Sunday, August 17, 2014

Please Meet Ernie Pyle

When I started teaching writing lab, I had never heard of Ernie Pyle. I had done a lot of WWII reading, and I was familiar with Bill Mauldin who drew famous cartoons and Andy Rooney who reported for newspapers during the war. So I was pleasantly surprised when our textbook had us study Ernie Pyle for writing clear details. My students knew little about WWII and thought war was some glorious Rambo romp. So I was thrilled to see them learn writing but also take a realistic look at war through this journalist’s eyes.

Pyle grew up in the flatlands of Middle America among the corn fields of Indiana. Last fall as we drove to Kentucky, I caught sight of a small sign near Dana, Indiana that mentioned Ernie Pyle’s home. I had DH put on the brakes! Dana itself was only a spot in the road surrounded by an ocean of corn. But there was a beautiful white house next to two Quonset huts serving as a museum. Unfortunately they were closed. But this month on a return to Kentucky, we routed ourselves right by Dana again to visit the Ernie Pyle Home and Museum.

Ernie Pyle was an only child. The home was moved into town from the farm where he grew up. It is reminiscent of all homes of the 1920 or so era. His mother pushed Ernie to get an education, and after graduating from college, Ernie went to work as a newspaper reporter. The rest is history. He never intended to cover war, but the work swallowed him and became his life for a few years. His approach was slightly different. He looked for the untold details, for the aftermath and suffering to humans that war cost. He was on the beach after the invasion of Normandy and painted pictures for readers not of gunfire or dead bodies but of letters from a mom covered in sand, an open Bible marked with favorite verses, a cigarette lighter, a dog lost and looking for the man he knew….heartbreaking details that moved readers beyond belief.

He never was a soldier but he lived a soldier’s life right with the armies. He was with infantry troops and lived their own rugged life. Pyle covered all of the war and wanted to quit, but one last venue remained. He had not covered the Pacific and there were still Americans fighting on islands. He wanted to give them coverage too. So he went. It was there that 44 year old Ernie Pyle was shot down and died.

                     Imagine a small boy doing his homework here while his mother peeled  apples or 
             canned corn. The kitchen was the center of activity for the Depression era homes.

Depression Era bedroom in the Pyle farm home. Note the quilt. Each block is a signed one. People paid a quarter to sign a block and then the church ladies quilted it and put the quilt up for raffle. They made $200 which was a load of money at the time. 

In Dana, Indiana you can tour his childhood home. The two Quonset huts are a delightful museum of his war life. There are constant running sound effects that one would have heard if they had stood in Pyle’s shoes during WWII. The sound of fighter pilots, bombers, exploding firepower, and grenades going off are not gruesome but so amazingly authentic that it adds to the museum experience. This museum is a tribute to a journalist, but also to a war hero too. It is so worth your time to visit here, and although it once was a state site, now it is run by the Friends of Ernie Pyle. They struggle to keep the doors open, but honoring a hero is always a good thing. We need more of them to look up to and to remember.

DH is never surprised anymore when I drag him off the beaten path. This time he thought “just another writer” site. But when the car pulled away he told me he was SO glad he saw this place and learned about Ernie Pyle. I definitely will be reading more about Pyle’s life, and I bet DH will too!  


Elephant's Child said...

Love it. Thank you. And a big thank you to Ernie Pile for covering the human face of war.

Sioux said...

Claudia--I had never heard of Ernie Pyle. Now I'm going to have to do some research on him. Thanks for sharing what you've learned about him over the years.

Terra said...

My dad was a reporter and editor when Ernie Pyle was reporting; that is how I learned of him. What a heroic man and I am glad you visited his home and shared about him here.

Donna Volkenannt said...

Hi Claudia,
Thanks for a wonderful post--a history lesson and lovely photos. I'm glad DH enjoyed your tour!

Martha said...

I've heard of Ernie Pyle forever. As one of the journalists of WW 2. I had forgotten that he was killed. If we ever get near Dana, we'll be sure to stop.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

I've heard of Ernie Pyle, but always in general terms. Your post makes me interested to learn more. Thanks, Claudia.

Jenny said...

How interesting!

I've never heard of him!

But I have that exact typewriter here at home!

Maybe I should try writing on it!

Perhaps that would unblock the block!

Linda O'Connell said...

This was fascinating, and I am so happy when you take your readers on your side trips, like this.

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Susan said...

Hi Bookie....Great photos. I can certainly picture Ernie sitting at the table while his Mom peels apples. I loved that kitchen What a fun tour! Thanks for sharing. Susan p.s. Thanks for stopping by. Always love having you visit.

Lynn said...

Claudia - I've been off the grid for a while, but loved both of your most recent posts. Your grandchildren with the goats reminded me when we took our grandson to the children's zoo and a goat went after him. We picked him up and although he could hardly communicate then, he blurted out, "That goat was pissed off." We laughed so hard. Also loved the history about Ernie and I'm going to suggest going there for our next sibling day! Thanks for sharing.