August 3 marks the birth of famed American journalist Ernie Pyle, best known for reporting from the many front lines of World War II.
He was the most celebrated correspondent of the war, appealing to millions of readers back home who read his column six days a week. Parents, siblings, children and wives all had a better understanding of what their heroes were going through because of Pyle. And that’s just how he wanted it.
Pyle’s wartime colleagues mostly wrote about politics or strategy—“the big picture.” Or they churned out profiles on wartime VIPs. But Pyle sought to tell the story of the ordinary soldier. He wanted people to know the sacrifices our fighters were having to make.
From the front lines of France, Italy, Africa and the Pacific, Pyle was there, notebook in hand, hunkered down with troops in the trenches. President Harry Truman once said no one more than Pyle “told the story of the American fighting men as American fighting men wanted it told.”
In 1944, Pyle won a Pulitzer Prize for the reporting he’d done the year before while in Italy. It was an honor few journalist then—or now—ever receive. The 44-year-old writer had also published a book that year, which had begun to earn him wealth. And he reconnected with his estranged wife.
But none of that would keep him at home. The day after the D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy, Pyle walked the blood-stained shores, recording in his mind and on paper the tragedy of it all.
“Here are torn pistol belts and canvas water buckets, first-aid kits and jumbled heaps of lifebelts,” he wrote. “I picked up a pocket Bible with a soldier’s name in it, and put it in my jacket. I carried it half a mile or so and then put it back down on the beach. I don’t know why I picked it up, or why I put it back down.”
When he left France, he was spent—physically, mentally and emotionally. He’d spent more than two years overseas, and half that time was on the front lines. He wrote in a column, “I don’t think I could go on and remain the same.”
But with a little rest, he did go on. Pyle wrote that he felt he was a part of the war, and that he couldn’t stay away. By 1945, he’d made his way to the Pacific theater, where the U.S. forces were fighting the Japanese.
On April 18, just a few months before the official end of the war, Pyle was on the small island of Ie Shema, just off the coast of Okinawa where he’d spent time with U.S. Marines. He was traveling by jeep with a Marine colonel to a new base when shots rang out. Pyle was killed instantly by sniper fire.