A historic picture of the original grave site of Ernie Pyle, famous World War II columnist and news journalist, surfaced recently on Facebook. It shows a long trench-like grave site where Pyle was originally laid to rest among other fallen soldiers. An unidentified soldier pays final respects in a place as simple and honest as Pyle’s writing and as bleak as death itself.
Scott Rinehart wrote: “I found the picture amongst my fathers photos with his handwritten description/inscription on the back. He was on the flagship for the Okinawa and Iwo Jima invasions.”
It’s an intersting story: On April 18, 1945, Pyle died on Ie Shima, an island off Okinawa Honto, after being hit by Japanese machine-gun fire. He was travelling 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, which ran parallel to the beach two or three hundred yards inland, had been cleared of mines, and hundreds of vehicles had driven over it. 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. The machine gun began shooting again, and Pyle was struck in the left temple. (However, the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site in Dana, Indiana, contains a telegram from the Government to Pyle’s father stating Pyle was killed by a sniper.) The colonel called for a medic, but none were present. It made no difference—Pyle had been killed instantly.
He was buried with his helmet on, laid to rest in a long row of graves among other soldiers, with an infantry private on one side and a combat engineer on the other. At the ten-minute service, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Army were all represented. Pyle was later reburied at the Army cemetery on Okinawa, then moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific located in Honolulu.
When Okinawa was returned to Japanese control after the war, the Ernie Pyle monument was one of only three American memorials allowed to remain in place. Pyle was among the few American civilians killed during the war to be awarded the Purple Heart.
Scott is the husband of NSNC Vice President, Karen Rinehart
In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of Pyle’s death, the NSNC marked the day for the first time. The society continues to honor the day each year.