The Death of Ernie Pyle

DavidChrisinger.com
By David Chrisinger
18 Apr 20

Today is the 75th Anniversary of Ernie Pyle’s death at the hands of a Japanese machine gunner off the coast of Okinawa. He had come ashore the tiny island—then known as Le Shima—the day before with the US Army’s 305th Infantry Regiment. Just before he hopped in a Jeep with the commanding officer of the 305th, Pyle had been assured that the Japanese defenders on the island had all been killed or captured.

Pyle and the other men in the Jeep were on their way to the new command post when the zipping and pounding of machine gun fire erupted from the side of the road. The brakes squealed as the Jeep’s tires skidded into the sloppy and rutted path. Pyle and the others leapt safely into a nearby ditch that would protect them from the fire as they regrouped. Once the firing quit, Pyle tipped up the front of his helmet and raised his head above the ditch’s berm to take a look around. That was the last thing he ever did.

Pyle was buried later that same day in his uniform under a crude wooden marker alongside other soldiers who had also been killed in action. A monument erected on the spot reads: “At this spot the 77th Infantry Division lost a buddy, Ernie Pyle, 18 April 1945.”

News of Pyle’s death spread quickly, and an entire nation began mourning a man who had become one of the most famous and trusted war correspondents of his time. Echoing the sentiments of the 77th Infantry Division, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, wrote that, “The GIs in Europe—and that means all of us—have lost one of our best and most understanding friends.”

At the White House, still in mourning six days after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, President Harry Truman said, “The nation is quickly saddened again by the death of Ernie Pyle.” He continued, “No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told.”

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt added that she would never forget how much she admired “this frail and modest man who could endure hardships because he loved his job and our men.” Perhaps most touchingly, Bill Mauldin, the young soldier-cartoonist whose war-weary G.I.’s resembled the pictures Pyle had drawn with words, said, “The only difference between Ernie’s death and that of any other good guy is that the other guy is mourned by his company. Ernie is mourned by the Army.”

I had planned to visit Okinawa and the site of Pyle’s death in June so that I could be there for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa. I had to cancel those plans back in March when all the travel bans were put in place.

Now that my family and I have been living under shelter-in-place orders in Chicago since I can’t remember when, it feels like each thread of our ordinary existence has mostly unraveled and that travel is something I used to do.

I don’t know when I’ll get to reschedule my trips to France and to Okinawa. I also planned to travel to the United Kingdom, to Pyle’s home in New Mexico, and to Hawaii so that I could visit Pyle’s final resting place in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep writing about Ernie and my travels to North Africa, Sicily, and mainland Italy, which should keep me plenty busy for now.

I’m also going to keep these posts coming every two weeks. If there’s anything specific you’d like me to write about, please feel free to send me a message. I love to hear from readers!

4 responses to “The Death of Ernie Pyle”

  1. TIMOTHY HALL says:

    My father Sargent Rupert T Hall (Combat Engineer US Army positioned with First Marine Division) was in jeep with group when Ernie Pyle was killed. My father had made arrangements for Mr Pyle to join the Combat Engineers as they visited the small island to pick up supplies. mr Pyle was visiting an air strip on the island to meet with Air Corp pilots that he was preparing to do a story about. Mr Pyle had approached my father the night before to ask to join the group when he learned they were visiting the island.

    • David Chrisinger says:

      Hi Tim! I’d very much like to talk to you more about your father’s time with Ernie. Can we set up a time to chat soon?

  2. Steve Barr says:

    fellow hoosier who died before i was born,but i will always rember who he as,the dogface’s friend.

  3. michael sirna says:

    -my dad, tech 5 sam sirna , company c, 242nd engineer combat battalion,77th infantry division, was unloading Lst’s on the beach at Ie Shima that morning, along with brad randall, and many of his other buddies. ernie came by and ate breakfast with them on the beach at about 8:30 am , if i recall correctly what dad said. they taked to him and had a great time with this wonderful guy that everyone knew . dad said it was maybe 45 minutes or so later after he left that someone came over and said ernie pyle was dead, killed by a jap machine gunner. later on , dad said that he and some other guys went to see where ernie was killed. dad said it looked like every G.I. that walked by shot that jap because they were so mad, and heart broken . dad said it was one of the highest points of the war meeting ernie, and one of the worst all in the space of about an hour or so. it was the army engineers that built ernies monument, and although dad never said he was one of the guys who built it, i have heard that it was the his unit that did.i have photos of the wooden cross, and the other memorials before the permanent one that stands yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Prev

Tribute to Ernie Pyle on the 75th anniversary of his death

Next

The Debilitated and the Miserable