Okinawa’s military community turns out in force to honor war correspondent Ernie Pyle
Stars and Stripes April 17, 2023
IE SHIMA, Okinawa – Days after Army Col. Ned Holt got his license to drive in Japan, the newly minted 10th Support Group commander made a pilgrimage here to honor war correspondent Ernie Pyle, a man often referred to as the “soldier’s best friend.”
Holt, who took command in July, returned on Sunday to the spot where Pyle was felled by Japanese machine-gun fire to offer the keynote address at the annual ceremony honoring the Pulitzer Prize recipient.
Pyle became a household name during World War II for his dispatches from the front lines in North Africa, Italy and France. He is buried in Hawaii’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific alongside the troops he covered.
“I’ve been reading Ernie Pyle’s books since my early teens,” Holt said. “He has been a part of my life and continues to be.”
Pyle’s enduring legacy was apparent Sunday, two days before the 78th anniversary of his death, as around 50 American Legionnaires, Marines, local officials and Boy Scouts from Okinawa-based Troop 102 gathered around an obelisk to discuss the man and his place in military history. Lawrence Occomy, commander of Okinawa’s American Legion Post 28, said this year’s ceremony drew the most attendees in years.
“He would often capture the human side of war in a way that no other journalist has before,” Occomy said.
Pyle was born in 1900 near Dana, Ind., and served in the Navy Reserve at the end of World War I. He studied journalism at Indiana University before becoming a war correspondent for Scripps-Howard newspapers.
He traveled to London in 1940 to report on the German bombings known as the Blitz. It wasn’t long before he joined the American troops stationed there. He shared foxholes with U.S. troops as they drove across Europe.
Pyle was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for his coverage of the war.
After a short break from the action, Pyle joined the 77th Infantry Division as it bore down on Okinawa.
Pyle was killed on April 18, 1945, after the jeep he was riding in was fired upon by a Japanese machine-gun from a ridge above. He was buried near where he fell. His body was later moved to the national cemetery in Honolulu, commonly called the Punchbowl.
Pyle was mourned nationwide in the U.S. and was awarded a posthumous Purple Heart, a rare honor for a civilian.
The monument on Ie Shima is maintained by Post 28 and a Marine detachment on the island. The legionnaires have held memorial services at the site since 1952. Ie Shima is 3 ½ miles off the western tip of the Mobutu Peninsula of west-central Okinawa.
Holt grew emotional talking about the man who had such an impact on his life.
“When I got my first job and could buy books with my own money, I bought a couple of original editions of his books,” he recalled. When Holt arrived for a tour of Hawaii in 1999, his first stop was Pyle’s gravesite.
“He’s got an uncanny ability to tell the story through the soldier’s eyes and also tease out the big picture and what it all meant,” he said. “I recognized it when I was young. I think I’ve read everything he’s ever published.”
Tom Quinn, a retired Marine and motorcycle enthusiast who was riding with friends from American Legion Post 28, joined his family at the ceremony.
“He’s one of the most celebrated veterans that was on this island,” he said. “Him passing within this area here is significant so we got to pay respect.”
Nearby, Summer Hunter, 16, talked quietly with her mom and brother. The Hunters laid a wreath on behalf of Troop 102, Crew 28.
“I’ve learned that he was a great writer,” she said. “It’s always good to respect your history.”