The Ernie Pyle Story

Posted on 24 May 2015

Ernie Pyle


Born August 3, 1900, he entered the world as Ernest Taylor Pyle to William Clyde Pyle and Mary Taylor Pyle near Dana, Indiana.  He attended local schools and at age 17 enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve during World War I where he served three months active duty before the war ended.  After completing his tour of duty, he was Honorably Discharged with the rank of Seamen Third Class.


After leaving the Navy, he enrolled at Indiana University where he edited The Indiana Daily Student Newspaper, but one semester before graduating he accepted a newspaper position in La Porte, Indiana.  He worked there three months and then decided to move to Washington, DC – securing a job as a reporter for the Washington Daily News where he would later serve as Managing Editor for three years.


Ernie & Jerry PyleWhile in DC, he met and married Geraldine “Jerry” Siebold in 1926, whom he referred to as his “fearful and troubled wife.”  Theirs would be a rocky relationship due to alcoholism and mental stress.  In later life, he called her “That Girl” in his books and columns.


In 1926, he left the Daily News to take a break from his work.  In a Ford Roadster, he and his wife toured the United States traveling more than 9000 miles and seeing firsthand the scenic beauty of America, before returning to the Daily News in 1928.  He decided to write about aviation and became the first aviation columnist in the country.  The legendary Amelia Earhart stated “any aviator that don’t know Pyle is a nobody.”


As a columnist, Pyle wrote with the feelings and concerns of the subjects he featured in his columns, creating an unmistakeable trademark for his works in the literary world.  Although his columns had broad appeal and acclaim, he was his own worst critic.  He would later write a national series of columns on travel and unusual places of interest and the people he met while traveling the country for Scripps Howard Alliances in 1935 while continuing his daily aviation columns until 1940.


Ernie_Pyle_cph.3b088171940 marked a turning point in his journalistic career.  Assuming the role of a war correspondent, he traveled to London, England and witnessed the aerial attacks of the German Luftwaffe on the city.  In one of his inspired columns he wrote, “Someday when peace has returned to this odd world I want to come to London again and stand on a certain balcony on a moonlit night and look down upon the peaceful silver curve of the Thames with its dark bridges.  And standing there, I want to tell somebody who has never seen it how London looked on a certain night in the holiday season of the year 1940.”


With the United States entry into the War in 1941, he went to North Africa to cover the Campaign that marked America’s introduction to World War II.   It was instigated by England’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill who argued that, if successful, it would contain German expansion in Europe, block off vital shipping lanes in the Mediterranean, and provide a jumping off point to invade Sicily and Italy.  On November 8, 1942, American and Allied forces landed on North African beaches with Ernest T. Pyle war correspondent in tow.  The North African Campaign was his baptism of fire.


True to form, he settled in with the foot soldiers, many not yet battle hardened, and experienced the fears, anxieties, and uncertainties of those with whom he communed.  America’s first encounter with Field Marshall Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps was a disaster at Kasserine Pass that led to the change in command that resulted in the elevation of Brigadier General George S. Patton, Jr. to resolve the problems.


During those early days of the War, his personal views endeared him to his younger counterparts as he wrote their stories.  He earned the name of “Ernie” as they weathered the storm from North Africa to Tunisia where the battles for Messina, Salerno, San Pietro, Cassino, Anzio, Rome, Arno, North Apennines, and the Po Valley are etched in the blood of the American 5th Army.  And, with each battle came his stories about the fighting on the ground and the brave men who served.  Unlike other war correspondents, Ernie interwove the hopes, dreams, and fears of the soldiers into his stories.


Ernie's BoysAt the age of 42, he was considered an old man to the younger combat troops with whom he lived, ate, and slept.  You might say that he became a father figure watching over his sons and that his fatherly concerns became a part of the way in which he covered and conveyed the War to his readers.  He had witnessed a change in the psyche of “his boys” from the early days in North Africa to the battle hardened men they had become in the Italian campaign.


As the war dragged on, this revelation assumed an increasingly prominent position in his columns as he told the stories of the GI Joe’s and their War experiences.  During this era despite the demands of his role as war correspondent, he found time to write books on the subject, “Here is your War,” “Brave Men,” “Ernie Pyle in England,” and “Last Chapter.”  Two times during this period, he narrowly escaped death.  The first occurred  during an artillery barrage at Anzio; the second at Saint-Lo in Normandy during Operation Cobra when initial carpet bombing of the Hedgerow countryside by American and Allied bombers to open a path for the breakout of stalled American and Allied forces fell short of their marks onto American positions.


Although a veteran and war correspondent, Ernie despised the brutality of what he had witnessed, testing his sanity.  At this time, he received mental health treatment for “war neurosis.”  Following medical advice, he returned to his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  During his recuperation, he visited Hollywood and watched Burgess Meredith portray himself in the Hollywood production of “The Story of G.I. Joe.”  Always concerned with the common G.I., he initiated a campaign for combat pay for front line soldiers, an initiative that was subsequently passed by Congress and dubbed “The Ernie Pyle Bill.”


Once feeling better, he longed for a return to active duty – this time in the Pacific Theater.  The War in the Pacific was a naval war, and he had problems with naming seamen in his war correspondence.  After a brief tiff with the US Navy aboard the Aircraft Carrier USS Cabot, the ban was lifted exclusively for him making it a hollow victory.  In his correspondence, he expressed his feelings comparing sea duty to that of the infantry by calling it “Easy” which did not sit well with the Navy brass.


After the Battle of the Bulge, the War in Europe seemed to be winding down.  In the Pacific, we were knocking on the door of Emperor Hirohito, but on April 12, 1945, our beloved President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, Georgia.  Overnight, Vice President Harry S Truman assumed the presidency.


While our nation was still in mourning, six days later on April 18, 1945, news flashed around the world that Ernie Pyle was killed in action on a small island near Okinawa named le Shima.  He was with Lt. Colonel Joseph B. Coolidge, Commanding Officer of the 305 Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division, and three other men in a jeep when they drew enemy fire.  They stopped the vehicle and jumped into a ditch.  Once in the ditch, Ernie asked the Colonel, “are you all right?”  Those were his last words.  Enemy machine gun fire struck Ernie in his left temple, killing him instantly.


Ernie Pyle MarkerLater the 77th Infantry Division erected a monument with the inscription


At This Spot the 77th Division
Lost a Buddy
Ernie Pyle
18 April 1945


The story of G.I. Joe was one of the epic stories of our times and, strangely enough, two men from different walks of life followed the same path.  Both men could have walked away from World War ll with their heads held high, but both chose to return to the battlefield and both men paid the price.  These courageous men were USMC Gunnery Sergeant and Medal of Honor recipient John Basilone and war correspondent Ernie Pyle.


Both men are interred in National Cemeteries, John in Arlington, Virginia and Ernie in Punchbowl Hawaii (a.k.a the Arlington of the Pacific).  Both men were awarded the Order of the Purple Heart, and both men died the same year, 1945.


General Mark W. Clark paid tribute to Ernie Pyle in the following message:


Pyle Memorial“A great soldier correspondent is dead, perhaps the greatest of this war.  I refer to Ernie Pyle, who marched with my troops through Italy, took their part and championed their cause both here and at home.


His reporting was always constructive. He was ‘Ernie’ to privates and generals alike.  He spoke the GI’s language and made it a part of the everlasting lore of our country.  He was a humble man and in his humility lay his greatness.


He will be missed by all of us fighting with the Fifteenth Army Group.  There could have been only one Ernie Pyle.  May God bless his memory?  He helped our soldiers to victory.”


I am sure those sentiments on Ernie Pyle’s monument were felt by the countless number of surviving World War ll veterans that crossed his path during that “War to end all Wars.”

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3 Responses to “The Ernie Pyle Story”

  1. Jack S. Fogbound says:

    America’s greatness is dying, Men like George Patton, Ernie Pyle Douglas MacArthur Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley along with Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin, George Cohan and all the other men and women that have cast their shadows on this great land, are being lost in the passages of time. I guess even Historians are becoming old hat. When a country loses its history it ceases to be great. The new generation will grow up thinking all these accomplishments of man just happened.

  2. Dave Thistlethwait says:

    Congrats on the very good article that you have here.

  3. Brooks Michieli says:

    I am planning to cite this within my research essay.
    Regards. This is superb.

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