Pyle, Ernie

views updated May 17 2018

Ernie Pyle

"Notes from a Battered Country"

"The Death of Captain Waskow"

"I Thought It Was the End"

"Waiting for Tomorrow"

"On Victory in Europe"

Excerpts from Ernie's War: The Best of Ernie Pyle's World War II Dispatches Written by Ernie Pyle between 1943 and 1945Collected and published in book form, 1986

The battles of World War II (1939-45) spread beyond Europe and Asia to the continent of Africa when Italian forces invaded the northeast African country of Egypt in September of 1940. The northern tip of Africa is separated from Italy by the Mediterranean Sea and Italy wanted to expand its territory into North Africa. Italy's ally Germany landed troops in North Africa in February, 1941. By 1942 the northwest African regions of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia had been invaded by German and Italian—or Axis—forces.

In late 1942 and early 1943 the Allied powers (the Allied troops fighting in this region were from Great Britain, the Dominion of Canada, and the United States) succeeded in pushing the German and Italian troops out of northern Africa. (The term "Dominion" refers to the self-governing nations of the British Commonwealth, namely Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. "Commonwealth" refers to the association of independent nations that were formerly under British control. The Allies were the nations fighting against Germany, Italy, and Japan during World War II. The major Allied countries included Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and China.)

From Africa the Allies moved northward to the island of Sicily, which lies off the southern coast of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea. Their goal was to defeat Italian forces on the island and then launch an invasion of the Italian mainland. The attack on Sicily began July 10, 1943 and lasted five weeks. After the Italians surrendered, German forces continued to defend Italy against the Allies.

Throughout September, American and British troops— joined this time by the French—advanced into southern Italy, pushing the German forces northward. The Luftwaffe (German air force) did extensive damage to Allied warships at the southerly seaports of Salerno and Bari, and after intense fighting German ground troops stopped the Allies at Cassino, a mountainous town in central Italy that served as a key position in Germany's line of defense. By launching an invasion at Anzio (a harbor in the Mediterranean Sea, located about fifty miles south of Rome), the Allies were able to lure the Germans away from Cassino. The Battle of Anzio stretched through the winter of 1944.

American journalist Ernie Pyle witnessed the fighting at Anzio firsthand. From the end of 1940 to early 1945 his writing assignments took him to England, Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and tiny islands in the Pacific. Pyle went wherever the action was—accompanying soldiers in combat around the globe—and then composed vivid, penetrating accounts of the tragedy of war as it was being fought. His columns brought the war home to Americans.

Pyle's last dispatches (or news items) were filed from the Pacific front in early 1945. Capturing the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa was, at that time, considered crucial to an Allied victory in the Pacific. Both locations were viewed as prime launching points for air invasions of the Japanese home islands. (Note that a massive invasion of the Japanese mainland never took place. The Japanese surrendered to the Allies after atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. See Harry S. Truman entry in chapter 3.)

The Japanese stationed their fighter planes on the heavily fortified island of Iwo Jima, located 600 miles from the capital city of Tokyo on Honshu (one of Japan's four main islands). The U.S. Marine invasion of Iwo Jima was scheduled for February 19, 1945. For ten straight weeks before that, U.S. Navy war-ships and planes bombarded the tiny, barren island. Then, during the early morning hours of February 19, a two-mile-long stretch of beach was bombarded one last time in preparation forthe 9:00 A.M. marine landing. Heavily armed Japanese forces fought back from concealed locations carved into the craggy rock of Mount Suribachi, situated high above the beaches. The first day of fighting left well over five hundred marines dead, but the Americans continued their slow advance inland. On February 23 a small force of marines managed to climb to the top of Mount Suribachi and raise the American flag.

The fierce battle for Iwo Jima lasted another month. When it was over, more than twenty thousand Japanese soldiers were dead; nearly seven thousand Americans had been killed and another twenty thousand were wounded.

Allied B-29 bombers attacked Tokyo early in March of 1945. At the end of the month U.S. forces began the long and bloody invasion of Okinawa (one of the Ryukyu—pronounced "ree-YOU-kyew"—Islands, located about 350 miles south of the Japanese main islands). By this time the Japanese navy had been virtually shattered, so Japanese military leaders sent out an enormous force of kamikaze fighters (pronounced "kahm-ih-KAH-zee"; translated as "divine wind") to attack enemy forces. (Kamikazes were suicide bombers—Japanese pilots who purposely crashed their planes into Allied ships.)

The three-month-long air and land battle for Okinawa proved to be the most devastating campaign carried out in the Pacific. One in three U.S. Marines who fought on Okinawa were either killed or wounded, and thousands of soldiers suffered psychological as well as physical wounds. By late June of 1945, when the island was completely conquered by the Allies, about 130,000 Japanese had been killed.

Things to remember while reading the excerpts from Ernie's War: The Best of Ernie Pyle's World War II Dispatches:

  • Journalist Ernie Pyle was an eyewitness to the horrors of war on three continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia.
  • Pyle's dispatches are noted for their insight and honesty. Literary critics often refer to his writing style as "spare" because he used simple, direct, repetitive language to convey his ideas and impressions.
  • Pyle's moving account of the death of Captain Henry T. Waskow is generally considered his best piece. (See second Pyle excerpt, titled "The Death of Captain Waskow.")
  • The piece titled "On Victory in Europe" was found on Pyle's body after his death on the Pacific island of Ie Shima (pronounced "ee-SHEE-muh").

"Notes from a Battered Country"

IN ITALY, December 28, 1943—The little towns of Italy that have been in the path of this war from Salerno northward are nothing more than great rubble heaps. There is hardly enough left of most of them to form a framework for rebuilding.

When the Germans occupied the towns, we rainedartillery on them for days and weeks at a time. Then after we captured a town, the Germans wouldshell it heavily. They got it from both sides.

Along the road for twenty or thirty miles behind the fightingfront, you pass through one demolished town after another. Most of the inhabitants take to the hills after the first shelling… Some go to live in caves; some go to relatives in the country. A few in every town refuse to leave no matter what happens, and many of them have been killed by the shelling and bombing from both sides.

A countryside is harder todisfigure than a town. You have to look closely, and study in detail, to find thecarnage wrought upon the green fields and the rocky hillside. It is there, but it is temporary—like a skinned finger—and time and the rains will heal it. Another year and the countryside will cover its own scars.

If you wander on foot and look closely you will see the signs—the limb of an olive tree broken off, six swollen dead horses in the corner of a field, a strawstack burned down, a chestnut tree blown clear out with its roots by a German bomb, … empty gun pits, and countlessfoxholes, and rubbish-heap stacks of emptyC-ration cans, and now and then the lone grave of a German soldier.

These are all there, clear across the country, and yet they are hard to see unless you look closely. A countryside is big, and nature helps fight for it.

"The Death of Captain Waskow"

AT THE FRONT LINES IN ITALY, January 10, 1944—In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.

Capt. Waskow was acompany commander in the 36th Division. He had led his company since long before it left the [United] States. He was very young, only in his middle twenties, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.

"After my own father, he came next," a sergeant told me.

"He always looked after us," a soldier said. "He'd go to bat for us every time." …

I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow's body down. The moon was nearly full at the time, and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley below.…

Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed onto the backs of mules. They came lying belly-down across the wooden pack-saddles, their heads hanging down on the left side of the mule, their stiffened legs sticking out awkwardly from the other side, bobbing up and down as the mule walked.…

The first one came early in the morning. They slid him down from the mule and stood him on his feet for a moment, while they got a new grip. In the half light he might have been merely a sick man standing there, leaning on the others. Then they laid him on the ground in the shadow of the low stone wall alongside the road.

I don't know who that first one was. You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don't ask silly questions.

We left him there beside the road, that first one, and we all went back into the cow-shed and sat on water cans or lay on the straw, waiting for the next batch of mules.

Somebody said the dead soldier had been dead for four days, and then nobody said anything more about it. We talked soldier talk for an hour or more. The dead man lay all alone outside in the shadow of the low stone wall.

Then a soldier came into the cowshed and said there were some more bodies outside. We went out into the road. Four mules stood there, in the moonlight, in the road where the trail came down off the mountain. The soldiers who led them stood there waiting. "This one is Captain Waskow," one of them said quietly.

Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow beside the low stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally there were five lying end to end in a long row, alongside the road. You don't cover up dead men in the combat zone. They just lie there in the shadows until somebody else comes after them.

The unburdened mules moved off to their olive orchard. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually one by one I could sense them moving closer to Capt. Waskow's body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say somethingin finality to him, and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear.

One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, "God damn it." That's all he said, and then he walked away. Another one came. He said, "God damn it to hell anyway." He looked down for a few last moments, and then he turned and left.

Another man came; I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell … in the half light, for [everyone was] bearded and grimy dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain's face, and then he spoke directly to him, as though he were alive. He said: "I'm sorry, old man."

Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer, and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said:

"I sure am sorry, sir."

Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the dead hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes, holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face, and he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.

And finally he put the hand down, and then reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain's shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. And then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.…

"I Thought It Was the End"

WITH THE FIFTH ARMY BEACHHEAD FORCES IN ITALY, March 20, 1944—Wecorrespondents stay in avilla run by the 5th Army's Public Relations Section.…

The house is on the waterfront. The current sometimes washes over our back steps. The house is a huge, rambling affair with four stories down on the beach and then another complete section of three stories just above it in thebluff, all connected by a series of interior stairways.

For weeks long-range artillery shells had been hitting in the water or on shore within a couple of hundred yards of us. Raiders came over nightly, yet … this villa … seemed to be charmed.…

… [T]he part of the house down by the water [was] considered safer because it was lower down. But I had been sleeping alone in the room in the top part because it was a lighter place to work in the daytime. We called it "Shell Alley" up there because theAnzio-bound shells seemed to come in a groove right past oureaves day and night.

On this certain morning I had awakened early and was just lying there for a few minutes before getting up. It was just seven and the sun was out bright.

Suddenly the anti-aircraft guns let loose. Ordinarily I don't get out of bed during a raid, but I did get up this one morning.…

I had just reached the window when a terrible blast swirled me around and threw me into the middle of my room.…

The half of the window that was shut was ripped out and hurled across the room. The glass was blown into thousands of little pieces. Why the splinters or the window frame itself didn't hit me I don't know.

From the moment of the first blast until it was over probably not more than fifteen seconds passed. Those fifteen seconds were so fast and confusing that I truly can't say what took place, and the other correspondents reported the same.

There wasdebris flying back and forth all over the room. One gigantic explosion came after another.…

I jumped into one corner of the room and squatted down and satcowered there. I definitely thought it was the end. Outside of that I don't remember what my emotions were.

Suddenly one whole wall of my room flew in, burying the bed where I'd been a few seconds before under hundreds of pounds of brick, stone andmortar

Then the wooden doors were ripped off their hinges and crashed into the room… The French doors leading to the balcony blew out and one of my chairs was upended through the open door.…

Finally the terrible nearby explosions ceased and gradually theack-ack died down and at last I began to have some feeling of relief that it was over and I was still alive. But I stayed crouched in the corner until the last shot was fired.

… When our bombing was over, my room was in a shambles. It was the sort of thing you see only in the movies.

More than half the room was knee-deep with broken brick and tiles and mortar. The other half was a disarray all covered with plaster dust and broken glass. My typewriter was full of mortar and broken glass, but was not damaged.

My pants had been lying on the chair that went through the door, so I dug them out from under the debris, put them on and started down to the other half of the house.

Down below everything was a mess. The ceilings had come down upon men still in bed. Some beds were a foot deep in debris. That nobody was killed was a pure miracle.…

The boys couldn't believe it when they saw me coming in. Wick Fowler of the Dallas News had thought the bombs had made direct hits on the upper part of the house. He had just said to George Tucker of the Associated Press, "Well, they got Ernie."

But after they saw I was all right they began to laugh and called me "Old Indestructible." I guess I was the luckiest man in the house, at that, althoughOld Dame Fortune was certainly riding with all of us that morning.

"Waiting for Tomorrow"

OFF THE OKINAWA BEACHHEAD, April 3, 1945—This is the last column before the invasion. It is written aboard a troop transport the evening before we storm onto Okinawa.…

… We will take Okinawa. Nobody has any doubt about that. But we know we will have to pay for it. Some on this ship will not be alive twenty-four hours from now.

April 16, 1945—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 turn 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 now just a jumble of ashes and saggingthatched roofs from ourbombardment . 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 ofantiquity about it and the miniature charm anddaintiness that we see in Japaneseprints . And the sad, uncanny silence that follows thebedlam 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.

"On Victory in Europe"

And so it is over. Thecatastrophe on one side of the world has run its course. The day that it had so long seemed would never come has come at last.

I suppose emotions here in the Pacific are the same as they were among the Allies all over the world. First a shouting of the good news.…

And then an unspoken sense of gigantic relief-and then a hope thatthe collapse in Europe would hasten the end in the Pacific.…

This is written on a little ship lying off the coast of the Island of Okinawa, just south of Japan, on the other side of the world fromArdennes

To me the European war is old, and the Pacific war is new.

… In the joyousness of high spirits it is easy for us to forget the dead.…

But there are many of the living who have had burned into their brains forever the unnatural sight of cold dead men scattered over the hillsides and in the ditches along the high rows of hedge throughout the world.

Dead men by mass production—in one country after another— month after month and year after year. Dead men in winter and dead men in summer.

Dead men in such familiarpromiscuity that they becomemonot onous .

Dead men in suchmonstrous infinity that you come almost to hate them.

These are the things that you at home need not even try to understand. To you at home they are columns of figures, or he is a near one who went away and just didn't come back. You didn't see him lying so grotesque and pasty beside the gravel road in France.

We saw him, saw him by the multiple thousands. That's the dif ference… (Pyle, pp. 184-85, 195-97, 238-40, 402, 411, 418-19)

What happened next …

Bitter fighting in Italy continued after Pyle left in April of 1944. The main goal of the American and British armies was to capture the Italian capital of Rome. Backed by French, French-African, and Polish troops, they attacked all German positions from Cassino out to the Mediterranean Sea. At the same time, the Allied troops on the beaches of Anzio broke their deadlock with the Germans and managed to overpower them. With the combined strength of Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) and the U.S. Army Air Force paving the way for them, American and British ground troops were able to take Rome in June 1944 and then advance northward into the city of Bologna.

Pyle was in France a day after the Allied invasion of Normandy (June 6, 1944; see Veterans of D-Day entry in chapter 4). Later, after returning to the States for a short time, he reluctantly set out for the Pacific, fearful that he wouldn't survive the war. "You begin to feel that you can't go on forever without being hit," he noted in one interview. "I feel that I've used up all my chances. And I hate it." Pyle was killed on April 18, 1945. (See box on p. 149.) The war in Europe ended three weeks later.

Did you know …

  • Before the Second World War began, World War I (1914-18) was known simply as the "World War." The two wars did not receive the names World War I and World War II until after the second war ended in 1945.
  • The 1945 feature film G.I. Joe was based on Pyle's experiences with American soldiers in Italy.
  • Before Pyle left home for the Pacific, his wife, Jerry, begged him to reconsider. Like Pyle, she feared that he had "usedup all [his] chances" and would be killed while on assignment. Pyle readily admitted that he wanted to stay home but felt that if he didn't go he'd "work up a guilty feeling that would haunt [him]." He concluded: "There's just nothing else I can do."

For More Information


Marling, Karal Ann, and John Wetenhall. Iwo Jima: Monuments, Memories, and the American Hero. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Miller, Lee G. The Story of Ernie Pyle. Originally published in 1950.Reprinted. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1970.

Tobin, James. Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.


The War Chronicles: World War II. Volume 2: The Beachhead at Anzio. Volume 5: Island Hopping: The Road Back and Jungle Warfare: New Guinea to Burma. Produced by Lou Reda Productions. A&E Home Video Presents History Channel Video/New Video, 1995.

Web Sites

AITLC Guide to Ernie Pyle. [Online] (accessed on September 6, 1999).


Black, Wallace B., and Jean F. Blashfield. Invasion of Italy. "World War II50th Anniversary Series." New York: Crestwood House, 1992.

Black, Wallace B. Island Hopping in the Pacific. "World War II 50th Anniversary Series." New York: Crestwood House, 1992.

Black, Wallace B. Iwo Jima and Okinawa. "World War II 50th Anniversary Series." New York: Crestwood House, 1993.

Dolan, Edward F. America in World War II: 1944. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1993.

Dolan, Edward F. America in World War II: 1945. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1994.

Pyle, Ernie. Ernie's War: The Best of Ernie Pyle's World War II Dispatches.Edited with a biographical essay by David Nichols. Foreword by Studs Terkel. Originally published in 1986. New York: Touchstone, 1987.

Skipper, G.C. Invasion of Sicily. "World at War Series." Chicago: Children's Press, 1981.

Important Names

Bold, fiery, and controversial— these are just a few of the words frequently used to describe two key leaders of the Allied forces: George S. Patton (1885-1945) and Sir Bernard Law Montgomery (1887-1976). U.S. General George Patton, nicknamed "Old Blood and Guts," commanded the U.S. 7th Army in its 1943 attack on Sicily. British Field Marshal Montgomery, better known as "Monty," led forces in Sicily and Italy. Both Patton and Montgomery played important roles in the Allied invasions of French North Africa (1942) and northern France (1944; see Veterans of D-Day entry).

Ernie Pyle

Indiana-born journalist Ernest Taylor Pyle (1900-1945), who wrote under the name Ernie Pyle, was one of the best known and most respected correspondents of World War II. Early on he was recognized for his keen-eyed reporting, and before the war he penned a daily column that appeared in about two hundred newspapers throughout the United States. Pyle covered the war as it unfolded in England, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and the Pacific. In 1944 he was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for reporting. The next year, while traveling with four soldiers on the tiny island of Ie Shima (located in the Pacific just west of Okinawa), he was struck in the head by a Japanese sniper's bullet. Pyle died instantly and was later buried on the island in a handmade wooden coffin.

Pyle, Ernie

views updated May 11 2018

Ernie Pyle

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

Born August 3, 1900
Dana, Indiana
Died April 18, 1945

Ie Shima, Japan
American journalist

Even before World War II made him famous around the world, Ernie Pyle had attracted a strong following in the United States with his newspaper columns focused on the lives of ordinary Americans. His talent for showing readers the remarkable aspects of life served him well when he went overseas to record the experiences of American troops. He earned their respect by living just as they did, and he gained million of readers with his descriptive writings about the war. Later critics complained that Pyle and other World War II correspondents whitewashed the realities of the war, never fully revealing its shocking brutalities. But Pyle's admirers claim that in fact he helped Americans to survive the war and to give it more meaning and purpose. When people called World War II the "Good War" (meaning the war that was justified andworth fighting) as they would for generations to come, they were referring to the war Pyle had shown them. According to his biographer, James Tobin, he was "America's eyewitness to the 20th century's supreme ordeal."

"The South End of a Horse … "

Pyle was born on a farm near the small town of Dana, Indiana. His father, Will Pyle, was a quiet, kind man who had turned to farming when he couldn't make enough money as a carpenter, his true profession. The real leader of the family was Pyle's mother, Maria (who was called Marie). She was very hardworking, energetic, and blunt, and she treated her only child, Ernest, with a mixture of tough discipline and tenderness. Another important member of the family was Pyle's Aunt Mary (his mother's sister), who was also a very strong-willed, energetic woman.

An intelligent boy whose mother fussed over him, Pyle grew up feeling inferior to the "town boys" with whom he went to school. He was not at all interested in farm work (later he wrote that "anything was better than looking at the south end of a horse going north") and kept a scrapbook of postcards from other places, dreaming of leaving Dana.

In 1917 the United States entered World War I (1914-18), and Pyle was gravely disappointed that he was too young to join the army. He entered Indiana University in Bloomington in 1919. Although he majored in economics, Pyle had a keen interest in journalism and served as a reporter and editor on the university's newspaper, the Daily Student. In the middle of his senior year, Pyle dropped out of college to take a job as reporter at the Daily Herald in LaPorte, Indiana.

A talented young reporter

Pyle did well enough at the Herald to be noticed by an editor from the Scripps-Howard newspaper company who was looking for talented young writers. He offered Pyle a job at the Washington Daily News in Washington, D.C. Thrilled at the prospect of moving to a big city and making $2.50 a week more, Pyle took the job. He quickly gained praise for his clearly written stories and also for his skill in editing the work of other reporters.

In 1923, Pyle met Geraldine "Jerry" Siebolds, an intelligent, charming, unconventional young woman from Minnesota. The couple married in 1925 and a year later started off on a long trip across the United States, camping most of the time. They ended up in New York City, where they spent a dismal year living in a tiny basement apartment while Pyle worked as a copyeditor for several newspapers. Then the new editor of the Washington Daily News, Lee Miller (who would remain Pyle's good friend and colleague until the end of his life), lured Pyle back to Washington with an offer to work at the paper.

The thrill of aviation

During the 1920s, aviation was a relatively young and very exciting field, with daring pilots performing thrilling feats in the air and airline travel gaining popularity. In March 1928 Pyle convinced his editors that an aviation column would interest many readers, and he was assigned to write it.

He spent the next four years visiting airfields around Washington, D.C., interviewing pilots, mechanics, and other industry people, reporting on such issues as passenger safety, airplane design, and new airports. In these columns—which were very well received by the public, as Pyle had predicted— Pyle developed the loose, highly descriptive, and personable style that would mark his World War II writings.

Pyle enjoyed his work as an aviation columnist, and he was not particularly thrilled to be offered a job as managing editor of the Washington Daily News. Nevertheless, he accepted the offer, and spent the next three years unhappily working at a desk. Meanwhile, Jerry began having emotional problems and was struggling with alcoholism, both of which would continue to plague her for years to come.

Becoming a roving reporter

After taking a three-week vacation in the southwestern United States, Pyle wrote about his experiences in a special eleven-article series. This gave him the idea of becoming a kind of "roving" reporter who would travel around the United States and write stories about the different places he visited and people he met. A high-level editor at Scripps-Howard who had admired Pyle's southwestern stories gave him permission to try his idea. Soon he and Jerry packed a few belongings into a Dodge convertible coupe and began their adventure.

Pyle spent the next seven years (from 1935 to early 1942) wandering across the United States, visiting all forty-eight states plus Alaska and Hawaii (which were not yet states), Canada, and Central and South America. Along the way he stopped often to talk to thousands of people from all walks of life, from mayors to cowboys to farmers to store clerks and many, many others. Writing about what he saw and heard in columns that were published in over forty newspapers, Pyle created what Tobin called a "forgotten but magnificent mosaic of the American scene in the Great Depression" (the period of economic hardship that lasted from the late 1929 until 1939).

Pyle attracted a considerable following of readers who liked the friendly, self-deprecating voice that spoke through his writing, like the voice of a compassionate friend who understood what the lives of ordinary people were really like. Pyle's physical appearance—he was a short, skinny, balding man with a fringe of reddish, graying hair and a kind, mild face—made him even more likable. He never preached or put on airs, and he often talked about his own family members in his columns, referring to his wife, for example, as "That Girl Who Rides With Me." His descriptions of what he saw (especially landscapes) were especially vivid and gracefully written.

The coming of war

During those seven years, the Pyles were constantly on the road, and even though they enjoyed much of it, the wandering took its toll. Pyle himself grew physically tired and was often ill, while Jerry grew even more depressed and isolated and abused pills and alcohol. Finally the Pyles decided to build a house in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and settle down.

Meanwhile, by the end of 1939 war was already raging in Europe, where troops under the command of Germany's dictator, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945; see entry) had invaded Poland and France. The war was often in Pyle's thoughts, and when Germany began its bombing raids on London, Pyle decided to cross the ocean and see these important events for himself. He arrived in London on December 9, 1940, planning to share his experiences with the American people through columns to be sent from overseas.

Helping Americans "see" the war

On December 29, Pyle witnessed one of the worst bombing raids of the war. German planes set London's skyline ablaze. Instead of moving to a bomb shelter, Pyle watched from a hotel balcony and later wrote a vivid description of the "most hateful, most beautiful single scene I have ever known." He also expressed his admiration for the bravery and determination of the British people, suggesting that Americans should support their efforts against the Germans.

In those years before television could bring pictures of far-off events, Pyle's columns helped them "see" what was happening in England. His readership grew, and when he returned to the United States in March 1941 he was surprised by all the new fans who recognized and greeted him enthusiastically. His columns were even published in a book, Ernie Pyle in England (1941).

Pyle's plans for a trip to Asia were scuttled by the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), which was followed quickly by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1882-1945; see entry) declaration of war against Japan. A few days later Germany and Italy, who had signed a pact with Japan, declared war on the United States. America became fully involved in World War II. Pyle tried to enlist in the U.S. Navy, but was too small to meet the physical requirements. In April, he and Jerry were divorced, and in June 1942 she entered a hospital for treatment of her physical and emotional ailments. With nothing more to keep him in the United States, Pyle decided to spend six months touring the war zones.

With the troops in North Africa

Pyle went first to Great Britain, where U.S. troops were preparing for the battles that would soon follow. He roamed from camp to camp, talking to the soldiers and recording the details of their daily routine as they waited for the fighting to begin. It finally did begin in November, when, in an invasion nicknamed Operation Torch, American forces landed in North Africa to join the British army, which was already fighting the Germans' very experienced, very efficient Afrika Korps.

Pyle soon followed, joining American troops in Tunisia. Instead of living among officers or staying far away from the action, he remained close to the G.I.s (the enlisted infantry men; G.I. stands for government issue, which was stamped on all of the enlisted men's gear). Like them, Pyle slept on the ground, ate in a mess tent, wore dirty clothes and went without hot baths. The troops appreciated Pyle's efforts to see the war from their viewpoint and to share their discomforts, and they responded warmly to him. The columns Pyle sent home to American readers were full of small details about what the soldiers were doing, thinking, and feeling—details that American readers were eager to hear.

Pyle accompanied the men into combat, often putting himself in great danger as they met the Germans in fierce desert battles. Pyle's columns focused entirely on "the god-damned infantry, as they like to call themselves." With riveting descriptions and graceful writing, he told of their transformation from ordinary men into warriors.

The top war correspondent

Back home, Pyle had gained recognition as America's top war correspondent. Between November 1942 and April 1943 his readership increased from 3.3 to 9 million as his column appeared in 122 newspapers. He received a huge number of letters from readers who thought of him as a personal friend: they sent him gifts and cookies, and asked him to look up particular soldiers (he used his column to explain, with regret, that it was impossible for him to do this). Pyle's Africa columns were collected in a book called Here Is Your War (1943).

The invasion of Sicily

Once the Allies (the countries fighting Germany, Italy, and Japan) had taken North Africa from the Germans, they were ready to conquer Italy, which had aligned itself with the Axis nations (Germany and Japan). It was decided that the invasion should begin in Sicily, a large island located off Italy's southern coast. Pyle went along on the invasion again. This time he traveled on the battleship USS Biscayne. He joined General George S. Patton's (1885-1945; see entry) 7th Army as they fought their way north toward the town of Messina, and he witnessed some of the most intense, bloodiest fighting of the war.

Overwhelmed by the death and chaos that surrounded him, Pyle suffered from the same kind of "battlefield fever" (sometimes called battle fatigue) that many soldiers experienced when the reality of war became too much to bear. He felt both physically and emotionally exhausted. When the Sicily campaign was over—and the Allies had again emerged victorious—Pyle decided to go home and recuperate.

The famous man from Indiana

Pyle had been warned that he would return to the United States to find himself famous, but he was still unprepared for the attention he received after landing in New York. He was besieged with people who wanted to meet him, ask him about the war, or offer him jobs and speaking engagements. He wrote that "no statesman … or general or admiral or movie star ever got a quicker or more complete bath of fame than this thin man from Indiana."

Pyle had even made it to Hollywood, for work had started on a film, The Story of G.I. Joe, that was to be based on Here Is Your War. He had no desire to stay around and watch the filming, though. He had already decided to return to Europe. Pyle stopped in Washington, D.C., on his way overseas, and while he was there he was summoned to the White House for tea with the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt (see sidebar on p. 236). Despite Pyle's embarrassment about having to wear his one, very shabby suit to the meeting, he had a long, pleasant chat with Mrs. Roosevelt.

Creating the heroic image

Soon Pyle was on his way to Italy, where he would spend five months with American troops struggling under terrible conditions—including heavy rain, bone-chilling cold, and fierce resistance from German and Italian soldiers. This experience only deepened Pyle's admiration for those he called "the kids up there," who "live and die so miserably and … do it with such determined acceptance."

Pyle is credited with doing much to create a heroic image of the American soldier in World War II, described by Tobin as "the long-suffering G.I. who triumphed over death through dogged perseverance." One of the most famous columns he wrote during this period told the story of a young soldier who went into a dangerous area to retrieve the body of his popular company commander, Captain Henry Waskow. In simple, graceful language, Pyle relates how individual soldiers came to say their good-byes to the fallen Waskow.

By February 25, the troops had reached the town of Anzio, where the casualties (deaths and injuries) were especially high. On March 17, the house in which Pyle was staying was shelled and the room he'd been sleeping in (he had gotten up to look out the window just before the shell hit) collapsed, but he escaped injury. In April, Pyle went to London where the Allies were planning "Operation Overlord," the invasion of Normandy, France, which would become known as D-Day. There, he learned that he had won the Pulitzer Prize (an important award given to journalists).

Witnessing the Normandy invasion

Pyle was invited to travel to Normandy with General Omar Bradley on the command ship Augusta, which meant he'd witness the arrival of the first troops on the beaches of northern France, but from a relatively safe position among the top army officers. Instead, Pyle decided to go aboard an LST (landing ship, tank) with regular soldiers.

The massive invasion began on June 6, and Pyle went ashore the next day. Unsure how to describe the scene to his readers, he took a long walk on the beach. In his columns, he mentioned how difficult and bloody it had been for the Allies to take the beach, but he focused mostly on what he had seen during his walk, such as bodies floating in the calm water, wrecked equipment, and piles of personal gear (including toothbrushes, Bibles, and photographs) which had belonged to soldiers killed in the fighting.

For a few weeks Pyle remained in the thick of the fighting as the Allied troops fought their way deeper and deeper into France. When he began to experience battle fatigue again, he left the front to report on other army units. Meanwhile, back home, Pyle appeared on the front cover of the July 17, 1944 issue of Time magazine. After witnessing the Allied assault near the town of St.-Lo, France—and being caught there in very heavy bombing—as well as the liberation of Paris on August 25, Pyle decided to return to the United States for a rest and then head for the Pacific, where the Allies were still fighting the Japanese.

Off to the Pacific

At that time, it was estimated that Pyle had approximately forty million devoted readers around the world. On his return to the United States, he was courted by various newspaper companies but remained loyal to Scripps-Howard. He also turned down several offers to have his columns broadcast on radio. Pyle and his wife had been remarried (by long distance) while he was in North Africa, and he returned to their house in Albuquerque. Although at first it seemed as if Jerry was much improved, Pyle's hectic visit and plans to leave again upset her greatly. She made a suicide attempt, and had to enter the hospital again. Though worried about Jerry, Pyle left for the Pacific in January 1945.

After a short stay in Honolulu, Hawaii, Pyle flew to Guam and then on to Saipan (both islands in the Marianas chain in the South Pacific). There he spent some leisurely days with a young relative, Jack Bales (an airplane radio operator), and other pilots who were conducting regular bombing raids on Japan. Pyle also went for a cruise on a light aircraft carrier, the USS Cabot. In his columns, he wrote that the life of troops in the South Pacific seemed much easier than that of soldiers in Europe—the weather was pleasant and living conditions comfortable, everything moved at a slower pace, and there was little to see.

For the first time, Pyle's writings drew negative criticism, especially from enlisted men who claimed he had spent all his time with officers and had not tried to see or portray the grittier realities of the war in the Pacific. Pyle promised that he would try harder to do so.

"I'm not coming back… "

The Allies planned to invade the Japanese island of Okinawa, and Pyle decided that he would go along with the marines when they landed. "I'm not coming back from this one," he told a friend. Pyle traveled to Okinawa aboard the ship Panamint and stepped ashore on April 1. Since most of the fighting was taking place further inland, the beach was quiet.

On April 17, Pyle decided to go to Ie Shima, a tiny island that the marines had invaded the previous day. He spent the night on the island, and the next morning he climbed into a jeep with several other men to drive inland. They had been driving for a short time when they heard the sound of a Japanese machine gun, so they all jumped out of the jeep and into a ditch. When Pyle raised his head, the Japanese sniper fired again, shooting him in the left temple and killing him instantly.

Pyle's many friends and admirers—including the millions who had gotten to know him through his columns— were stunned by his death. Only six days earlier President Roosevelt had died and the new president, Harry S. Truman (1884-1975; see entry), said, "The nation is quickly saddened again by the death of Ernie Pyle."

His body was initially buried on Ie Shima, but it was later moved to lie among army and navy dead in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu. On Ie Shima, soldiers placed a plaque that reads "At this spot, the 77th Infantry Division Lost a Buddy, Ernie Pyle, 18 April 1945."

Where to Learn More


Miller, Lee G. The Story of Ernie Pyle. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1950.

Nichols, David, ed. Ernie's War: The Best of Ernie Pyle's World War II Dispatches. New York: Random House, 1986.

O'Connor, Barbara. The Soldier's Voice: The Story of Ernie Pyle. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books, 1996.

Tobin, James. Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to World War II. New York: The Free Press, 1997.

Wilson, Ellen Janet Cameron. Ernie Pyle, Boy from Back Home. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962.

Web sites

"Ernie Pyle." Access Indiana Teaching & Learning Center. [Online] Available (March 4, 1999).

Ernie Pyle was America's favorite war correspondent during World War II. He earned the soldiers' respect by living just as they did, and he gained million of readers with his gracefully written newspaper columns about the war.

Up Front with Bill Mauldin

While Ernie Pyle used words to help Americans back home imagine how soldiers lived and what they thought, Bill Mauldin drew cartoons that also brought their wartime experiences to life. His two most famous characters, Willie and Joe, provided a peek into the realities of army life and combat in World War II.

Born in 1921 in Arizona, Mauldin was already a budding cartoonist when, at age eighteen, he joined his state's National Guard unit, which became part of the 45th Infantry Division. He saw combat in Sicily (an island off the southern coast of Italy) and was part of the fighting at the bloody battle at Anzio beach in Italy, as well as other frontlines.

Mauldin became known as someone who could capture in pictures and captions the true feelings and experiences of ordinary soldiers. Even though he often made fun of the "brass" (commanding officers), they decided his drawings were good for morale (made the soldiers feel better about their situation). In 1943 Mauldin got a job as cartoonist for the army newspaper Stars and Stripes.

He continued to travel with the troops, portraying them through the characters of Willie and Joe. They started out as fairly neat, clean-shaven young men but appeared more bedraggled, tired, dirty, and unshaven as the months passed and the Allies fought hard battles against the Germans.

Criticized for making American soldiers look so messy, Mauldin claimed, "I draw our guys like that because that's the way they are." After so much fighting and death, he said, "they've aged ten or fifteen years." Ernie Pyle also defended Mauldin: as a caption for a photo of a ragged, weary soldier, he wrote, "So you at home think cartoonist Bill Mauldin's 'GI Joe' doesn't look that way. Well, he does, and here's proof."

Mauldin's cartoons were collected in a book, Up Front, in which he explained his attitude toward the men depicted in his work: "I'm convinced that the infantry is the group in the army which gives more and gets less than anybody else. I draw pictures for and about the dogfaces [a common nickname for GIs] because I know what their life is like….They don't get fancy pay, they know their food is the worst in the army because you can't whip up lemon pies or even hot soup at the front, and they know how much of the burden they bear."

After the war, Mauldin returned to civilian life and became a political cartoonist.

Ernie Pyle

views updated Jun 08 2018

Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle (1900-1945) was America's most beloved and famous war correspondent during World War II. His sympathetic accounts of the ordinary GI made him the champion of American fighting men.

Born in a little white farmhouse near Dana, Indiana, on August 3, 1900, to William C. and Maria Pyle, Earnest (Ernie) Taylor Pyle later wrote in one of his columns: "I wasn't born in a log cabin, but I did start driving a team in the fields when I was nine years old, if that helps any." He attended Indiana University for three and a half years, majoring in journalism because his classmates considered it "a breeze."

A few months before graduation in 1923 he quit college to take a job as a cub reporter on the La Porte (Indiana) Herald-Argus. Soon after, he was hired as a copy editor by the Washington Daily News. There he met Geraldine Siebolds of Stillwater, Minnesota. In 1926 they were married. Pyle quit his job, drew out his savings to purchase a Model-T Ford roadster, and the young couple began the first of their many driving trips together around the United States. Ending their vacation in New York City, Pyle went to work as a copyreader on the Evening World and on the Evening Post. In 1928 he returned to the Daily News as telegraph editor, then aviation columnist, and from 1932 to 1935 as managing editor.

Wearied of desk work, Pyle started writing pieces as a roving reporter for the Scripps-Howard chain of newspapers in 1935. In the next six years he and his wife, known to millions of readers as "that girl who rides with me, " travelled over 200, 000 miles "by practically all forms of locomotion, including piggyback, " Pyle wrote in one of his columns in 1940. Visiting every country in the Western Hemisphere but two and crossing the United States some 30 times, "we have stayed in more than eight hundred hotels… flown in sixty-six different airplanes, ridden on twenty-nine different boats, walked two hundred miles, gone through five sets of tires and put out approximately $2, 500 in tips." Each day's experience became material for a column: a Nebraska town on relief, old men with wooden legs, a leper colony, Devil's Island, zipper-pants difficulties. Written simply and sensitively, like a letter to a friend back home, they revealed the world to millions of farm-bound and pavement bound Americans who could never make such journeys.

In the fall of 1940 Pyle flew to London to report the Battle of Britain. His vivid, grim accounts of England under Nazi German bombings tore at his readers' hearts, and the "little fellow"—I weigh 108 pounds, eat left-handed, am 28 inches around the waist, and still have a little hair left"—previously content to write about little things soon eclipsed the seasoned war correspondents in his cables back home. When American troops arrived in Europe, Pyle lived with them in Ireland; when they went into combat in Africa, his columns communicated all the hurt, horror, and homesickness the soldiers felt. Then Pyle marched with American troops in Sicily and Italy and landed with them in Normandy, France.

His warm, human stories about the Gls became a daily link between the fighting men and millions of American newspaper readers. His writings were read in some 300 newspapers in the United States like personal letters from the front. Throughout the war Pyle championed the common soldier; he spoke the ordinary Gl's language and made it a permanent part of American folklore. His published collections of columns, Here Is Your War and Brave Men, quickly became best-sellers and were purchased by Hollywood as the basis for a motion picture on Pyle's wartime career entitled "Gl Joe." Although his dispatches never glorified war, Pyle, more than any other correspondent, helped Americans to understand the true heroism and sacrifices of the Gls in battle.

In January 1945 Pyle went to report on the war in the Pacific. He did not relish going. He had already achieved fame and wealth. He had frequent premonitions of death—"I feel that I've used up all my chances, and I hate it. I don't want to be killed." But he journeyed across the Pacific to begin writing from foxholes again "because there's a war on and I'm part of it.… I've got to go, and I hate it." He landed in Okinawa with the Marines and trudged along the trails with the foot soldiers. On April 18, 1945, while riding a jeep toward a forward command post on the island of le Shima to cover the front-line combat, Ernie Pyle was hit by a Japanese machine-gun bullet in his left temple. He died instantly. Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal announced Pyle's death the next day, saddening the many Americans who eagerly read his column each day and all those servicemen who thought of him as their friend and spokesman. President Harry Truman best summed up Pyle's meaning to the World War II generation of Americans: "No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told. … He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen."

Further Reading

Ernie Pyle's character and personality are clearly communicated in his writings: Ernie Pyle in England (1941), Here Is Your War (1943), and Brave Men (1944). His wartime reporting is analyzed in John Morton Blum, V Was for Victory, Politics and American Culture During World War II (1976) and in Richard R. Lingeman, Don't You Know There's a War On? The American Home Front 1941-1945 (1970). In a title that highlights Pyle's work, David Nichols edited Ernie's War: The Best of Ernie Pyle's World War II Dispatches (1986). Biographical data appears in his obituary in the New York Times (April 19, 1945).

Additional Sources

Faircloth, Rudy, "Buddy, " Ernie Pyle, World War II's most beloved typewriter soldier, Tabor City, N.C.: Atlantic Pub. Co., 1982.

Melzer, Richard, Ernie Pyle in the American Southwest, Santa Fe, N.M.: Sunstone Press, 1996. □

Pyle, Ernie

views updated May 21 2018

Pyle, Ernie (1900–1945), American journalist of World War II.A native of Dana, Indiana, Pyle worked on a local paper before joining the Washington [D.C.] Daily News in 1923, initially covering aviation and later serving as managing editor. In 1935, Pyle began a syndicated column for the Scripps‐Howard organization, describing his experiences motoring around the United States. Over the next four years, his stories focused on the lives of average citizens.

In 1940, Pyle received his first wartime assignment from Scripps‐Howard, covering the Blitz in England. Two years later, he started reporting on the North Africa Campaign and followed U.S. combat troops to Sicily, Italy, and France. Widely respected by both the public and the average G.I., Pyle succeeded in conveying a sense of the hardship, fear, and endurance of the individual soldier, with a special focus on the combat infantryman. At the height of his fame, his columns were carried by over 400 daily newspapers. In 1944, he won the Pulitzer Prize, and Time magazine featured him on its cover.

In 1945, Pyle, at the behest of the navy, shifted to covering the Pacific theater. He was killed by enemy fire on the island of Ie Shima near Okinawa on 18 April 1945.
[See also News Media, War, and the Military.]


Frederick S. Voss , Reporting the War: The Journalistic Coverage of World War II, 1994.
James Tobin , Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to World War II, 1997.

G. Kurt Piehler