Remember an American icon


(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

In the winter of 1945, Ernie Pyle was already a household name across America. In a weary nation longing for an end to a world war, Pyle’s dispatches from the front in Africa and Europe had provided people back home with a glimpse of what life was really like for the GIs fighting against the forces of Nazisim and fascism.

As a veteran columnist turned war correspondent, Pyle possessed a special ability to connect with eager readers. They felt like he was writing them a personal letter.

As a correspondent for the Scripps-Howard News Service, Pyle’s columns were being published in more than 500 daily and weekly newspapers by the time 1945 rolled around. His words reached into every part of the land.

At age 44, however, the strain of working on the front lines in difficult conditions had worn him down. He had done his job, and done it well. Nazi Germany was about to fall, and he needed a rest. So he came home.

He was greeted with love and adulation from masses of Americans. He had been awarded the coveted Pulitzer Prize for his work. He was a sought-after speaker and writer.

Pyle’s bosses at Scripps, as well as his friends and associates, felt like the time had come for him to give up the war correspondent title and transition into a new phase of his journalistic life.

But he pressed on, feeling an obligation to give his insight and experience covering the war to the fighting forces in the Pacific. His final assignment was covering the Battle for Okinawa in the spring of 1945. As was his style, he insisted on going to the front and seeing battle action firsthand.

On April 18, 1945, 75 years ago Saturday, Ernie Pyle was killed by Japanese machine-gun fire as he toured the remote island of Ie Shima near Okinawa. The war ended less than four months later. He is buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The Ernie Pyle story resonates with all Americans, but especially with Hoosiers. A child of the Midwest, Pyle was born on a farm near the tiny town of Dana, Indiana, in Vermillion County. He attended college and studied journalism at Indiana University-Bloomington. For decades, the journalism school at IU carried his name. A statue depicting Pyle at work as a war correspondent sits outside the front doors of the new IU Media School.

America in 2020 is observing the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. With the generation that fought and survived the war vanishing quickly, it is an opportunity to once again salute and honor all those, living and dead, who served their country and helped preserve our democratic way of life.

It also allows us again to pause and reflect on the life of a courageous individual, a native son of the Wabash Valley, who served the war effort by telling the important stories of those who sacrificed so much for their country.

Ernie Pyle. Hoosier. Journalist. American icon.

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