Ernie Pyle Dies in Combat
Today marks the anniversary of war correspondent Ernie Pyle’s death on a Japanese island off Okinawa in 1945. By all accounts, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was beloved by the troops whose battles he covered. I have two thoughts on this matter, the first totally personal.
I was conceived on my father’s last leave before he shipped out to Okinawa in 1945. I can’t imagine how he held up with a pregnant wife and two children at home. It is now common wisdom among historians that America did not have to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to hasten the end of the war. But that is not what we were taught in school when I was a kid. For a very long time, believing the necessity of these atrocities led me to thank God that my father made it home safely. If the war had continued much longer, I wondered and worried, would he have made it? Would I in fact have been born without him? So, Ernie Pyle losing his life near where my father was gives me the trembles.
Then there is the aspect of Ernie Pyle, reporter. There is no doubt of his valor, his skills, and his ability to relate directly to GI Joe. Interestingly, there is a parallel pecking order rank system between soldiers and war correspondents.
Combat soldiers are more likely to rise in rank faster than their rear echelon brethren. The battlefield depletes the ranks with WIAs and KIAs, thereby necessitating promoting a private to corporal, a buck sergeant to staff sergeant; heck, there used to be battlefield commissions where an enlisted man was promoted to officer because of demonstrated leadership qualities.
In the news business their are reporters, correspondents, and foreign correspondents who, almost by definition and default, become war correspondents if they choose to stay in the field. We need them. We need them to tell us the truth. Although I respect these men and women, I had one negative experience that soured me on them for years.
Once, after a lengthy battle to secure a wood line and set up an air drop zone we grunts were digging foxholes with our entrenching tools. One last helicopter drop landed to resupply our ammunition, water, and C-Rations. There was a cameraman with us all day filming the battle. He was getting ready to set up near the command post for the night when the choppers were about to leave. He gathered up his stuff and ran toward one of them.
I heard him say, “I’m getting out of here. There’s nothing going to happen here tonight.”
He was looking for the big story, the blood red film of combat action. He was there for “the prize.” I still resent that someone like he could just come and go as he pleased while, by the way, predicting whether or not there would be “action” at a given time and place.
Incidentally, he was wrong. There was plenty of action that night in the field.