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!

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

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The Debilitated and the Miserable