Rummaging through my Mother’s store of newspaper clippings, I came across one that disclosed no information about who wrote it. It could have been written by any newspaper writer in the country because it expressed the strong attachment Americans had to their favorite war correspondent, Ernie Pyle. Most people fail to give war correspondents the respect they deserve. Just like the warriors they cover, journalists experience the same dangers and unbearable living conditions as do the men in uniforms.
Before I remembered that Mother did not write for the newspaper during the war, I wondered if she might have written it because she spoke so often about Ernie Pyle that I thought he must be someone she knew personally. Most Americans felt the same. Ernie Pyle wasn’t claimed by just the state of Indiana where he was born; that Indiana farm boy was accepted as a member of the family by other Americans in every state, city, town and village in the country. He brought the war home to the families of the boys -and girls- who were serving overseas. He inspired all of us, even children, to do our part in helping win WWll.
Americans were not stupid; they knew that there were those who were profiting selfishly from the war. Some complained that food production had been made costly and difficult by wartime conditions, resulting in a food shortage in a nation that was producing far below its capacity. The writer of the clipping urged his readers to get out their hoes and shovels and plant a garden. Mother did, and so did countless others on the home front.
The unidentified writer went on to say: “It’s pretty petty to grouse about waiting an hour or so to get a ration book, when your sons are waiting 30 days for a bath.” Ernie wrote that “if you wait long enough without a bath, even the fleas will leave you alone.”
The local writer asked why should people bewail plucking a stamp for a can of beans when boys who fight all day are thankful for just a drink of water. If you can’t walk a few blocks to save gasoline, read about the lads who are thankful for a shrub, ditch or hut so they can sleep out of the wind after a fifteen-mile stroll under fire. Ernie wrote that “the soldiers walk is slow for they are dead weary. Every line and sag of their bodies speak of inhuman exhaustion.”
The writer reprimanded those who are ready to strike for higher wages or turn down a contract which doesn’t have higher profits. He suggests they read about the soldiers who are willing to pay a month’s wages for a stove and a day’s pay for some soap or candy.” Oh, ye of little faith, guts and patience shouldn’t read Ernie Pyle for it would shame you to how little you are giving up compared to the boys on every fighting front. “
“We all suffer agonies from the cold,” Ernie wrote. “Nights are almost inhuman…You’ve struck gold when you find a spot where you can lie down out of the wind. You are always cold and almost always dirty. Outside of food and cigarettes, you have absolutely none of the little things that made life normal back home… you just sort of exist, either standing up working, or lying down asleep. There is no in-between.
Very few of the frontline troops have ever had any leave. They never go to town for an evening’s fun. They work all the time, irregularity of sleep becomes normal. In battle, you just go until you drop. Nurses tell me that when the more seriously wounded reach the hospital, they are so exhausted that they fall asleep without drugs, despite their pain. The frontline soldier just wants it over, by destroying enough Germans to end it. He is fighting for his life, and killing for him is as much a job as writing is for me.”
The more of war that Ernie saw and experienced, the more depressed he became. He wrote” I’ve been immersed in it too long. My spirit is wobbly and my mind is confused. The hurt is too great.” He was also rail thin and tired, but he continued to insist on covering the war from inside fox holes with the soldiers he wrote about. His last posting was on a tiny island in the Pacific called le Shima. On the morning of April 18, 1945, he made the mistake or raising his head to get a better look when a Japanese bullet pierced his skull and ended his life.
General Omar Bradley said Ernie Pyle was the best soldier he had ever known.