The men are walking. They are fifty feet apart, for dispersal. Their walk is slow, for they are dead weary as you can tell even when looking at them from behind. Every line and sag of their bodies speak their inhuman exhaustion.
On their shoulders and back they carry heavy steel tripods, machine-gun barrels, leaden boxes of ammunition. Their feet seem to sink into the ground from the overload they are bearing.
They don’t slouch. It is the terrible deliberation of each step that spells out their appalling tiredness. Their faces are black and unshaven. They are young men, but the grime and whiskers and exhaustion make them look middle-aged. May 1, 1943
I knew the power and precision of Ernie Pyle’s writing, but I wanted to know the man himself. So I picked up a copy of Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness of World War II by James. Tobin. The author takes readers back to the beginning in Dana, Indiana and shows how an only child grew up in a farming family. Pyle was an undersized but bright student who could not wait to make his way out into the world away from the Midwest.
Pyle was an excellent journalist, one worthy of studying. He began with reporting, then an aviation column (during the early years when planes were the new technology), and then a roving column of human interest stories in roadside spots of America. He gradually became popular, the number of readers growing during the era of Hearst, Scripps-Howard and other big newspaper chains. Eventually, he became the world’s greatest war correspondent during World War II.
Pyle did not write of policy or generals; he wrote of the common soldier, the common man. He made readers see what he saw. Indeed, the author’s ability with words recreated everything for readers that he saw with his own eyes. His writing allowed readers to view the war in a time when newsprint was the way media got stories out. He became so popular among his favorite subject the infantrymen and the reading public that he developed a mythological aura. Eventually a movie, Ernie Pyle’s American G. I. Joe, was made from his work. Starring Burgess Meredith and Robert Mitchum, the dated film can be seen on U-Tube.
While Pyle was developing a star persona, producing extraordinary copy from fox holes, and setting a standard for other writers, his personal life was somewhat a shambles. A slightly built man of ordinary looks, he suffered health problems, drank too much, and dealt with a rocky marriage to a woman of mental instability. Like many creative people, he doubted his own work many times feeling he was not writing quality copy.
This is an extraordinary book published 17 years ago and 69 years after Pyle’s death on a Pacific Island covering the war. It reveals the weaknesses and travails of an ordinary man; it shows the power of a great writer; it takes readers through the war that should never be forgotten.
“I love the infantry because they are the underdogs. They are the mud-rain-frost-and wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars can’t be won without.”