Ernie Pyle Critical Essays

Introduction

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Ernie Pyle 1900-1945

(Full name Ernest Taylor Pyle) American journalist.

A career newspaper man, Pyle is best remembered as a populist war correspondent who documented the experiences of the regular soldier. Unlike his contemporaries, who reported the war in terms of broad strategic events, or by profiling generals and political leaders, Pyle focused on the many small struggles of infantrymen and tried to give the war a human face. His compassion earned him great popularity in the United States, and his death in battle elevated him to the status of war hero.

Biographical Information

Pyle was born on his parents' small farm outside Dana, Indiana, on August 3, 1900. He enlisted in the navy immediately after graduating from Helt Township High School in 1918, but he was never sent overseas. The following year he enrolled at the University of Indiana in Bloomington, where he took his first post as a reporter, working for the school newspaper, The Student. He eventually rose to become editor-in-chief of both The Student and the campus humor magazine, The Smokeup. Without completing his senior year, Pyle left college to take a job reporting for the La Porte Herald. During his three-month tenure there he placed an article in the paper describing a Ku Klux Klan rally, despite attempts to intimidate him. Pyle left Indiana to work for the Washington Daily News, first as a reporter and later at the copy desk. In 1925, Pyle married Geraldine Siebolds. They settled briefly in New York, but Pyle was back at the Washington Daily News by 1927. He was made a full-time aviation columnist in 1929, and managing editor three years later. Pyle wrote a popular column about his travels throughout America, criss-crossing the country a number of times in the process, and in 1939 Scripps-Howard syndicated the column. By this time, Pyle determined to go to Europe to cover the war first-hand. He left for London in late 1940 and his dispatches were a great success back in the United States. The columns were collected and published by Scripps-Howard in 1941 after Pyle had returned. During his absence, Geraldine had become increasingly depressed and alcoholic, and they divorced in 1942. Pyle returned to Europe, then moved on to North Africa, but he remained in contact with Geraldine and eventually remarried her by proxy in 1943. In the months that followed, Pyle traveled to Italy and then back to England. He was one of the twenty-eight correspondents who covered the D-Day invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944 and followed the Allied armies to Paris. His distinguished correspondence during this period won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1944, as well as two honorary degrees. After a brief sojourn in the United States, during which Geraldine suffered a relapse and was hospitalized, Pyle went to cover the war in the Pacific in 1945, landing with the troops at Okinawa. There, on the island of Ie Shima, he was shot in the head by a Japanese sniper. President Truman awarded him the Medal of Merit posthumously, and his remains were moved from Ie Shima to the National Memorial Cemetery in Punchbowl Crater, Hawaii.

Major Works

Pyle's most famous single column, describing the death of Captain Henry T. Waskow at San Pietro, appeared on front pages across the country in 1943, filling the entire front page of the Washington Daily News. Scripps-Howard released a number of compilations of his columns; his London visit is documented in Ernie Pyle in England; the collection of his African correspondence, Here is Your War, became a bestseller and was adapted for the screen as "The Story of G.I. Joe." Around this time the U. S. Congress passed "The Ernie Pyle Bill," raising combat pay by ten dollars a month. His account of D Day and the European war was released in 1944 under the title Brave Men. Pyle's Pacific dispatches were posthumously collected in Last Chapter. His prewar writings were assembled and published by Scripps-Howard in the 1947 collection, Home Country.

Critical Reception

Pyle wrote columns that met with popular approval. One of his earliest columns, reporting the death of pilot Floyd Cox in a plane crash, brought in a flood of letters from readers across the country; this was the type of success Pyle enjoyed. He avoided polarizing political questions, and he did no historical evaluation of the events he covered. Modern historians regard him more as a contemporary source of information about public opinion than as a critical observer.