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SAIGON — More than 500 correspondents are working in Vietnam at the difficult and dangerous job of reporting the war, but there is no Ernie Pyle among them.

Twenty-two years have passed since the little man's luck ran out on the tiny island of Ie Shima. Those of us there never passed the grave at the side of the road without noting the inscription: "On this spot the men of the 77th Div. lost a buddy, Ernie Pyle."

Most of the young men fighting in Vietnam have never read Ernie's classic reports from North Africa, Europe and the Pacific.

Still, there is the feeling that he should be here. Someone like Ernie should be writing with the naked sensitivity needed to tell the people back home what it's all about.

Certainly there are no correspondents in Vietnam who reached the hearts of the troops as he did. The stars of the show this time are just that — hard-driving television celebrities who haven't heard the word "humility" since Arthur Godfrey fired Julius La Rosa.

At the same time no one can say the correspondents in Vietnam are not going all the way. The reporters and photographers who go out on patrols through the jungle are doing more deliberately dangerous work than Ernie was called upon to do.

And there is some room for doubt that Ernie's writings would fit in today as they did two decades ago when the people back home were two oceans away from the war. The napalm exploding in compatible color on the home screens has not gone unnoticed. This time the war is coming home intact and ugly for all to see.

A few writers in Vietnam have followed Ernie's style to a certain degree, but without any notable success. Among the old-timers, a piece about the lonely man inside the uniform is still called "an Ernie Pyle story."

It would be difficult to say why the Vietnam war has not produced a new Ernie Pyle. The "Brave Men" he wrote about are here, but the bridge seems to be missing.

Some correspondents feel it is the war itself that has made the difference. They say this is our most unpopular war and it hasn't been sold to the American public. This, they feel, has 1ed to a subconscious reluctance to read about the war and identify with the troops.

Too bad Ernie isn't here to write another "My Beloved Captain" and prove them wrong.

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