The Legacy of Ernie Pyle

This column originally was published in the April 2014 edition of The Columnist, the members’ newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Editor’s Note: April 18, Friday 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 celebrate? Remind family, friends, colleagues and readers to treat you nice. Also, consider writing about our profession, or Pyle’s legacy for publication on the 18th.

By Gerald “Jerry” Maschino
Ernie Pyle Foundation

Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle began his journalist career as a newspaper reporter but soon wanted to branch out from the daily office routine and explore the countryside. He spent his early years traveling and talking to ordinary people, telling their stories in a easy narrative manner. Ernie became very good at this, wrote several books about his travels and newspapers started printing his articles.

About this time, the climate in Europe was changing, dictators rose up, war broke out and soon the United States entered the war following the Pearl Harbor attack. Ernie wanted to enlist, but his friends convinced him to get involved as a correspondent and tell the stories of the soldiers. Ernie found his niche, spending time with the infantry and lived with them in the trenches and their foxholes. He was able to convey the feelings of the combat soldiers to the families back home, their battles and what they missed. Mothers waited each day to read Ernie’s columns to see if there was any mention of their sons or relatives. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt commented she “would not miss that column any day” if she could help it.

Commenting on Ernie Pyle, author John Steinbeck stated, “There are really two wars, and they haven’t much to do with each other. There is the war of maps and logistics, of campaigns, of ballistics, armies, divisions, and regiments — and that is General [George C.] Marshall’s war. Then there is the war of homesick, weary, funny, violent, common men who wash their socks in their helmets, complain about the food … and lug themselves through as dirty a business as the world has ever seen and do it with humor and dignity and courage — and that is Ernie Pyle’s war. He knows it as well as anyone and writes about it better than anyone.”

Today we still have wars. Journalists carry on the best traditions of reporting with styles different from Ernie Pyle’s but with a similar commitment to those at home. The Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation was founded by his family members to prevent his memory from fading and to keep this legacy alive. The foundation is dedicated to building awareness of his journalistic accomplishments with younger generations, and gaining the support of those who connected with his writing during World War II.

Foundation initiatives are under way:

  • Encouragement of relationships with journalists and particularly those responsible for reporting conflicts around the globe.
  • Working with the School of Journalism at Indiana University, Pyle’s alma mater.
  • Association with the Ernie Pyle World War II Museum in his birthplace of Dana, Ind.
  • Establishing a social media presence including Facebook and Twitter as means of promotion and inquiry.
  • Announcing the foundation to the public, through activities such as press conferences communicating significant new foundation developments.
  • Jointly sponsor activities with news organizations, the military and museums.
  • Establish opportunities for donor support of the foundation’s activities.
  • Organize and promote the 70th anniversary of Ernie Pyle’s death. The event to be held at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, on April 18, 2015. A memorial stone will be dedicated honoring Ernie, the infantry and the journalists who told their stories.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Ernie Pyle Foundation and its mission, go to its website at erniepylefoundation.

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