National Columnists’ Day 2013: Honoring Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle on postage stampApril 18, Thursday this year, is National Columnists’ Day. The National Society of Newspaper Columnists created this holiday both for members but mainly as a flag to the world, reminding everyone of the journalistic and democratic importance of columns. We chose the date that Scripps Howard columnist Ernie Pyle was shot down in 1945, covering battles in the Pacific theater. How to honor this vital day? Why, buy a columnist a meal or just a beverage. If you’re that columnist — or a blogger writing column-like posts — eat or drink that treat and write about National Columnists’ Day. Pyle lives on in his home state of Indiana, and fellow Hoosiers work to keep his memory alive, as seen in the recent column below by Mike Leonard, 2002-04 NSNC president, reprinted with permission.

Ernie Pyle’s Place on IU Campus Still Subject of Conjecture, Debate

By Mike Leonard
Bloomington (Ind.) Herald Times

April 14, 2013 —  A casual conversation with an Indiana University student last week brought up a concern not voiced in two days of student protest over a variety of issues including college costs, the university’s support and commitment to diversity and a proposal to privatize parking on the Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses.

When I identified myself as a journalist, he said he was a journalism major, and I nodded toward Franklin Hall and said, “Well, that looks to be your new home.”

From my perspective, the proposed merger of journalism, telecommunications and communications and culture looks like a done deal, with only the details left to be worked out.

He winced and shook his head in disapproval. “But really,” I said. “Ernie Pyle Hall is full. They have people stuck in an annex and very little office space. No broadcast production facilities to speak of. They’re just waiting to remodel this building to what the departments will need. That part could be good.”

“Aw, man,” he said. “But it won’t have Ernie Pyle’s name on it. It won’t have Ernie Pyle Hall etched into the limestone. Here you have one of the most famous journalists in history, who’s an alumnus of IU, and they’re going to take that away?”

Provost Lauren Robel has said that Pyle’s name will “follow” journalism, whatever happens with the proposed merger, but I don’t know what that means. The passion for the symbolism and his pride in walking through the doors of Ernie Pyle reminded me of just how strong people feel about things other than the pragmatic decisions facing IU administrators.

This is a good time to ponder that, as we approach April 18, the date the famous Hoosier war correspondent was killed during World War II fighting in the South Pacific. The National Society of Newspaper Columnists recognizes the date each year as National Columnists Day.

Scholar Owen Johnson at Ernie Pyle's typewriter

In this photo from 2006, Indiana University journalism professor Owen Johnson (center) shows a typewriter that belonged to IU alumnus and columnist Ernie Pyle to Wes Cowan for his PBS series History Detectives.
Jeremy Hogan, Bloomington Herald-Times

“Many students don’t know the Ernie Pyle name when they first arrive at IU, but inevitably the students who study journalism have learned about the name because they have wondered who Pyle was,” journalism professor and Pyle scholar Owen Johnson said last week.

“After they graduated, they were proud to say that they had studied in Ernie Pyle Hall, because many journalists across the country still recognize the name Ernie Pyle. The love that alumni have for Ernie Pyle is demonstrated by their initial reaction when news of the merger broke. They formed a Facebook group to save Ernie Pyle Hall, not an independent School of Journalism.”

It’s a compelling point. The columnists’ society has been the one journalism group where I’ve found kindred spirits and made lifelong friends. As with IU journalism alumni, we bask in the glow of Pyle’s talent, achievements and flair for clear and compelling writing along with his great compassion for his subjects.

“Ernie Pyle’s name remains an icon for those who lived through World War II,” Johnson said. “Among many journalists, his name usually generates awe. His reporting was amazing, given that he hardly ever used a notebook. His best writing remains something great journalists aspire to.”

IU already has said it will not remove the name of longtime administrator Joseph A. Franklin from the old library building at Kirkwood and Indiana.

And it shouldn’t come down to the university diminishing Franklin’s contributions to IU to mollify those of us who want to keep Pyle’s name prominent.

Johnson has a few ideas, though.

“There’s an SPJ [Society of Professional Journalists] historic marker outside Ernie Pyle Hall that honors Pyle,” he said. “Pyle never studied in Ernie Pyle Hall [which was built to be a service building for the Indiana Memorial Union], so it would make sense to move that marker to the front of Franklin Hall, which is very close to where Pyle lived his freshman year [the 500 block of East Kirkwood].

“I would also suggest that IU commission a statue of Ernie Pyle to place outside Franklin Hall. We’ve already got statues of [IU’s 11th president] Herman B Wells and [songwriter] Hoagy Carmichael, who were students here at the same time that Pyle was. So why not Pyle?”

Why not indeed?

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