As seen in Stars and Stripes, 4/17/12
By Terri Barnes
NSNC Member and Military Wife
His was the first biography I ever read — at least the first one that had real chapters and more words than pictures. I was in the fifth grade, and I have not forgotten the story of his life, his writing and ultimately his sacrifice. His name was Ernie Pyle.
Faithful chronicler of military men on the front lines of WWII, Pyle covered the war from the Battle of Britain, even before the U.S. entered the war, to the D-Day invasion at Normandy, through campaigns in North Africa and Italy and to the cusp of victory in the Pacific.
His syndicated column appeared in hundreds of American newspapers, including this one. Pyle endeared himself to the fighting forces with his straightforward reporting of their lives. When he was killed near Okinawa by machine gun fire, a hand-lettered wooden sign reflected his status among servicemen. It read: “At this spot the 77th Infantry Division Lost a Buddy. Ernie Pyle 18 April, 1945.” A permanent marker bearing the same words still stands near the site.
Pyle’s work gave stateside readers a soldiers-eye view of the war. Troops on the battlefront read about themselves in his stories in Stars and Stripes, as the wartime editions followed the front lines throughout WWII. The paper’s staff and production physically accompanied the divisions as they fought their way forward.
The library and archive at Stars and Stripes headquarters in Washington, D.C., holds volumes of U.S. history recorded by the paper. The WWII papers fill several shelves. Labels on the spines of bound editions trace the advance of the Allies across Europe, from “London,” “Marseilles,” “Liege” and eventually to “Southern Germany.” Other editions covered northern Africa, the Mediterranean and later the Pacific theater.
“During WWII we had over thirty different editions. As the front changed throughout the war, new editions sprang up and others closed,” said Catharine Giordano, archivist and librarian for today’s Stars and Stripes.
The paper that carried Ernie Pyle’s words to the troops began publication in the European theater of operations exactly three years before his death. On April 18, 1942, the paper that served the troops in previous wars was drafted for duty in WWII.
That same morning, as the new Stars and Stripes rolled off the presses in London, Jimmy Doolittle and his Tokyo Raiders carried out the first bombing of mainland Japan. In 1945, publication of Stars and Stripes would arrive on the Japanese mainland as well. Both the European and Pacific editions have been in continuous publication ever since those wartime beginnings.
The day before his death, Pyle’s column in Stars and Stripes was about the sailors he met on board an aircraft carrier en route to what would be his final battlefield on Ie Shima, a tiny Pacific island.
“That’s the way things go in wartime,” he wrote, describing more than the sailors’ lives. Two days later, Stripes carried his obituary. Pyle died with an unfinished column about the recent victory in Europe tucked in his pocket. He missed seeing victory in the Pacific by four months.
The late Andy Rooney, a colleague and friend of Ernie Pyle, started his career as an enlisted combat reporter for Stars and Stripes in 1942. In an interview marking an earlier Stripes milestone, Rooney predicted that the paper had run its course. From his perspective, it was a wartime paper that served a wartime purpose — to inform the troops.
“It probably should have gone out of business after the war,” Rooney told a Washington Post writer in 1992, when Stripes had only 50 years to commemorate. It’s had 20 more since then.
“Do you think Stars and Stripes is on its way out?” a military friend asked me last week. Looming budget cuts have us all wondering how our lives will change. I don’t claim objectivity here, but as long as there is an American military community overseas, I hope we have an independent military newspaper that speaks to them and for them.
I never heard whether Rooney changed his mind about Stars and Stripes before his death last year. I’d like to think he would have if he had lived side-by-side with today’s military, telling their life stories, as he and his friend Ernie Pyle did for the troops 70 years ago.
Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three living in Virginia. Her column for military spouses, “Spouse Calls,” appears online and in Stars and Stripes print editions each week. Leave comments or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.