A friend of mine died 72 years ago. He was gone before I was born, so he was not a friend in the traditional sense. It’s just that I have always thought of him that way. I first heard of him when I studied journalism in college. Then, in the early ’90s, I began to read his stories. I am talking about Ernie Pyle.
He was an uncommon journalist who gained fame and won a Pulitzer Prize as a World War II correspondent. While most of his peers reported behind the lines from press rooms, Ernie was in a foxhole with the soldiers — dirty, wet, cold, often scared. He would talk to the soldier next to him and that’s what he would write about. Readers back home loved him. Soon, Ernie was a household name, beloved by all.
His wartime columns appeared in hundreds of the biggest newspapers in America. Sadly, Ernie was killed by a stray bullet on April 18, 1945, just before war’s end. He was 44.
But what many people don’t realize is that Ernie would never have succeeded as a war correspondent had he not polished his writing skills in the 1930s in America as a roving journalist. He filed a column six days a week for Scripps Howard newspapers. His wife, Jerry, an alcoholic who battled depression, was with him. It was not an easy time for the couple, yet Ernie still managed to write brilliantly.
Ernie wrote mostly about regular people, just as he would later in the war. He was as much a storyteller as journalist. If he couldn’t find something to write about on a particular day, he would spin a yarn from memory, usually writing it in a cheap hotel room. He never missed a deadline.
I BELIEVE THAT RVers would enjoy reading Ernie’s dispatches from his travels in America. It’s an opportunity to experience, through Ernie, what it was like in our country more than 80 years ago. Read a snippet (left) of what Ernie wrote on a visit to California’s redwoods. It’s typical of his down-home style.
The best way to read Ernie’s stories today is to find a copy of his wonderful book “Home Country,” a collection of his best columns from the ’30s. It’s long out of print but you may find a copy at your library or a used bookstore. Amazon.com has a few dozen copies. If you can’t find “Home Country,” then get ahold of “Ernie’s America: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s 1930s Travel Dispatches.” As you read, I bet that you, like me, will feel you are reading a letter from an old friend.
More than any other author, past or present, when I am reading Ernie Pyle I feel like he’s right in the room with me.
Two places where you can learn firsthand about Ernie are at his boyhood home in Dana, Indiana, now named the Ernie Pyle World War II Museum, and in Albuquerque at the only home he ever owned, now a public library.
For another example of Ernie’s writing, take a few minutes to read his poignant World War II essay, “The Death of Captain Waskow.”
Read a little of what Ernie wrote and you will fall in love with the man.