In 1945, New Mexico’s Legislature took the unprecedented step of declaring 3rd August to be Ernie Pyle Day, and now his relatives are hoping that they can convince the rest of the USA to follow New Mexico’s lead.
Most people have some vague knowledge that Ernie Pyle was a war correspondent during WWII, but would probably be hard pressed if asked to elaborate further. Pyle was born in Indiana on the 3rd August 1900, and upon leaving school at the age of 17, he joined the US Navy Reserve and served for the last three months of World War I. He completed his enlistment in the Reserve, and was discharged as a Seaman Third Class. He then attended Indiana University to study journalism, and was the editor of the student paper, The Indiana Daily Student.
He dropped out of university in 1923 and took a position as a cub reporter for the LaPorte Herald paper in Indiana. A few months later he moved from Indiana to take up a position with Scripps Howard’s Washington Daily News, where he debuted aviation news to the public. He involved himself with the pioneers of the aviation industry in the US, and proudly wore an engraved watch, given to him by Amelia Earhart, for most of his life.
He briefly filled the position of editor until he could convince the paper’s management to allow him to become a roving reporter. This proved to be a brilliant move and Pyle found his niche. For the next six years, he rambled around the country writing stories about the ordinary people and places that he came across. During this time he and his wife, Jerry, fell in love with, and settled in, Albuquerque.
When the war was declared, Pyle joined the troops and wrote about the ordinary GI. This slender, balding man who was rapidly approaching middle age joined the front line soldier firstly in North Africa, then in the invasion of Sicily, before moving to the D-Day landings and lastly the invasion of Okinawa.
After Normandy, Pyle was sorely tempted to return to the US and leave the horrors of war behind, but his compassion for the ordinary grunt would not allow him to return to the safety of his homeland, so he left for the Pacific theatre.
Whilst reporting from the Pacific, Pyle took on the censors of the Navy, forcing them to allow him to publish the names and hometowns of the men he wrote about. This amendment to the censorship policy allowed families back home to scour the paper and perhaps see the names of a son or husband quoted in one of his articles. Pyle was seen to be a confidant of the ordinary man, a truthful reporter of what he saw and felt, a friend to the man in the street.
The impact of his columns cannot be underestimated, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his writing in 1944, even though he did not believe that he had adequately conveyed the horror of war to his readers.
This brave reporter lost his life to a Japanese machine gun on the 18th April, 1945 as he was accompanying the 77th Infantry Division on the island of Iejima during the battle of Okinawa. His death was felt throughout the nation, and he was deeply mourned. In 1983, the 77th Army Reserve Command took the rare step of awarding a civilian, Ernie Pyle, a Purple Heart.
Today his memory has faded from the consciousness of the country as the people that lived through WWII gradually pass away, but his family is determined to raise awareness of him and his life again. Jerry Maschino, one of the three board members of the Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation, based in Gallatin, Tenn., sais in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal,
“A lot of people, if you ask them, ‘Do you know Ernie Pyle?’ will answer yes, but if you ask about specifics, they usually don’t know any, other than he was a war correspondent. … But there’s a lot more to Ernie Pyle than that.”
“Our mission is simple: Ensure the legacy of Ernie Pyle,” Maschino said. “We have a lot of avenues to do that. The short-term objective is to visit places and have events where we can bring a lot people together and present this idea of having a national Ernie Pyle Day.”
Their plans to find support for a National Ernie Pyle Day will start with a celebration at the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial on his birthday 3rd August 2017. This memorial is close to the Ernie Pyle Library which is housed in Erie’s old home at 900 Girard SE.
The festivities that will be held next year are still in the planning stages but a fellow journalist, Joe Galloway, co-author of the 1992 best-seller “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young”, will give the keynote speech at a luncheon. Galloway, like Pyle, reported on the horrors of war for United Press International and covered Vietnam War, the first Persian Gulf War, and the Iraq War.
Maschino is very upbeat about the proposed event saying, “Everyone’s been really receptive. It will be a great event for the whole state, the whole country.”