Re-re-reading Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle
Ernie Pyle

I’m re-re-reading Ernie Pyle’s two books ‘This is Your Wat” and “Brave Men, Brave Men.’ I’m not given to hyperbole, but I would like to say, on this third reading, that Ernie Pyle, in his quiet, unpretentious way, is one of the greatest writers in the history of the English language.

The value of his reporting, to the troops in the field, and to the American people was immeasurable, and the value of these two books, as a record of the American experience in World War II, is likewise immeasurable for historians and for anyone who wants to know what it was like.

I think these books should be required reading for every American. Frankly, I cannot imagine any other generation making the same sacrifices that these men and women made, but at least everyone should know how great they were.

And Ernie Pyle conveys the magnitude of that sacrifice better than anyone else because he was there.

Ernie was the first American to own a Volkswagen. It was given to him by the men of the First Armored Division for “sweating it out with us at Faid Pass.” He had to give it back later, but you get the idea. 

I posted a photo years ago of Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, and Ernie Pyle and Bradley and Eisenhower are looking sheepish because they’re having their picture taken with America’s favorite journalist.

Ernie and I had something in common. Our moms both had dementia, so we had a very similar experience, and he described if better than I could:

“I was so proud of my mom in the last years of her life. Brave warriors face death without fear, but what is death in battle compared to dementia? What’s it like to see your whole world — your house, your garden, your memory — swept away in a tidal wave of confusion that carries away your ability to make sense of the world.

To face that prospect with equanimity and determination, to hold fast to love and friendship and good humor, to be able, in spite of it all, to make a new friend and have a good laugh, to me that’s real courage. You bet I was proud. I still am.”

Perhaps the best example of Ernie’s writing style is his description of the blitz in London, before America had even entered the war.