History can be remembered by those who were there, or by those who took the time to capture it in story, photo, song or video.
Ernest Taylor Pyle is one of those people who left his small mark in the history books as a war correspondent, giving his sweat and blood to tell the stories of the fighting men of World War II before his life in combat April 18, 1945.
Pyle spent a brief period of his young adulthood in the U.S. Navy during WWI. He later found his niche in journalism.
His skill soon drew him back to the military as a war correspondent, informing those back home of the patriotic fighting and sacrifices made.
“Among WWII war correspondents, Ernie Pyle was the best in his time and over the war,” said Richard Pyle, Associated Press writer (No relation). “Since then he has remained the standard by which others may be judged.”
Pyle said Ernie’s had his would-be imitators, but nobody ever did the job exactly the way he did, nor did it as well.
Ernie covered the German bombing blitz in London in 1941 and spent the rest of the war covering U.S. forces in combat.
He also covered the fighting forces in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and finally in the Pacific, where he covered the invasion of Okinawa on April 1, 1945, said Pyle.
Ernie showed the world the true picture of an infantryman fighting in the war.
“What made Ernie Pyle different was that he spent all his time with the line troops, telling their stories in his Scripps-Howard newspapers columns almost as if writing letters to the folks back home,” Pyle said. “He didn’t glorify war or wave the flag, he told how miserable war was for the ordinary soldiers, and how they endured and survived, believing in their cause and looking out for each other.”
Pyle said there were other reporters in World War II who wrote about soldiers and Marines the way Ernie did, but nobody else was as good at it or had the same kind of impact on the military or the American people.
“He said he didn't hang out with generals, or write about the ‘big picture’ because he didn't know anything about it,” Pyle said. “Actually, he did know a lot of generals and was on good terms with some of them, especially Omar Bradley, but he didn’t see them, or the war's grand strategy, as the story he wanted to write.”
During Ernie’s time as a correspondent he wrote several books about the war and the men and woman who fought for their country.
The titles of his books, which were mostly compilations of his columns, were “Here is Your War,”
“Brave Men” and “Last Chapter,” which told the stories of those around him.
“One measure of Ernie Pyle may be that he was well liked by his colleagues despite his fame,” Pyle said. “When Hollywood decided to make a movie about him in 1944, he agreed only on the condition that other reporters be contracted to play themselves on screen.”
The Movie, titled “The Story of G.I. Joe,” was based on the book “Here is Your War” and stared Burgess Meredith as Ernie Pyle.
Another of Ernie’s many accomplishments was winning the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished war correspondence during 1943.
With all his accomplishments set aside, it was not enough to pull him away from his writing and devotion to those who he fought with.
“Ernie was killed by a Japanese machine gun bullet on April 18, with the Army's 77th Infantry Division on Ie Shima, a small island off Okinawa,” Pyle said. “He was buried there a day after he was killed but moved to Punchbowl in 1949.”
The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, better know as Punchbowl, was dedicated Sept. 2, 1949, but the gates were opened to burial July 19, 1949.
“The gates were open to the public at 9:30 a.m. and services were held for five war dead,” said Retired Marine Corps Col. Gene Castagnetti, director of the NMCP. “An unknown serviceman, two Marines, an Army lieutenant and a middle-aged veteran of WWI were the first to be buried in the cemetery.”
The middle-aged veteran was Ernie Pyle, who was laid to rest and is now surrounded by more than 35,000 others who’ve served their country.
Castagnetti said it’s one of the greatest honors to be buried in Punchbowl and Ernie’s gravestone is one of the most viewed graves in the cemetery.
“I respect the fact that in his writings he took the time to describe what combat was like from the lowliest man who had to fight that war,” Castagnetti said. “He talked about the young men who fought in WWII and the feelings they went through.”
History will live on through the words of many, but the lives of others will live on through the stories of Ernie Pyle.