Ernie Pyle

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Ernie Pyle in 1945

Ernest Taylor "Ernie" Pyle (August 3, 1900 – April 18, 1945) was an American journalist who was known for his columns as a roving correspondent from 1935 for the Scripps Howard newspaper chain, especially during World War II, when he reported both from Europe and the Pacific, until his death in combat on a Pacific island. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1944.

His travel articles, about the out-of-the-way places he visited and the people who lived there, were written in a folksy style, much like a personal letter to a friend; many were collected in Home Country (1947). By the war, he enjoyed a following in some 300 newspapers and was among the best-known American war correspondents in Europe.

Early life and World War I[edit]

Pyle was born to William Clyde Pyle and Maria Taylor near Dana, Indiana on August 3, 1900. After attending local schools, he joined the United States Navy Reserve at age 17. Pyle served three months active duty before World War I ended; he finished his reserve service with the rank of Seaman Third Class.

After the war, Pyle attended Indiana University, traveled to the Orient with his fraternity brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and edited the Indiana Daily Student newspaper.[1] He did not graduate; with only a semester left at Indiana, he accepted a job at a paper in LaPorte, Indiana.

He worked there for three months before moving to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the tabloid newspaper, The Washington Daily News, as a reporter.[2] All the editors were young, including Editor-in-Chief John M. Gleissner (one of Warren G. Harding's drinking buddies); Lee G. Miller (later author of An Ernie Pyle Album – Indiana to Ie Shima); Charles M. Egan, Willis "June" Thornton; and Paul McCrea.[3] Pyle was named managing editor of the Washington Daily News and served in the post for three years, all the while fretting that he was unable to do any writing.

Marriage and family[edit]

In Washington, he met Geraldine "Jerry" Siebolds and they married in 1925. He described her later as his "fearful and troubled wife."[citation needed] They had a tempestuous relationship. Jerry suffered from intermittent bouts of mental illness and alcoholism. Pyle described her as "desperate within herself since the day she was born".[citation needed]

American road trip and columns[edit]

In 1926, Pyle tired of working at a desk and quit his job. He and his wife headed out on the road to see America in a Ford roadster. The Pyles traveled more than 9,000 miles before Ernie returned to his job with the Daily News.[2] In 1928, he became the country's first aviation columnist, a position he served for four years. The famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart summed it up: "Any aviator who didn't know Pyle was a nobody."[4]

In 1932 Pyle became managing editor of the Daily News. Two years later, he spent time on a leisurely trip to California to recuperate from a severe bout of flu. Upon his return, the paper's journalists suggested that he write some columns about his trip to fill in for the vacationing syndicated columnist Heywood Broun. The series of eleven columns was a hit.

G.B. ("Deac") Parker, editor-in-chief of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, said he had found in Pyle's vacation articles "a Mark Twain quality that knocked my eye out".[citation needed] In 1935, the Scripps-Howard Alliance offered the chance to write a national column, and he gave up his tasks as managing editor. He wandered around the country and the Americas in his car, writing columns about the unusual places and people he met in his ramblings. Select columns were collected and published posthumously in Home Country (1947).

Never satisfied with his writing, Pyle suffered from bouts of deep depression.[5] He continued writing the daily column until 1942, after the United States' entry into World War II.

World War II[edit]

European theater[edit]

Pyle became a war correspondent and applied his intimate style to war reporting. Instead of recounting the movements of armies or the activities of generals, Pyle generally wrote from the perspective of the common soldier. This approach gained him additional popularity and the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Among his most widely read and reprinted columns is "The Death of Captain Waskow." His wartime writings are preserved in four books: Ernie Pyle In England, Here Is Your War, Brave Men, and Last Chapter.

Ernie Pyle – US Army photo at Anzio, 1944. Photo Credit – USAMHI
This is a picture from WWII of Ernie Pyle with a tank crew from the 191st Tank Battalion, US Army at the Anzio Beachhead in 1944.

After his return to the United States for a vacation, he wrote to his college roommate, Paige Cavanaugh: "Geraldine was drunk the afternoon I got home. From there she went on down. Went completely screwball. One night she tried the gas. Had to have a doctor."[5] The two were divorced on April 14, 1942. They remarried by proxy while Pyle was in Africa on March 10, 1943.[5]

In 1944, Pyle wrote a column urging that soldiers in combat get "fight pay" just as airmen were paid "flight pay." Congress passed a law authorizing $10 a month extra pay for combat infantrymen. The legislation was called "The Ernie Pyle bill."

He reported from the United States, Europe, Africa, and the Pacific. He witnessed the liberation of Paris in August 1944.[6]

He interrupted his reporting several times by leaves to return home to care for his wife while they were still married. He also had to recuperate from the stresses of combat; he was nearly killed in the accidental bombing by the Army Air Forces at the onset of Operation Cobra near Saint-Lô in Normandy in July 1944.[7] Pyle publicly apologized to his readers in a column on September 5, 1944, that he had "lost track of the point of the war", and that another two weeks of coverage would have seen him hospitalized with war neurosis. He hoped that a rest at his home in New Mexico would restore his vigor to go "warhorsing around the Pacific".[8]

Pacific theater[edit]

In planning to cover the US activities in the Pacific, Pyle butted heads with the U.S. Navy; it had a policy forbidding the use of the names of sailors in reporting. He won an unsatisfying partial victory as the ban was lifted exclusively for him.[9] His first cruise was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Cabot. He thought the crew had an "easy life" in comparison to that of the infantry in Europe[10] and he wrote several unflattering portraits of the Navy.[11]

Ernie Pyle shares a cigarette with Marines on Okinawa.

Fellow correspondents, newspaper editorials, and G.I.s criticized Pyle for giving apparent short shrift to the difficulties of the naval war in the Pacific.[12] During the tiff, he admitted that his heart was with the infantrymen in Europe,[9] but he persevered to report on the Navy's efforts during the invasion of Okinawa. He was noted for having premonitions of his own death; he predicted before landing that he would not be alive a year hence.[13]

Death and burial[edit]

death photo of Ernie Pyle.
Funeral for Ernie Pyle.
memorial on Site of Ernie Pyle death.

On April 18, 1945, Pyle died on Iejima (then known as Ie Shima), an island northwest of Okinawa Island, after being hit by Japanese machine-gun fire.[14] He was traveling in a jeep with Lieutenant Colonel Joseph B. Coolidge (commanding officer of the 305th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division) and three other men. The road, which ran parallel to the beach two or three hundred yards inland, had been cleared of mines, and hundreds of vehicles had driven over it. As the vehicle reached a road junction, Japanese troops began firing a machine gun located on a coral ridge about a third of a mile away. The men stopped their vehicle and jumped into a ditch. Pyle and Coolidge raised their heads to look around for the others; when they spotted them, Pyle smiled and asked Coolidge, "Are you all right?"[citation needed] Those were his last words. The machine gun began shooting again, and Pyle was struck in the left temple (the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site in Dana, Indiana, contains a telegram from the Government to Pyle's father stating Pyle was killed by a sniper). The colonel called for a medic, but none was present. It made no difference as Pyle had been killed instantly.[citation needed] Eleanor Roosevelt, who frequently quoted Pyle in her newspaper column, My Day, took note of his death.[15]

He was buried with his helmet on, in a long row of graves among other soldiers, with an infantry private on one side and a combat engineer on the other. At the ten-minute service, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps were all represented.[5] Americans erected a monument to him at the site. When Okinawa was returned to Japanese control after the war, the Ernie Pyle monument was one of three American memorials they allowed to remain in place.[clarification needed]

The Ernie Pyle Memorial on the island of Iejima northwest of Okinawa Island.

Pyle's remains were later reinterred at the Army cemetery on Okinawa. Lastly, they were reinterred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific located in Honolulu. Pyle was among the few American civilians killed during the war to be awarded the Purple Heart, which is noted on his gravestone.

Legacy and honors[edit]

The Ernie Pyle Library in Albuquerque
Ernie Pyle's headstone at his final burial site in Oahu, Hawaii

B-29 Superfortress –The Ernie Pyle[edit]

The Ernie Pyle Boeing B-29

The employees of Boeing-Wichita, through the 7th War Loan Drive, paid for and built a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Serial Number 44-70118, and dedicated it on May 1, 1945 as The Ernie Pyle.[24] The Ernie Pyle was ferried to the Pacific War Theater by a crew commanded by Lieutenant Howard F. Lippincott (USAF Lt. Colonel, ret, dec) and Lieutenant Robert H. Silver (dec). Initially assigned to the Second Air Force, Kearney Air Force Base, it was sent to the Twentieth Air Force, Pacific Theater of Operations, on May 27, 1945. The nose art was removed when the aircraft reached its intended operations base in the Pacific, as the base commander thought it would become a prime target of the Japanese. The Ernie Pyle survived the war and was returned to the United States on October 22, 1945. It was stored at Pyote AAF TX and disposed of as surplus on March 25, 1953.


Their life consisted wholly and solely of war, for they were and always had been front-line infantrymen. They survived because the fates were kind to them, certainly – but also because they had become hard and immensely wise in animal-like ways of self-preservation.

The best way I can describe this vast armada and the frantic urgency of the traffic is to suggest that you visualize New York city on its busiest day of the year and then just enlarge that scene until it takes in all the ocean the human eye can reach clear around the horizon and over the horizon. There are dozens of times that many.[25]-On preparations to invade at Normandy


  1. ^ Miller 1946 pp. 13–15
  2. ^ a b Miller 1946
  3. ^ Miller 1946 pp. 16–17
  4. ^ Johnson, Owen V. (April 15, 2005). "Ernie Pyle: 60 years after his death". Indiana University School of Journalism. Retrieved June 21, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b c d Miller, Lee G., The Story of Ernie Pyle, New York: Viking Press 1950
  6. ^ Nicholas Rankin (2011) Ian Fleming's Commandos: The Story of 30 Assault Unit in WWII.
  7. ^ Tobin, p. 196.
  8. ^ Tobin, p. 201.
  9. ^ a b Tobin, p. 234.
  10. ^ Tobin, p. 228.
  11. ^ Tobin, p. 231.
  12. ^ Tobin, p. 236.
  13. ^ Tobin, p. 238.
  14. ^ Nichols, David (1986). Ernie's war: the best of Ernie Pyle's World War II dispatches. New York City: Random House. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-394-54923-1. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b U.S. Department of the Interior. "Ernie Pyle's Home a National Historic Landmark". Archived from the original on January 25, 2007. Retrieved October 31, 2006. 
  17. ^ "Lake Worth Couple to Make Ernie Pyle Pilgrimage 30th", The Lake Worth Herald, May 21, 1970
  18. ^ Second to None! The story of the 305th Infantry in World War II, Washington: Infantry Journal Press (1949), p.162. Photo caption: "We pay our final respects to Ernie Pyle, the Doughboy's best friend."
  19. ^ Smithsonian National Postal Museum: 16-cent Pyle
  20. ^ ( Ernie Pyle Elementary School)
  21. ^ Ernie Pyle Elementary School
  22. ^ Ernie Pyle Middle School, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  23. ^ "US 36". Highway Explorer – Indiana Highway Ends. Retrieved 2013-04-27. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ The War | Pbs


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