View Full Version : Island off Okinawa holds annual event honoring newsman Ernie Pyle

04-22-04, 07:49 AM
Island off Okinawa holds annual event honoring newsman Ernie Pyle

By David Allen, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Tuesday, April 20, 2004

IE SHIMA, Okinawa — About a hundred people gathered on this tiny island off the northwest coast of Okinawa on Sunday to remember a newsman who brought war home in the most personal terms.

Ernie Pyle, a reporter who eschewed the safety of command posts and made a niche for himself in the foxholes of the frontline troops during World War II, died 59 years ago on his way to another battle.

As he rode in a jeep to what passed as the front in a ferocious battle for the island’s airstrip during the Battle of Okinawa, a Japanese machine gunner sprayed the vehicle. The jeep jammed to a stop and Pyle and the other passengers scrambled out, diving for ditches on either side of the dirt road.

When the shooting stopped, Pyle raised his head to ask a friend on the other side of the road if he was all right. A sniper’s bullet caught him in the head.

Pyle died four days after President Franklin Roosevelt passed away. To an American public nearing the end of that terrible war, news of both deaths was shattering, each in its own way.

“We followed his reports from Europe all through the war,” said Ed Zobreck, 73, a retired airman and one of a contingent of members of American Legion Post 28, which sponsored the event. “This is an important annual event for us.”

“I try to make sure I always come out here for this,” said Bill Damico, 71, a retired Marine who has been on Okinawa “off and on” since 1955.

“Ernie Pyle was a man who was down with the troops, down in the trenches with the guys,” he said. “He wrote simply, for the common man, so you could understand him and what the troops were going through.”

Pyle was a reporter for the Scripps-Howard Newspaper Alliance. His reports from the front were read by millions of Americans during World War II. He was so beloved by the GIs he covered, always making sure he got their names and hometowns right, that the men of the Army unit he was covering erected a monument on the spot where he was killed.

It says, simply: “On this spot the 77th Infantry Division lost a Buddy. Ernie Pyle, 18 April 1945.”

The site is owned by American Legion Post 28 and maintained by the small U.S. Marine detachment assigned to the island.

“No other journalist ever evoked such mass affection as Ernie Pyle did,” said Marine Brig. Gen. Frank A. Panter, commanding general of the 3rd Force Service Support Group, during the brief ceremony.

“He told the story of the American fighting man as the American fighting man wanted it to be told,” Panter said. “Ernie Pyle was the gold standard for the other combat correspondents.”

Panter said his mother, a WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during the war, recently told him about keeping up with the war news by reading Pyle’s columns.

“He just had a great love affair with the individual American soldier,” Panter said. “General Omar Bradley once said, ‘My men always fight better when Ernie’s around.’ ”

When he heard of Pyle’s death, Bradley remarked, “I have known no finer man, no finer soldier than he.”

Panter also quoted Pyle’s friend, Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck:

“There are really two wars and they haven’t much to do with each other,” Steinbeck told a reporter for Time. “There is the war of maps and logistics, of campaigns, of ballistics, armies, divisions and regiments — and that is General [George] Marshall’s war.

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

Today’s infantrymen still owe Pyle a debt of thanks. It was largely due to his columns from the front that Congress passed a bill (called the “Ernie Pyle Bill”) granting them combat pay similar to an airman’s flight pay.

“As our nation is involved in combat today, maybe we need another Ernie Pyle to tell their story,” Panter said.

On the ferry to Ie Shima, Panter talked about why it is important to remember Pyle.

“We need to teach our young people the significance of these things as our World War II vets grow older and their ranks thin. We need to remember their great sacrifices and one way to do that is to remember Ernie Pyle and read what he wrote.”

Jacob Ramke, 12, the son of an Air Force master sergeant, was one of 14 Boy Scouts from Troop 112 who took part in the memorial. He had a quick answer when questioned about why he was there.

“Ernie Pyle was a reporter who actually went out with the troops and wrote about everything they went through,” Ramke said.

The crowd at Sunday’s memorial was a mixed bag of Marines, Boy Scouts, graying veterans and Okinawa officials. Ie Shima Mayor Seitoku Shimabukuro laid the first wreath, as he has every year during his 15 years in office.

At the end of the ceremony, two Marines in dress blues played a haunting taps, the somber tune played over the graves of American soldiers since the Civil War.

Pyle’s letters revealed a foreboding that he wasn’t coming home when he reluctantly set out to cover the Pacific theater as the war in Europe wound down.

“What can a guy do?” he told a friend. “I know millions of others who are reluctant too and they can’t even get home.”

He said the war was bound to catch up to him sooner or later.

Death apparently was on his mind just before he made his umpteenth visit to a battlefield, this time on tiny Ie Shima. After he was killed, soldiers found the rough draft of a column he intended to submit when the war in Europe ended.

He wrote of “the unnatural sight of cold dead men scattered over the hillsides and in the ditches along the high hedgerows throughout the world.”

“Dead men by mass production — month after month and year after year,” read the column the soldiers pulled from Pyle’s pockets as his lifeless body lay in the ditch.

“Dead men in winter and dead men in summer,” he wrote. “Dead men in such familiar proximity that they become monotonous.

“Dead men in such monstrous infinity that you come to almost hate them.”



Who was Ernie Pyle?

To learn more about war correspondent Ernie Pyle, visit: history.sandiego.edu/gen/WW2Timeline/erniepyle.html


04-22-04, 09:13 AM
Conducted many "airfield seizures" and patrols on Ie Shima. Too bad we never got to see the memorial.

05-01-04, 11:29 AM
What I Always Wanted to Be

By Lawrence Henry
Published 4/30/2004 12:07:39 AM

The first good book I ever read, when I was about nine, was Ernie Pyle's Here Is Your War, dispatches from the North Africa campaign in World War II. During the war, Pyle held a place of regard and honor in American culture and letters comparable to that of Will Rogers. His Scripps-Howard columns ran in hundreds of newspapers. He was "one of us," the G.I.s said. When a Japanese sniper killed Pyle in 1945, the nation wept.

Nowadays, people know Ernie Pyle mainly as a name attached to various institutions. Our own Wlady Pleszczynski didn't know who he was till he (Wlady) arrived at Indiana University and found the J-school building named after Pyle. (Pyle was a Hoosier, born in 1900, and he left Indiana's journalism school a semester short of graduation.) There is the generically perceived "Ernie Pyle Award" for journalism. Actually, there are three. Scripps-Howard awards one to an outstanding journalism school student and another to working journalists for human interest writing. Anheuser-Busch awards another for "lifetime achievement" to various established notables like Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather.

The student award doesn't seem to be much of a predictor of journalistic success, or even of a career in journalism. I Googled the names of the 11 winners from 1990 through 2000. Nineteen ninety-three winner Janel Shoun seems to be the most widely published; she works, unsurprisingly, for Scripps-Howard. E. Knight Stivender, 1999 winner, minus the first initial these days, is a staff writer for the Nashville Tennessean. Nellan Young, winner in 2000, writes for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, with some of her articles syndicated by Scripps-Howard.

Nineteen ninety-six winner Catheryne Pully went to work right out of school as an aide to a Congressman, while 1998 honoree Carly Irion apparently competes in rodeos. Of the rest, nothing.

THAT'S ALL KIND OF A SHAME, because Ernie Pyle could really write. There in my grandmother's living room, reading in the dusty shafts of South Dakota light, I was mainlining the good stuff. One is tempted to quote whole sheets of Pyle, and I'm going to quote a lot, because he wrote in long strophes, not just one-liners, and all are worth reading today. The following come from Brave Men, Pyle's book about the Sicily invasion, the Italian campaign, the runup to Normandy, and the D-Day invasion itself.

Pyle could convey the awful grandeur of war:

"Suddenly we were aware of a scene that will shake me every time I think of it for the rest of my life. It was our invasion fleet, formed there far out at sea, waiting for us…On the horizon it resembled a distant city. It covered half the skyline, and the dull-colored camouflaged ships stood indistinctly against the curve of the dark water like a solid formation of uncountable structures blending together. Even to be a part of it was frightening."

He would describe things other writers did not think to describe, here, the firing of tracer shells from ships into the Sicily shoreline:

"A golden flash would appear way off in the darkness. Out of the flash would come a tiny red dot. That was the big shell. Almost instantly, it covered the first quarter of the total distance. Then uncannily it would drop to a much slower speed, as though it had put on a brake…It amazingly kept on in an almost flat trajectory as though it were on wheels being propelled on a level road. Finally after a flight so long it seemed unbelievable that the thing could still be in the air, it would disappear in a little flash as it hit something on the shore. Long afterward the sound of the heavy explosion came rolling across the water."

Pyle's readers loved his personal sketches of individual soldiers and sailors, which always included their addresses:

"Joe Raymer, electrician's mate first class, of 51 South Burgess Avenue, Columbus, Ohio, was a married man with a daughter four years old…Of medium height, he was a pleasant fellow with a little silver in his hair and a cigar in his mouth. Before the war, Joe was a traveling salesman, and that's what he intended to go back to. He worked for the Pillsbury flour people -- had the central-southern Ohio territory. He was a hot shot and no fooling. The year before he went back in the Navy he sold more pancake flour than anybody else in America, and won himself a $500 bonus."

Pyle could be funny, as in this description of his stay in a field hospital, where he found himself felled by a fever. His doctor had just gotten news of the birth of his second child:

"He was so overjoyed he gave me an extra shot of morphine, and I was asleep before I could say, 'Congratulations!'"

He could break your heart, as his own was broken:

"The dying man was left utterly alone, just lying there in his litter on the ground, lying in an aisle, because the tent was full. Of course it couldn't be otherwise, but the aloneness of that man as he went through the last minutes of his life was what tormented me. I felt like going over and at least holding his hand while he died, but it would have been out of order and I didn't do it. I wish now I had."

And in his description of awful weariness that overcame fighting men and correspondents alike, Pyle eerily prefigured his own death:

"We were grimy, mentally as well as physically. We'd drained our emotions until they cringed from being called out from hiding. We looked at bravery and death and battlefield waste and new countries almost as blind men, seeing only faintly and not really wanting to see at all."

ONE MORE INSTITUTION, now forgotten. Apparently April 18, the day Pyle died (sometimes reported as April 17, 1945, because of confusion over the International Date Line), is now Columnist's Day. Jed, Shawn, Bill, Wlady, who knew? A day for us.

I was lucky. There in my grandmother's living room when I was nine, reading Ernie Pyle, I found out what I wanted to be.

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.



05-18-04, 07:24 AM
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."
President Harry S. Truman

Ernie Pyle was born on Aug. 3, 1900, in a little white farmhouse near Dana, Ind., the only child of William and Maria Taylor Pyle.
They were simple people, content to spend their lives in the little white house on the dusty Indiana country road, as William Pyle's parents had spent their lives.

Ernest--they always called him that, and never "Ernie"--seemed destined to plod along in much the same way, except that he was restless, and his thoughts strayed from the family acres to far horizons.

Read More.