Sunday, May 27, 2012

Who was Ernie Pyle?

Ernest Taylor Pyle was born on a tenant farm near Dana, Indiana on August 3, 1900 and he was “KIA"- killed in action on Ie Shima, an island off Okinawa, after being hit by Japanese machine-gun fire on April 18, 1945.  As a 1944 Pulitzer Prize winning American journalist, Ernie Pyle wrote as a roving correspondent for the Scripps Howard newspaper chain from 1935 until his death in combat during World War II. All of his articles were written in a folksy style, much like a personal letter to a friend. His stories were about the out-of-the-way places he visited and the ordinary people who lived there. His various articles were printed in columns in some 300 newspapers.

Pyle became a war correspondent following the entry of the U.S. into World War II, he reported stories from the United States, Europe, Africa, and the Pacific. As a war correspondent Pyle applied his intimate “folksy” style to relate his stories from the “Front”. Pyle strove to write “tales” from the perspective of the common soldier, instead of stories from “behind-the-lines” of movements of armies or the activities of “The Brass”. His literary approach of telling the story from the point of view and in the language of the “common man/soldier GI Joe” won him not only further popularity but also the Pulitzer Prize.  His stories of the GI’s won him their love and affection.

From his time spent in the front lines and in fox holes of the combat soldier, he wrote a column in 1944 urging that soldiers in combat get "fight pay" just as airmen were paid "flight pay." The members of Congress were so pressed by their constituents that they passed legislation, known as "The Ernie Pyle bill" authorizing $10 a month in extra pay for combat infantrymen.

Many now attribute the actual first publicized case of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome to that which Pyle publicly apologized to with his readers in a column on September 5, 1944, for being hospitalized with a “war neurosis”. He stated that he had "lost track of the point of the war" and that he hoped that a rest in his home in New Mexico would restore his vigor to go "war horsing around the Pacific”.

Among his most widely read and reprinted columns is "The Death of Captain Waskow." His wartime writings are preserved in four books: Ernie Pyle In England, Here Is Your War, Brave Men, and Last Chapter.

When Pyle decided to cover events in the Pacific, he admitted that his heart was with the infantrymen in Europe. Pyle’s comments, of the “soft life”, of the sailors of US Navy in comparison to the infantry in Europe, was openly criticized by fellow War correspondents in newspaper editorials, and even by his beloved GI’s for giving apparent short shrift to the difficulties of the war in the Pacific.

On April 18, 1945 Pyle was traveling in a jeep with Lieutenant Colonel Joseph B. Coolidge (commanding officer of the 305th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division) and three other men. The road they were on ran parallel to the beach two or three hundred yards inland.  As the vehicle reached a road junction, an enemy machine gun located on a coral ridge about a third of a mile away began firing at them. The men stopped their vehicle and jumped into a ditch. Pyle and Coolidge raised their heads to look around for the others; when they spotted them, Pyle smiled and asked Coolidge "Are you all right?" Those were his last words as Pyle was struck in the left temple and was killed instantly.
Pyle was noted for having premonitions of his own death and predicted before landing that he would not be alive a year hence. Though a war correspondent Pyle was among the few American civilians killed during the war to be awarded the Purple Heart.

He was buried with his helmet on, laid to rest in a long row of graves among other soldiers on Ie Shima, with an infantry private on one side and a combat engineer on the other. The remains of Pyle and the other fallen Americans was later reburied at the Army cemetery on Okinawa and then moved to Honolulu in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. After the war, when Okinawa was returned to Japanese control the Ernie Pyle monument was one of only three American memorials allowed to remain in place.

The Death of Captain Waskow

AT THE FRONT LINES IN ITALY, January 10, 1944 – In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.

Capt. Waskow was a company commander in the 36th Division. He had led his company since long before it left the States. He was very young, only in his middle twenties, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.

"After my own father, he came next," a sergeant told me.

"He always looked after us," a soldier said. "He’d go to bat for us every time."

"I’ve never knowed him to do anything unfair," another one said.

I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow’s body down. The moon was nearly full at the time, and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley below. Soldiers made shadows in the moonlight as they walked.

Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed onto the backs of mules. They came lying belly-down across the wooden pack-saddles, their heads hanging down on the left side of the mule, their stiffened legs sticking out awkwardly from the other side, bobbing up and down as the mule walked.

The Italian mule-skinners were afraid to walk beside dead men, so Americans had to lead the mules down that night. Even the Americans were reluctant to unlash and lift off the bodies at the bottom, so an officer had to do it himself, and ask others to help.

The first one came early in the morning. They slid him down from the mule and stood him on his feet for a moment, while they got a new grip. In the half light he might have been merely a sick man standing there, leaning on the others. Then they laid him on the ground in the shadow of the low stone wall alongside the road.

I don’t know who that first one was. You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don’t ask silly questions.

We left him there beside the road, that first one, and we all went back into the cowshed and sat on water cans or lay on the straw, waiting for the next batch of mules.

Somebody said the dead soldier had been dead for four days, and then nobody said anything more about it. We talked soldier talk for an hour or more. The dead man lay all alone outside in the shadow of the low stone wall.

Then a soldier came into the cowshed and said there were some more bodies outside. We went out into the road. Four mules stood there, in the moonlight, in the road where the trail came down off the mountain. The soldiers who led them stood there waiting. "This one is Captain Waskow," one of them said quietly.

Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow beside the low stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally there were five lying end to end in a long row, alongside the road. You don’t cover up dead men in the combat zone. They just lie there in the shadows until somebody else comes after them.

The unburdened mules moved off to their olive orchard. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually one by one I could sense them moving close to Capt. Waskow’s body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him, and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear.

One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, "God damn it." That’s all he said, and then he walked away. Another one came. He said, "God damn it to hell anyway." He looked down for a few last moments, and then he turned and left.

Another man came; I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the half light, for all were bearded and grimy dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain’s face, and then he spoke directly to him, as though he were alive. He said: "I’m sorry, old man."

Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer, and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said:

"I sure am sorry, sir."

Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the dead hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes, holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face, and he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.

And finally he put the hand down, and then reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain’s shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. And then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.

After that the rest of us went back into the cowshed, leaving the five dead men lying in a line, end to end, in the shadow of the low stone wall. We lay down on the straw in the cowshed, and pretty soon we were all asleep.

Epilogue: In his last will and testament, Waskow wrote:

“ God alone knows how I worked and slaved to make myself a worthy leader of these magnificent men, and I feel assured that my work has paid dividends—in personal satisfaction, if nothing else.... I felt so unworthy, at times, of the great trust my country had put in me, that I simply had to keep plugging to satisfy my own self that I was worthy of that trust. I have not, at the time of writing this, done that, and I suppose I never will."

No comments:

Post a Comment