By Chuck Woodbury
I would like to tell you about Ernie Pyle. Unless you are 80 or older you have likely never heard of Ernie, who gained fame as a war correspondent during World War II. Sadly, he was killed by a sniper bullet shortly before the end of the war.
Ernie received a Pulitizer Prize for his war reporting during World War II. Unlike most of his peers, who filed their stories from a press room behind the lines, Ernie was out in the trenches, reporting on the “little guys” for Scripps Howard Newspapers. In doing so, he endeared himself to most soldiers and Americans back home who eagerly awaited each day’s dispatch.
But Ernie was writing about “little guys” well before the war, and that’s why I bring him up here. For seven years during the ’30s he wrote six columns a week for Scripps Howard Newspapers as he roamed America with his wife Jerry. He wrote about regular folks and out-of-the-way places that most journalists didn’t care about. His style was folksy and non-pretentious, and it wasn’t long before his name became a household word. His columns were like letters from a friend. Everybody loved Ernie.
I learned about Ernie Pyle shortly after I began exploring the West for my “on-the-road” newspaper Out West. Although I vaguely recalled his name from my college journalism classes, I was not familiar with him. I found a copy of his book Home Country in a used bookstore. After reading a few chapters I, too, fell in love with the little man from Dana, Indiana.
WHEN I LATER LEARNED that he had died during the war, my heart sank. I suspect millions of Americans felt the same way back in 1945, but probably much more acutely.
I wrote about Ernie in Out West. The story focused on my visit to the only home he ever owned, in Albuquerque (now a public library). I’d provide a link to that article, but I think it has flown off into a far, lost corner of Cyberspace.
If you are like me, and enjoy exploring the back roads, visiting out-of-the-way places, and chatting with the people you meet, you should thoroughly enjoy reading Ernie Pyle. You can probably find a used copy of Home Country at Amazon.com (click here). Ernie’s America is also excellent, a biography and a compilation of his best columns from the road.