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World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle celebrated as 'the GI reporter'

Ernie Pyle sits at his typewriter in this undated photo from World War II.

U.S. NATIONAL ARCHIVE

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: April 18, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — Seventy-five years ago today, famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle was felled by a Japanese machine gun on Ie Shima off Okinawa in the waning days of World War II.

The 44-year-old was riding in a Jeep with three officers when the Nambu gun rattled off its rounds. The men dove into a ditch, and when Pyle raised his head to have a look, a bullet from another burst struck him in the temple.

As a journalist, Pyle, who provided vivid firsthand descriptions from the front with a focus on the GIs who were fighting there, attained notoriety and an audience like no other war reporter before or since.

President Harry Truman equated Pyle's death to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died six days before, wrote James Tobin in "Ernie Pyle's War."

"The nation is quickly saddened again by the death of Ernie Pyle, " Truman had said.

An editor at the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain said Pyle "went into war as a newspaper correspondent among many correspondents " and came back "a figure as great as the greatest--as Eisenhower or MacArthur or Nimitz, " related Tobin.

"Americans in great numbers had shared his life all through the war, " Tobin wrote. "Through Pyle's eyes they had watched their 'boys' go to distant wars and become soldiers." His folksy style endeared him to many.

Ernest Taylor Pyle, who served in the Navy, is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as Punchbowl, under the same type of simple marker that adorns the graves of thousands of other veterans.

His grave is between two "unknown " service members, noted Jerry Maschino, executive director of the Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation.

Pyle's body was moved from Okinawa to Punchbowl on the orders of top military brass. But where he wound up is an outcome he would have desired "because he wanted to be with the soldiers, " Maschino said.

Maschino, a California resident, said a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Pyle's April 18, 1945 death was planned at Punchbowl. About 200 people were expected to attend, but the event was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Instead, the foundation will post the eulogy delivered by Honolulu Press Club President Buck Buchwach at Punchbowl on July 19, 1949, when Pyle and four service members were buried.

In it, Buchwach said Pyle, all of 110 pounds at one point, was "the GI's reporter " and a "little guy who loved the little guy." More than 2, 000 people attended the service.

The Indiana native was a roving reporter for Scripps-Howard in the latter half of the 1930s, traveling with his wife to many locations to write about life, including Hawaii.

In late 1940, he traveled to London to report on Germany's Blitz bombing campaign and subsequently covered American operations in North Africa, Sicily and France before heading to the Pacific.

In 1943 in northern Tunisia, Pyle famously wrote about "the God-damned infantry, as they like to call themselves."

"I love the infantry because they are the underdogs. They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars can't be won without."

Tobin said Pyle reveled in the "magnificent simplicity " of the front, "where normal life's rules evaporated."

"Though comfortable with the brass, he spent most of his time with enlisted men and junior officers. He dug slit trenches with them, ate meals with them, kibitzed with them, dove for cover with them when German planes appeared overhead, " Tobin wrote.

Pyle related much truth from the battlefield, but not the full extent of the carnage. He wrote about the "horrible waste of war " from the Normandy beachhead following the D-Day invasion in 1944.

"It was a lovely day for strolling along the seashore. Men were sleeping on the sand, some of them sleeping forever. Men were floating in the water, but they didn't know they were in the water, for they were dead. The water was full of squishy little jellyfish about the size of your hand. Millions of them. In the center each of them had a green design exactly like a four-leaf clover. The good-luck emblem. Sure. Hell yes."

That same year, Pyle won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting and was on the cover of Time magazine. But amid the accolades, Pyle struggled with alcoholism, depression, self-doubt and deadline pressure and a troubled marriage.

"Ernie and his GIs had made America look good, " Tobin said. "The Common Man triumphant, the warrior with a heart of gold."

Combat was never as straightforward as that, and Pyle's depiction was "a way of bending reality into a sensible and bearable shape " to help Americans "through history's most grotesque and deadly ordeal, " Tobin wrote.

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