'Little people' provided
insight on World War II
Wednesday, June 18, 2014 5:01 AM
Since it was the anniversary of D-Day, our newspaper was given the opportunity last week to reprint a column written by Ernie Pyle, a war correspondent who covered the momentous event for hundreds of newspapers in the United States in the 1940s. I didn't know what to expect, as I wasn't familiar with Pyle, but was surprised at the content in the column choices given to us.
I was anticipating something glorifying the action, detailing the strategy and how it changed the war, written from the viewpoint of the generals, such as Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton. Instead, his columns showed the cost of war, focusing on the ordinary people and their daily lives.
That initial exposure prompted me to investigate further into the life of Pyle and his columns from D-Day.
In one column, Pyle wrote from Normandy Beach on June 16, 1944, "It was a lovely day for strolling along the seashore. Men were sleeping on the sand, some of them sleeping forever. Men were floating in the water, but they didn't know they were in the water, for they were dead."
He noted that "the wreckage was vast and startling. The awful waste and destruction of war, even aside from the loss of human life, has always been one of its outstanding features to those who are in it. Anything and everything is expendable."
In another column from the next day, he wrote about a thin little line that runs for miles along the beach, strewn with personal gear from the soldiers who died.
"Here in a jumbled row for mile on mile are soldiers' packs. Here are socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles and hand grenades. Here are the latest letters from home, with the address on each one neatly razored out - one of the security precautions enforced before the boys embarked."
He continues with more descriptive commentary, explaining what some of the items left behind were used for or meant to the men when they were alive. As did many of his columns, he focused more on details of ordinary life, not the fighting.
It's not the kind of war reporting you see today. It may not have been instant - there was no electronic communications allowing journalists to report from distant battlefields in real time - but it made an impact, later earning him a Pulitzer Prize for war coverage.
Pyle was a forerunner of the embedded journalist, working alongside the troops, experiencing much of what they did, placing himself in danger as they did during much of the war. He even died with the soldiers as Pyle was killed by a Japanese machine gun bullet on the tiny Pacific island of Ie Shima in 1945.
During his time at war, his writing painted a picture of the lives of the soldiers as his columns captured the scenes and his reporting humanized the war for many of his readers.
"To his readers, Ernie Pyle was a master of telling the story of the little guy, of describing the fears and daily strife of soldiers fighting in World War II," notes a website dedicated to his life that is maintained by the Indiana University School of Journalism. Pyle, an Indiana native, attended the university before embarking on several jobs, including a travel writer, until he found his calling as a war correspondent.
His journalism had a unique style as his stories from the field were personal columns consisting of impressions, interpretation and opinion.
Indiana University feels that his contributions to journalism are worthy of being passed down to students today for Pyle mastered the concept "that great storytelling is built on great journalism skills and an ability to explain the larger issues of the world through the eyes of the people most affected by them."
His great storytelling in which he explains the issues of the world through the lives of the little people is what drew me to look further into this famous journalist.
I'll never be, or employ, a war correspondent, but his writing is pertinent to community journalism that focuses mostly on the little people. After all, we really only have seemingly little people living here since national leaders rarely visit the small towns.
Some may feel that makes our newspapers, and our people in small towns, unimportant. However, small newspapers covering small towns can come up with very meaningful stories. Any person, no matter how apparently insignificant, can have insights that reveal meaning in our world.
That's why we attach importance to every person we come in contact with and every story we write. We may not have millions of readers, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists or a world war to cover, but our newspaper, through the lives of our residents, can help unfold the mysteries of the world and contribute to wider understanding.
Pyle can be a role model for us as we attempt to portray the lives of local people as masterfully as he did for the soldiers back in World War II.
Note: The Ernie Pyle World War II Museum in Pyle's birthplace in Dana, Ind., is dedicated to Pyle's life and writings. Friends of Ernie Pyle, which owns the museum, is dedicated to preserving and expanding the legacy of the writer whose columns linked the soldiers on the front line to worried families on the home front. To preserve his memory is to preserve the sacrifices made by what has been dubbed "The Greatest Generation," states the group. For more information, go to www.erniepyle.org.