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Ernie Pyle

war reporter

Ernie Pyle in uniform

Ernest Taylor Pyle was born on a farm outside of Dana, Indiana, on August 3, 1900, the only child of Will and Maria Pyle. Never caring much for the life of a farmer, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve after graduating from high school, hoping to get into combat. World War I ended before he completed his basic training, however, and he never served.

In 1919, Pyle enrolled at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he wrote for the school paper, Indiana Daily Press. He left the university in 1923, just short of finishing a degree in journalism, to accept a reporter’s job at the LaPorte Herald. A few months later, lured by an offer of an extra $2.50 per week, Pyle joined the staff of the Washington (D.C.) Daily News, part of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain. On July 25, 1925, he married Geraldine "Jerry" Siebolds, a civil service worker from Minnesota.

Pyle initially worked as a reporter for the News, but was soon asked to write headlines and edit copy, desk jobs he hated. By 1926, the Pyles had quit their jobs to barnstorm around the country, traveling 9,000 miles in just 10 weeks. Arriving in New York City, New York, broke and hungry, Pyle wasted no time finding a new job, working nights at the New York Evening World before moving to the day shift at the New York Post. By 1927 he was ready to move on again, and he rejoined the Washington Daily News that year.

Upon returning to Washington, Pyle was allowed to write a daily aviation column, the first edition of which was published on March 26, 1928. He continued writing that column until 1932, when he became managing editor of the paper, a position he held for the next three years. Never comfortable behind a desk, Pyle longed to get back to reporting. His chance finally came in 1934, when an illness sent him to Arizona for rest and recuperation. During the trip he wrote several articles about his travels, which were published by the paper after his return. Pyle was then able to convince the paper's editor-in-chief to let him write a daily travel column, the first of which was published on August 8, 1935. Over the next six years he and Jerry crossed the continent some 35 times, from east to west and north to south, all the way into Central and South America, and his column was run in papers across the country. Columns from this period were later compiled in the book Home Country (1947).

In late-1940, Pyle went to England, from where he began covering World War II, beginning with the London Blitz. A book of his experiences during this time, Ernie Pyle in England, was published in 1941. In 1941 he took a three-month leave of absence to care for Jerry, who was struggling with alcoholism. The couple ended up divorcing on April 14, 1942, after which Pyle set out on what was supposed to be a six-month tour of war zones in Europe.

Pyle ended up spending a year in Europe, and then joined U.S. troops for the North Africa Campaign. He subsequently served as a war correspondent during the invasion of Sicily and the Italian Campaign, and accompanied Allied soldiers during the landings at Normandy. During this time his reputation and popularity grew immensely because his columns dealt with the soldiers, rarely the details of the battles they fought. He named names, and thus made friends of the soldiers and their families. The fact that he made it a point to actually live with the soldiers he reported on -- eating the same food they ate and sleeping in the same trenches -- gained him even more popularity amongst the troops. His personal life also improved, as he and Jerry were re-married by proxy on March 10, 1943. The columns he wrote based on his experiences during these experiences were subsequently compiled in the books Here is Your War (1943) and Brave Men (1944).

By the time Pyle rode into Paris on August 25, 1944, he had been overseas for 29 months, and had written 700,000 words of copy. He was rewarded for this work with the 1944 Pulitzer Prize for Journalism. With the war in Europe winding down, Pyle finally returned to the United States. He didn't stay home for long, however, as he joined the war in the Pacific in January 1945 and subsequently reported on the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

On April 18, 1945, Pyle was with the Army's 77th Division on the island of Ie Shima, off the coast of Okinawa, when he was killed by a Japanese machine gunner. He was buried with his helmet on in a long row of graves among other soldiers with an infantry private on one side and a combat engineer on the other. At the ten-minute service, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Army were all represented. Pyle was later reburied at the Army cemetery on Okinawa, then moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. When Okinawa was returned to Japanese control after the war, the Ernie Pyle monument was one of only three American memorials allowed to remain in place. Pyle was among the few American civilians killed during the war to be awarded the Purple Heart.


Indiana Historical Society
Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame
Press in America

See Also

August 3
World War I
World War II
April 18

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The Robinson Library >> Journalism >> United States

This page was last updated on 08/03/2018.