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.
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.