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Ernie Pyle: Famous war correspondent never forgotten

By Lance Cpl. Janessa K. Pon | III MEF/MCIPAC Consolidated Public Affairs Office | April 28, 2015

Gray clouds hung in the sky while rain pattered the concrete of the dock where veterans, Okinawa residents, service members, Boy Scouts and families boarded a large ferry charted for Iejima, an island in the Okinawa prefecture.

They gathered together on the small land mass for a ceremony April 19 in honor of Ernest T. “Ernie” Pyle, a famous American war correspondent who died during the Battle of Okinawa.

As the light showers slowed and rays of sunlight gleamed through the clouds, the crowd disembarked. They mustered where a monument now stands erect at the site of Pyle’s death. The ceremony began with the raising of the American and Japanese flags and an opening speech given by Leslie “Ernie” Ernst, the commander of American Legion Post 28.

“We are here to pay our respects to a man who was not in the military, but a civilian,” said Ernst, a Rosebud, Texas, native, during his opening speech. “Shortly after arriving in the Pacific, Pyle joined the 77th Infantry Division for the main invasion of Okinawa. He walked through mud and crouched in crop soil. He thumbed rides in jeeps and tanks. He did not write his stories from the rear, but hammered out his columns while bullets and exploding shells whistled over his head.”

Ernie Pyle, born August 3, 1900 in Dana, Indiana, became a civilian journalist with the Washington Daily News at the age of 23 for four years, before becoming a roving reporter and joining the American troops in the European and Pacific theaters during World War II, according to the Indiana Historical Society.

Pyle is best known for his simple, honest writing style that accurately portrayed the experiences of American troops during World War II, and built a connection between soldiers and citizens at home. His columns were printed in over 400 daily newspapers and 300 weekly newspapers.

Pyle’s ability and passion for embracing the lifestyle of the troops are what gave him the rapport he has now, said Colonel Thomas A. Pecina, the commanding officer of Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan.

“Ernie Pyle was a man who was down with the troops,” said Pecina, a Lubbock, Texas, native. “He wrote in everyday simple language so all could understand him. He knew firsthand what the others were going through. No other journalist has ever evoked such mass affection as Ernie Pyle did. He told the story of the fighting man as the fighting man would have it told.”

Pyle gave everything he had while serving the American troops, and was especially remembered that day on the 70th anniversary of his death, according to Ernst.

“Pyle worked tirelessly until he found his untimely death April 18, 1945 when the jeep in which he was riding ran over a land mine,” said Ernst. “As he was seeking protection behind that jeep, a sniper’s bullet found his heart. Pyle was a primary link between (soldiers) and sweet hearts back home. His stories caught the interest of readers around the world and he is known around the world as the G.I. Joe, buddy, and best friend.”

At the ceremony’s conclusion, select attendees laid floral wreaths on Pyle’s monument in honor of his dedication to the American troops.

This event is crucial to the passing of history, generation to generation, according to Stephen P. Ove, a historian with the 18th Air Force Wing History Office on Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan.

“I’m so grateful I had the chance to come here,” said Ove, a Panama City, Florida, native. “Ernie Pyle was willing to live in foxholes and go through the same (living conditions) as the American soldiers. Pyle gave a voice to the people who didn’t feel like people could understand what they were going through, and that’s what is so important about what he did. He was willing to die for them, still preserving their voices for all time. That is how history is made.”

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