Monday, February 04, 2008

Ernie Pyle death photo & D-Day column

(Welcome visitors from Black Five and Mudvile Gazette. )

My vote for best WW II correspondent goes to Ernie Pyle. Of the many great correspondents who covered the war, none did a better job of conveying the ordeals and sacrifices of our military and the war’s meaning for America and the rest of the world.

Today the AP reports:

The figure in the photograph is clad in Army fatigues, boots and helmet, lying on his back in peaceful repose, folded hands holding a military cap. Except for a thin trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth, he could be asleep.

But he is not asleep; he is dead. And this is not just another fallen GI; it is Ernie Pyle, the most celebrated war correspondent of World War II.

As far as can be determined, the photograph has never been published. Sixty-three years after Pyle was killed by the Japanese, it has surfaced — surprising historians, reminding a forgetful world of a humble correspondent who artfully and ardently told the story of a war from the foxholes. …
The rest of the AP’s story is here. Attached to it is a story reporting Pyle’s death and reaction to it. It begins:
"COMMAND POST, IE SHIMA, April 18 (AP) — Ernie Pyle, war correspondent beloved by his co-workers, GIs and generals alike, was killed by a Japanese machine-gun bullet through his left temple this morning. ...

The news stunned a nation still mourning the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt six days earlier. Callers besieged newspaper switchboards. "Ernie is mourned by the Army," said soldier-artist Bill Mauldin, whose droll, irreverent GI cartoons had made him nearly as famous as Pyle.

He was right; even amid heavy fighting, Pyle's death was a prime topic among the troops.

"If I had not been there to see it, I would have taken with a grain of salt any report that the GI was taking Ernie Pyle's death `hard,' but that is the only word that best describes the universal reaction out here," Army photographer Alexander Roberts wrote to Lee Miller, a friend of Ernie and his first biographer….
As JinC Regulars know, each year as part of my D-Day tribute I quote from Pyle’s D-Day column. Written June 7 Pyle described the previous day’s battle on Omaha Beach and his thoughts as he walked the beach after the fighting had moved inland.

The column, which Pyle titled "A Pure Miracle," was held by military censors for five days and then published in America on June 12, 1944. It follows in full:

In this column I want to tell you what the opening of the second front in this one sector entailed, so that you can know and appreciate and forever be humbly grateful to those both dead and alive who did it for you.

Ashore, facing us, were more enemy troops than we had in our assault waves. The advantages were all theirs, the disadvantages all ours. The Germans were dug into positions that they had been working on for months, although these were not yet all complete.

A one-hundred-foot bluff a couple of hundred yards back from the beach had great concrete gun emplacements built right into the hilltop. These opened to the sides instead of to the front, thus making it very hard for naval fire from the sea to reach them. They could shoot parallel with the beach and cover every foot of it for miles with artillery fire.

Then they had hidden machine-gun nests on the forward slopes, with crossfire taking in every inch of the beach. These nests were connected by networks of trenches, so that the German gunners could move about without exposing themselves.

Throughout the length of the beach, running zigzag a couple of hundred yards back from the shoreline, was an immense V-shaped ditch fifteen feet deep. Nothing could cross it, not even men on foot, until fills had been made.

And in other places at the far end of the beach, where the ground is flatter, they had great concrete walls. These were blasted by our naval gunfire or by explosives set by hand after we got ashore.

Our only exits from the beach were several swales or valleys, each about one hundred yards wide. The Germans made the most of these funnel-like traps, sowing them with buried mines. They contained, also, barbed-wire entanglements with mines attached, hidden ditches, and machine guns firing from the slopes.

This is what was on the shore.

But our men had to go through a maze nearly as deadly as this before they even got ashore. Underwater obstacles were terrific. The Germans had whole fields of evil devices under the water to catch our boats.

Even now, several days after the landing, we have cleared only channels through them and cannot yet approach the whole length of the beach with our ships. Even now some ship or boat hits one of these mines every day and is knocked out of commission.

The Germans had masses of those great six-pronged spiders, made of railroad iron and standing shoulder-high, just beneath the surface of the water for our landing craft to run into. They also had huge logs buried in the sand, pointing upward and outward, their tops just below the water. Attached to these logs were mines.

In addition to these obstacles they had floating mines offshore, land mines buried in the sand of the beach, and more mines in checkerboard rows in the tall grass beyond the sand. And the enemy had four men on shore for every three men we had approaching the shore.

And yet we got on.

You can read more about Ernie Pyle as well as some of his WW II columns at this site hosted by Indiana University's Journalism School.

Special thanks to JinC Regular AC

Ernie Pyle (August 3, 1900 - April 18, 1945) RIP


Anonymous said...

It just happened that I spent the past weekend reading a collection of Pyle's WWII columns, so to see this picture today is rather startling. By the way, there is an excellent treatment of the subject of Pyle's "The Death of Captain Waskow" at
and I highly recommend you read it.