The Life of Ernie Pyle

I have a photo on this blog of Omar Bradley and Dwight D. Eisenhower with Ernie Pyle, and if you look closely, you can see the two generals are kind of sheepish. That’s because they’re getting their picture taken with Ernie Pyle.

It’s hard to explain what a big deal that was at that time. I guess one way to do it would be to say that Ernie Pyle was recognized by millions of American soldiers as the guy who was telling their story.

They had contempt for journalists who went in for “hero stuff.” They hated it. They hated war and destruction and the smell of death, and cursed the men who started it.

Ernie wrote about real people in real situations who were facing incredible carnage and deprivation and still getting the job done.

After the Allied victory in Tunisia, the First Armored Division presented Ernie with a captured Volkswagen “for sweating it out with us at Faid Pass.” He had to give it back later, but that says a lot.

Ernie was also recognized by many millions of Americans at home as they guy who explained things to them in language they could understand. We had some excellent war correspondents, but not one could compare with Ernie Pyle in their ability to communicate with the soldiers (and nurses and medics and engineers, etc.) and with the American public.

But Ernie, then in his fifties, had a jump on all the other journalists. He had been writing an “on-the-road” column for five years and had covered the blitz in London. His writing abilities had been finely honed and he had become, in my view, the finest American writer after Lincoln.

His description of the Christmas firebombing of London and his explanation of the American defeat at the Kasserine Pass in North Africa are among the finest pieces of writing that I have ever seen.

And every one of his dispatches is another example of what a decent man can do if he also happens to be a brilliant writer. But don’t take my word for it; read them! There are thousands. You could start with his books: Here is Your War and Brave Men.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Amerlia Earhardt were devoted fans. Ernie’s first book was made into a movie with Ernie played by Burgess Meredith. And Ernie wound up getting rich! His books sold like hotcakes. Alas, this was his undoing.