History & Culture

Ernie Pyle – At Thanksgiving

Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle – you either know him, or you shortly will. He died with the 77th Infantry at Okinawa, America’s preeminent war correspondent. He was at the front for years, Europe and Pacific, beloved by troops and families at home, voice of the common soldier. He lingers.

“The Last Chapter” is his lasts dispatches. I just finished the book. He died in April 1945, shortly before the war’s end. Maybe he comes to mind because we are again edging toward conflict – and in the Pacific. Maybe it is because I just lost a friend who served at CENTCOM, can-do like Pyle, unafraid, patriotic to his God-loving core, always putting others first.

Maybe it is that our society forgets so much, remembers so little. What we forget is worth multiples of what we recall. No war correspondent wrote, thought, or taught like Pyle. He was slight of build, but a giant – pure heart, spirit of a lion.

When he wrote, it was honest, seldom graphic, done in plain words, meant to tell the truth, convey the feeling, open a window on war for those far away – and bring hope. He could be funny, detailed, blunt, descriptive, and by turns irreverent and reverent.

His wife, whom he loved, divorced and remarried, whom he met at a Halloween party and never forgot, had his back as he had hers, but was forever in tumult – they both were. She knew what haunted him, knew how tough the mission, that he could live no other way, was a fighter and writer. Her name was Jerry.

The phenomenon that “was Ernie Pyle” seems worth remembering these days. He was a true blue, honest journalist. Where have they gone? If he wrote that a hill was taken on a particular day, moon was full, platoon 21, it was. He did not gild the lily, shape an untrue narrative.

Another reason his legacy lives is he understood human nature, got behind it, loved it, celebrated it, laughed and cried with it, and knew that – whether a private or general, the soldier was human. He would use full names, home addresses, and that tickled everyone at home.

He was a patriot, as all were. He personified the idea that America was not some country, but the loadstar, where men and women risked death to defend ideals. We were the undisputed leader, without whose unbending convictions evil would prevail. He did not believe that; he knew it. 

Pyle was something else. He was an unrepentant believer in doing the impossible. Perhaps this was uniquely American, but he saw horrors in Italy, France, and Germany, death across the Pacific, Iwo to Okinawa, before he died. He knew we did the impossible, and often.

Pyle knew that only those resolved to win, do win. Only those who understand they must win, who grasp what they are fighting for, who love freedom more than life, and who get respect for that love – win. He knew we could, should, and would. He watched us do that to the very end.

In April 1945, he could smell victory, although he would not live to see it. He knew Japan was done. He knew hard fighting lay ahead and stayed with it. He was wise in things most will never know, including the smell of death, literally and figuratively. But he did not flinch.

Perhaps the real reason Ernie Pyle lingers is that, in this age of indecision and division, unknowing and false knowing, self-absorption and distortion, questions about America’s greatness, and why we fight for what we believe – Pyle had none of that.

He knew we were like no other nation in history, centered on freedom, strong but moral, powerful and inspired, unbreakable because resolved not to break, no matter the cost. We were self-aware, grateful, worked as a team – by squad, platoon, company, battalion, brigade, division, army, navy, squadron, fleet – as a unified nation.

This is where I think this column leads. We need to remember the likes of Ernie Pyle, a humble, clear-eyed, and courageous believer in what we can be, should be, because he saw it up close, under pressure, when it counted, no excuses. He knew what we should know; we can be what we must be.

We are at that point, again. Maybe his life story, unshrinking devotion to our troops, country, those at home, those of us who would follow, resonates in a time of indecision and excuses.

We have no excuses, none that would carry water with Pyle, because people like Ernie Pyle educated us – and still do. Our job is not to excuse softness but to get hard, not to reward complaint but to be ready, not to dodge, weave, play politics or whine, but to focus and win.

Who knows why Pyle jumped off my bookshelf, demanding I read him again, maybe it is Thanksgiving. He was quick to give thanks – and would for your reading now.

Maybe it is the calendar. This week is Thanksgiving, and Pyle would be keenly aware of that date, as would his wife Jerry. He gave all for this country, died on April 18, 1945. Jerry was at home when she got the news, took it “bravely” – but for all their tumult, she could not linger. On November 23, 1945, 77 years ago, just after the 77th Infantry buried their friend, she joined him. Our job is to keep alive what they all fought for. It is not complicated, but it is vital.


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Vicki
8 days ago

Ernie Pyle was my husband’s grandmother’s 1st cousin. His family has never forgotten him.

Gerald Maschino
11 days ago

What a great article and the vision of Robert Charles to link Ernie Pyle to Thanksgiving. We at the Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation continue to ensure the legacy of Ernie. And we give thanks for the support of others who remember Ernie and what he has accomplished.

Dan W.
12 days ago

As I went through my parents library, I found a copy of Sergeant Bill Mauldin’s book Up Front with book jacket notes by Ernie Pyle.

Maudlin who was a contemporary of Pyle, fought with the infantry in Sicily and Italy and told their stories through the eyes of his characters, soldiers Willie and Joe. A vivid view of what the infantry was up against during WWII and well worth a read.

Philip Hammersley
12 days ago

Ernie was a childhood friend of my eldest uncle. They were born a month apart and a few miles apart in Vermillion County, IN.

Jeff
12 days ago

I read two of his books when I was in grade school, “Here is Your War” and “Brave Men.”Provided me with great insight to the sacrifices our country made during WW2.

Glen Strecker
12 days ago

We are thankful for those of the greatest generation who, like Pyle, fought and died to keep our nation and many others free from tyranny. He would be appalled to see what his beloved USA is trying to become today where politicians cheat their way into government only to steal from the taxpayers to enrich themselves and maintain their power over the people. He would be appalled by the attacks on the children at every turn by the abortion industry, groomers, sex traffickers, and those who try to brainwash them in our public schools into thinking the nation is evil and needs to be changed into some socialist, liberal utopia where people don’t even know what gender they are anymore and get offended when their fellow citizens guess wrong about how they now perceive themselves. He would be appalled that the government from the time of FDR onward made working people pay into Social Security thinking they were building a pension for themselves in their senior years only to be told when they reached retirement age that it had become a charity for old people with threats to cut them off if they did not vote the “right way”, meaning the left’s way. Meanwhile, the government has grown to prize those who refuse to work because their vote could be guaranteed through promises of welfare payments. Those of Pyle’s generation looked at welfare as a way to give their fellow man a hand-up not a handout and used it only to get back on their feet where they could support themselves again. I pray to God that He comes down soon to place this country back on the right track and removes all the criminals and corrupt politicians from our midst because for now, the USA is no longer the country I grew up in.

johnh
9 days ago
Reply to  Glen Strecker

Agree with most of this, but beware of both the Left&Right and their intentions with Social Security. Remember that Trump stated that if he was elected in 2020, he would roll this in to General Fund. The govt. owes a lot of money to this fund & also includes huge interest rate to fund.

Stephen Russell
12 days ago

2 bad Pyle didnt make it to ETO to see the Death Camps alone
Was subject in movie Battlefield, 1949 set at Bulge

Bill on the Hill
12 days ago

RBC… You couldn’t have picked a more appropriate time than right now to tell this story about Ernie Pyle, a true patriot in every sense of the word & this being Thanksgiving in just a couple short days away, is a well received reminder on what true patriotism is/was all about, Pyle, died ( 8 ) years before my birth as I have always respected this man’s service to his country, the men he gathered with in battle, his absolute dedication to reporting the TRUTH for all Americans & people around the world to behold…
Thanks again & a Happy Thanksgiving to all,
Bill… :~)

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