Pyle studied journalism at Indiana University and left school to become a reporter for a small-town newspaper. In 1935, after various editorial jobs, he acquired a roving assignment for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain; his daily experiences furnished him material for a column that eventually appeared in as many as 200 newspapers.
His coverage of the World War II military campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France brought him a Pulitzer Prize in 1944 and several other awards. His columns were greatly popular, mainly because of his understanding of the ordinary soldier in war. He was with the U.S. forces in the Pacific on Iwo Jima; during the Okinawa campaign he visited the nearby island of Ie Shima, where he was killed at 44 by Japanese machine-gun fire.
Compilations of Pyle's columns appeared inErnie Pyle in England (1941),Here Is Your War (1943),Brave Men(1944), and Last Chapter (1946). The movie G.I. Joe(1945) was about his coverage of the Italian campaign.
Source: American Writers: http://www.americanwriters.org/writers/pyle.asp
Excerpts from Pyle's Syndicated Columns
Pyle's writing appeared regularly in more than 200 daily newspapers and 400 weeklies between 1942 and his death in 1945.
North Africa, 1943
“Is war dramatic, or isn’t it? Certainly there are great tragedies, unbelievable heroics, even a constant undertone of comedy. It is the job of us writers to transfer all that drama back to you folks at home. Most of the other correspondents have the ability to do it. But when I sit down to write, here is what I see instead:
“Men at the front suffering and wishing they were somewhere else, men in routine jobs just behind the lines bellyaching because they can’t get to the front, all of them desperate for somebody to talk to besides themselves, no women to be heroes in front of, damn little wine to drink, precious little song, cold and fairly dirty, just toiling from day to day in a world full of insecurity, discomfort, homesickness and a dulled sense of danger ...”
A letter in Time magazine, urging Americans to buy war bonds instead of Christmas gifts, was well received by U.S. troops in North Africa — until they found out the writer was a soldier based in New Mexico. Ernie Pyle was with GIs digging a trench for protection from German planes:
“ ‘Them poor dogfaces back home,’ said one of the ditch-diggers, ‘they’ve really got it rugged. Nothing to eat but them old greasy pork chops and them three-inch steaks all the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have to eat eggs several times a week.’
“ ‘And they’re so lonely,’ said another. ‘No entertainment except to rassle them old dames around the dance floor. The USO closes at 10 o’clock and the night clubs at three. It’s mighty tough on them.’
“ ‘And they probably don’t get no sleep,’ said another, ‘sleeping on them old cots with springs, and scalding themselves in hot baths all the time. ...
“ ‘And when they put a nickel in the box nothing comes out but Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw and such trash as that. My heart just bleeds for them poor guys.’ ”
Tunisia, April 1943
Pyle told how the Americans laid out their dead in cemeteries with hundreds of graves, marked with crosses and the Star of David, while the Germans buried theirs in smaller roadside plots ringed by white stones:
“In one German cemetery of about a hundred graves, we found 11 Americans... Their graves are identical with those of the Germans except that beneath the names on the wooden crosses is printed ‘Amerikaner,’ and below that the Army serial number. We presume their dog tags were buried with them. On one of the graves ... is also printed: ‘T-40.’ The Germans apparently thought that was part of his number. Actually it only showed that the man had his first anti-tetanus shot in 1940.”
Allied invasion of Sicily, 1943
“The American invading force was brought from Africa to Sicily in three immense fleets sailing separately. Each of the three was in turn broken down into smaller fleets. It was utterly impossible to sail them all as one fleet. That would have been like trying to herd all the sheep in the world with one dog.”
Italy, Jan. 10, 1944
Pyle’s most famous column concerned the death of infantry Capt. Henry Waskow, who was exceptionally popular with his men. His body was brought down a mountainside by mule, and laid next to four others:
“The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave ... one soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, ‘God damn it.’ That’s all he said and then he walked away. ...
“Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said: ‘I sure am sorry, sir.’
“Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the dead hand in his own, he sat there for a full five minutes ... looking intently into the dead face, and he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.
“And finally he put the hand down, and then reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain’s shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of the uniform around the wound, and then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.”
Normandy, June, 1944
Pyle didn’t get ashore at Omaha Beach until the day after D-Day. But then he took a walk down what he called “the historic coast of Normandy in the country of France,” and found both “wrecked machines of war” and human litter:
“It extends in a thin little line, just like a high-water mark, for miles along the beach ... 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.
“Here are toothbrushes and razors, and snapshots of families back home staring up at you from the sand. Here are pocketbooks, metal mirrors, extra trousers, and bloody, abandoned shoes ... torn pistol belts and canvas water buckets, first-aid kits. I picked up a pocket Bible with a soldier’s name in it, and put it in my jacket. I carried it half a mile or so and then put it back down on the beach. I don’t know why I picked it up, or why I put it back down.
“In every invasion you’ll find at least one solder hitting the beach at H-hour with a banjo slung over his shoulder. The most ironic piece of equipment making our beach — this beach of first despair, then victory — is a tennis racket. It lies lonesomely on the sand, clamped in its rack, not a string broken.”
Source: Leatherneck: http://www.leatherneck.com/forums/showthread.php?t=60439