane letters honorary degree on Ernie Pyle last November 13, spoke of the fallen war correspondent today as “an unexcelled interpreter of the minds and hearts of men in peace and in war.”

Wells said:

Ernie Pyle was an illustrious son of the Hoosier State and of Indiana University. The state and the university share with the men in the Army and Navy throughout the world the great loss which has come through his death.

He was a homespun Hoosier, a discerning reporter, an unexcelled interpreter of the minds and hearts of men in peace and in war, and an advocate of the rights of soldiers in the ranks.

INDIANAPOLIS (UP) – Gov. Ralph F. Gates of Indiana today described Ernie Pyle as “a fellow Hoosier who made a great contribution to his profession and to his country.”

Gov. Gates said:

His memory will live on in the hearts of all of us, and we will be ever aware of the great contribution he made to his profession and his country, and to the honor he brought to the Hoosier State.


Ernie’s father, Aunt Mary stunned at news of death

Neighbor hears news on radio and informs family on Indiana farm

DANA, Indiana (UP) – William C. Pyle, father of war correspondent Ernie Pyle, and the writer’s “Aunt Mary” – Mrs. Mary Bales – were stunned today by word of his death.

Mrs. Ella Goforth, a neighbor, said the aging relatives of the famed newspaperman received word from another neighbor woman who heard the news on the radio.

“They’re just not able to talk about it now,” Mrs. Goforth said in a phone conversation from the Pyle farm home, near the Indiana-Illinois state line.

“They’re not taking the news very well.”

Mrs. Nellie Hendricks, who lives across the field from the Pyle home, heard the first news of Ernie’s death. She ran across the field to tell the writer’s father and his aunt. Then they turned on their own radio and heard the news, according to Mr. Goforth.

She said:

Mr. Pyle had a letter from Ernie about two weeks ago. That was the last word they had from him. He told them he thought he’d be home sooner than he’d expected – but of course, he didn’t know about this.

Tribute from Time
‘It will be a long time before Americans forgot Ernie Pyle’s war’

Wednesday, April 18, 1945

The following widely-quoted tribute to Ernie Pyle appeared in Time Magazine:

…He is the most popular of them all. His column appears six days a week in 310 newspapers with a total circulation of 12,255,000. Millions of people at home read it avidly, write letters to him, pray for him, telephone their newspapers to ask about his health and safety.

Abroad, G.I.’s and generals recognize him wherever he goes, seek him out, confide in him. The War Department and the high command in the field, rating him a top morale-builder, scan his column for hints. Fellow citizens and fellow newsmen have heaped honors on him.

Wrote of small people

What happened to Ernie Pyle was that the war suddenly made the kind of unimportant small people and small things he was accustomed to write about enormously important.

Many a correspondent before him had written of the human side of war, but their stories were usually about the heroes and the exciting moments which briefly punctuate war’s infinite boredom.

Ernie Pyle did something different. More than anyone else, he has humanized the most complex and mechanized war in history. As John Steinbeck has explained it:

“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 Gen. Marshall’s war.”

War of common men

“Then there is the war of homesick, weary, funny, violent, common men who wash their socks in their helmets, complain about the food, whistle at Arab girls, or any girls for that matter, and lug themselves through as dirty a business as the world has ever seen and do it with humor and dignity and courage – and this is Ernie Pyle’s war. He knows it as well as anyone and writes about it better than anyone.”

One reason that Ernie Pyle has been able to report this little man’s war so successfully is that he loves people and, for all his quirks and foibles, is at base a very average little man himself.

Understands men

He understands G.I. hopes and fears and gripes and fun and duty-born courage because he shares them as no exceptionally fearless or exceptionally brilliant man ever could. What chiefly distinguishes him from other average men is the fact that he is a seasoned, expert newsman. His dispatches sound as artless as a letter, but other professionals are not deceived. They know that Ernie Pyle is a great reporter.

…In his unique way, he is almost sure to be a sort of national conscience. He may be that even if he is killed in battle. For if Ernie Pyle should die tomorrow, as well he may, it would still be a long time before Americans forgot Ernie Pyle’s war.

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G.I.’s hardest hit by death of Pyle

Overseas veterans feel loss keenly
Wednesday, April 18, 1945

Ernie Pyle’s death was a shock to the nation, but it hit hardest the men wearing those overseas service ribbons.

Servicemen and civilians alike were shocked by the word of his passing today, but on Pittsburgh’s streets, in the USO canteen, in drug stores and in public buildings it was the man in uniform who felt the keenest loss.

Met him in Italy

Pvt. William McGonigal of Montgomery County sat in the Canteen and stared at the floor when he heard the news. Then he said:

I shook hands with him near the Volturno River in Italy. He wrote about our outfit making the crossing. He was the one correspondent everyone wanted to meet. There was something about him… always up there on the line with us…

Added Pvt. Keat P. Heefner of Mercersburg: “He was with my outfit in Normandy… He was tops. We looked forward to seeing what he wrote just as much as civilians did…”

WACs pay tribute

Near the Canteen, two WAC sergeants told how they felt:

“It’s the second tragedy in a week,” declared Sgt. Connie McKim, and her companion, Sgt. Mary Haumesser, added: “I always read his column. No one could have written better.”

Said Pvt. Kenneth Strouse of Lakeside, Ohio: “We all learned things about the Army from Ernie, things we never learned from the Army itself…”

“It’s just Ike losing another commander-in-chief,” asserted Pvt. John J. Kane, 711 Southern Avenue.

But it fell to Lt. E. M. Morgan, whose address here is the Downtown YMCA, to sum up the way the servicemen felt about Ernie Pyle: “He had a lot of guts.”

That was the reaction of Pittsburghers in high places and low as the news spread throughout the city and received a reaction of stunned disbelief.

G.I.’s lose spokesman

“The G.I.’s have lost their spokesman,” said Orphans Court Judge Alexander C. Tener. “His columns and books were unique literature of warfare. He was close to the heart of every loyal American.”

Attorney Oliver K. Eaton: “His death is one of the real tragedies of the war… There’ll never be another Ernie Pyle…”

Brought war into home

Director of Elections David Olbum: “He brought the war right into your kitchen…”

Frank Knox, police radio operator: “Through his columns I had a clear insight into the things my two boys are going through in Italy and Germany…”

Then there was “Richey,” the veteran “newsboy” at Liberty Avenue and Ferry Street, who was shocked at the news.

“It’s a tough blow to the readers who depended on Pyle,” he declared.

In Morals Court Magistrate W. H. K. McDiarmid declared Pyle’s death “a great shock to me, and a great loss to American journalism,” and Safety Director George E. A. Fairley added: “He was loved by the fighting men because he was not afraid to take the chances they took.”

‘National calamity’

“His passing is a national calamity. Ernie Pyle is just a household word. Everybody knows him,” said Collector of Interna! Revenue Stanley Granger, a veteran of the last war.

Another World War I veteran, Daniel Core, deputy clerk of U.S. Courts: “I think he gave us more insight into the life of a private soldier than any other correspondent has done.”

Weatherman William S. Brotzman, when told of Ernie Pyle’s death, exclaimed:

That’s a pity. He’s one of the best. He included so much in his stories – a good picture of the country, what the weather was like, what the boys were experiencing.

Knew trials best

Postmaster Stephen Bodkin said:

Ernie Pyle knew the problems and trials and tribulations of the doughboy perhaps better than any other person. I read him every day and read all his books. He was the war’s top-notch correspondent.

Judge Frank P. Patterson:

This dreadful war has brought us many tragedies, but none so personally shocking as the death of this fine reporter. He told the news as no other war correspondent did; he was a man who had the common touch. I, like everyone else, feel an overwhelming sense of loss in his passing.

“I think his loss will be felt deeply by the American public,” said Harry T. O’Connor, special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh office, FBI.

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Clapper’s death in Pacific recalled

Pyle second killed on Scripps-Howard staff
Wednesday, April 18, 1945

When Ernie Pyle was struck down by a Jap machine-gun bullet on a little island off Okinawa, he was the second Scripps-Howard war correspondent to lose his life in those little-known places where this war is fought.

In February of last year, Raymond Clapper, who left the security of his Washington office to go to the Pacific theater, died in a plane crash during the invasion of the Marshall Islands.

Dots on a map

Okinawa… The Marshalls. Little dots on a map but the sites where brave men died as they tried to bring to the folks at home the bitter realty of war.

Ernie Pyle and Ray Clapper were great friends. Each had the ability to write for the man in the street, the woman in the home.

As Ernie put it in an article he wrote about his colleague in November 1940:

Ray Clapper, in his own mind, writes for the milkman in Omaha. He has come a long way from his own prairie days, but to him the milkman in Omaha is still America, and that feeling is probably what is making his column a great one.

Award to Pyle

Last May, the Raymond Clapper Memorial Award for distinguished war correspondence was given to Ernie Pyle by Williard Smith, president of Sigma Delta Chi, professional journalism fraternity. Already Mr. Pyle had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Mr. Clapper was awarded posthumously the William Allen White Memorial Award.

Planes were taking off for the Marshall Island invasion, when Mr. Clapper was killed. He was in one piloted by a squadron commander.

As the planes were forming up to blast the Japs on their island strongholds, two collided. Both planes crashed in a lagoon. There were no survivors.

The words Mr. Clapper wrote from North Africa in July 1943 are particularly applicable to the deaths of two great correspondents.

“What appalls me about war is the unbelievable waste of life and effort and nature’s riches,” Mr. Clapper wrote.

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Pyle wounded by Anzio bombs

Wednesday, April 18, 1945

Ernie Pyle almost lost his life on the Anzio Beachhead in March 1944, when German planes bombed a waterfront home he and other correspondents had taken over as their press headquarters.

Glider bombs wrecked the “Villa Virtue,” as the correspondents had named it, and Ernie was cut on the cheek by flying glass.

He was in bed when the planes came in to attack but he jumped up and began to cross the room to watch. He was blown back across the room by the first bomb, which struck about 10 yards from the building.

Three seconds later, as Ernie was picking himself from the floor, a second bomb crashed right beside the villa. The walls were blasted in, the ceiling crashed on Pyle’s bed and what remained of the villa was filled with thick dust and the acrid smell of explosives.

That wasn’t the only time Ernie Pyle ever was close to death, but thereafter he always referred to the incident as “my escape.”

Firing of Paris made Ernie sick of war

Wednesday, April 18, 1945

It was the bombing and burning of Paris by the retreating Germans last year which finally so sickened Ernie Pyle of war that he had to come home.

Interviewed in New York, he told why he had left the front.

He said:

It’s sort of hard to explain. I’ve been through plenty of bombings but when the Germans came over and pasted hell out of Paris soon after we got there, I suddenly knew that I had to get home and away from war. Seeing Paris burn really got me.

He returned on a ship bringing wounded soldiers.

He said:

They all wanted to tell me they understood why I was going back. I felt kind of funny. There I was physically unhurt, standing over those kids with arms and legs and eyes gone – all battered to hell – and they telling me they knew what the score was and that it was all right by them that I was getting out.

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Pyle not dead – lives forever, senator says

WASHINGTON (UP) – Ernie Pyle’s senators paid tribute to him today.

Sen. Raymond E. Willis (R-Indiana) reminded the Senate that Pyle was born and reared in Indiana.

“Indiana,” Sen. Willis said, “is proud to claim Ernie Pyle as our noblest contribution to the cause of the preservation of freedom.”

Sen. Carl A. Hatch (D-New Mexico) from the state in which Mr. Pyle maintained his home – at Albuquerque – claimed him, too.

“Ernie Pyle is not dead,” Sen. Hatch said. “He was not killed by Japanese bullets. He shall live wherever the story of brave fighting men is told anywhere in the world.”

But though Mr. Pyle was born in Indiana and lived in New Mexico, he was claimed by everybody.

Everywhere in the Capitol, secretaries, elevator boys, policemen as well as lawmakers, were talking about Ernie Pyle. An elevator boy said: “You know, the servicemen would have elected him President.”

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