The last Monday in May is Memorial Day in the United States. It is a day for honoring veterans killed in wartime. But in this moment when the basic truths that undergird the US – and many free societies are – under attack from within, it might be worth taking a moment to recall the truths for which innumerable brave men and women perished in the name of democracy.
That’s why Ernie Pyle is our history hero today.
Ernie Pyle was an ordinary man in an ordinary job during extraordinary times. Today, the US president might call him an enemy of the people for Ernie was a journalist. He wrote newspaper columns, highlighting average folks and the daily indignities and hardships they faced with grace and smarts.
As a war correspondent, Ernie did the same with soldiers, revealing to readers the mundane horrors and routine comedies that defined their lives. He was popular because he wrote from their perspective.
Born 3 Aug 1900 in the central US state of Indiana, Ernie always wanted to be a journalist. He left university a few months short of graduating to begin his career, and never looked back. He became well-known for his columns on aviation and travel, driving around the country with his wife. After World War II began, Ernie was sent to London in 1940, then to Europe in 1942. From there, he accompanied the US military on some of the most famous allied campaigns: their first major offensive in North Africa; their invasion of Italy; and most consequential of all, D-Day, 6 June 1944.
He sent home this image of the event: “The best way I can describe this vast armada and the frantic urgency of the traffic is to suggest that you visualize New York city on its busiest day of the year and then just enlarge that scene until it takes in all the ocean the human eye can reach clear around and over the horizon. There are dozens of times that many.”
Ernie suffered in the same way as the soldiers he wrote about, but he did so for the whole world to see, constantly battling exhaustion. When the Allied fight against the Nazis was won, he did not stop, but continued his beat in the Pacific in 1945.
Ernie was felled by a sniper on 17 April 1945 on the Japanese island now known as Lejima. We remember today this famous and heroic War Correspondent.