Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle, the son of a farmer, was born in 1900. After studying journalism at Indiana University he found work on a small newspaper in La Porte, Indiana. In 1923 he moved to the Washington Daily News and eventually became the paper's managing editor.

In 1932 he was commissioned to write a travel column for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain. He did this until the outbreak of the Second World War when he became a war correspondent. He moved to England in 1940 where he reported on the Blitz for the New York World Telegram.

Pyle went with the US Army to North Africa in November 1942. This was followed by the invasions of Sicily and Italy. He also accompanied Allied troops during the Normandy landings and witnessed the liberation of France. By 1944 Pyle had established himself as one of the world's outstanding reporters and Time hailed him as "America's most widely read war correspondent."

John Steinbeck commented: "There is, the war of maps and logistics, of campaigns, of ballistics, armies, divisions, and regiments. Then there is the war of homesick, weary, funny, violent, common men, who wash their socks in their helmets, complain about food, whistle at Arab girls, or any other girls for that matter, and lug themselves through as dirty a business as the world has ever seen and do it with humanity and dignity and courage - and that is Ernie Pyle's war."

Pyle became disillusioned with the war and wrote to his wife: "Of course I am very sick of the war and would like to leave it, and yet I know I can't. I've been part of the misery and tragedy of it for so long that I feel if I left it, it would be like a soldier deserting."

In 1945 Pyle was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Later that year he went with US troops to Okinawa. On 17th April, 1945, Ernie Pyle was killed by a Japanese sniper while on a routine patrol on 17th April, 1945.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Ernie Pyle, Washington Daily News (10th May, 1943)

The main impression I got, seeing German prisoners, was that they were human like anybody else, fundamentally friendly, a little vain. Certainly they are not supermen. Whenever a group of them would form, some American soldier would pop up with a camera to get a souvenir picture. And every time, all the prisoners in the vicinity would crowd into the picture like kids.

One German boy had found a broken armchair leaning against a barn, and was sitting in it. When I passed he grinned, pointed to his feet and then to the chair arms, and put back his head in the international sign language for "Boy, does this chair feel good!"

This colossal German surrender has done more for American morale here than anything that could possibly have happened. Winning in battle is like winning at poker or catching lots of fish - it's damned pleasant and it sets a man up. As a result, the hundreds of thousands of Americans in North Africa now are happy men, laughing and working with new spirits that bubble.

(2) Ernie Pyle, Washington Daily News (10th January, 1944)

In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.

Capt. Waskow was a company commander in the 36th Division. He had been in this company since long before he left the States. He was very young, only in his middle twenties, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.

"After my own father, he comes next," a sergeant told me.

"He always looked after us," a soldier said. "He'd go to bat for us every time."

"I've never known him to do anything unkind," another one said.

I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow down. The moon was nearly full, and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley. Soldiers made shadows as they walked.

We went out into the road. Four mules stood there in the moonlight, in the road where the trail came down off

the mountain. The soldiers who led them stood there waiting.

"This one is Capt. Waskow," one of them said quickly.

Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow beside the stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally, there were five lying end to end in a long row. You don't cover up dead men in the combat zones. They just lie there in the shadows until somebody else comes after them.

The uncertain mules moved off to their olive groves. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually I could sense them moving, one by one, close to Capt. Waskow's body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear.

One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud:

"God damn it!"

Another one came, and he said. "God damn it to hell anyway!" He looked down for a few last moments and then turned and left.

Another man came. I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the dim light, for everybody was grimy and dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain's face and then spoke directly to him, as though he were alive:

"I'm sorry, old man."

Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tender, and he said:

"I sure am sorry, sir."

Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the Captain's hand, and he sat there a full five minutes holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face. And he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.

Finally he put the hand down. He reached up and gently straightened the points of the Captain's shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound, and then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.

(3) John Steinbeck, quoted in Lee G. Miller's book, The Story of Ernie Pyle (1950)

There is, the war of maps and logistics, of campaigns, of ballistics, armies, divisions, and regiments. Then there is the war of homesick, weary, funny, violent, common men, who wash their socks in their helmets, complain about food, whistle at Arab girls, or any other girls for that matter, and lug themselves through as dirty a business as the world has ever seen and do it with humanity and dignity and courage - and that is Ernie Pyle's war.

(4) Ernie Pyle, letter to his wife in 1945.

Of course I am very sick of the war and would like to leave it, and yet I know I can't. I've been part of the misery and tragedy of it for so long that I feel if I left it, it would be like a soldier deserting.