Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to World War II (Modern War Studies)

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9780700608973: Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to World War II (Modern War Studies)

APRIL 18, 1945 Ernie Pyle's body lay alone for a long time in the ditch at the side of the road. Men waited at a safe distance, looking for a chance to pull the body away. But the machine gunner, still hidden in the coral ridge, sprayed the area whenever anyone moved. The sun climbed high over the little Pacific island. Finally, after four hours, a combat photographer crawled out along the road, pushing his heavy Speed Graphic camera ahead of him. Reaching the body, he held up the camera and snapped the shutter. The lens captured a face at rest. The only sign of violence was a thin stream of blood running down the left cheek. Otherwise he might have been sleeping. His appearance was what people in the 1930s and '40s called "common." He had often been described as the quintessential "little guy, " but he was not unusually short. In fact, at five feet eight inches, his frame precisely matched the average height of the millions of American soldiers serving in the U.S. Army. It was his build that provoked constant references to his size -- a build that once was compared accurately to the shape of a sword. His silver identification bracelet, inscribed "Ernie Pyle, War Correspondent, " could have fit the wrist of a child. The face too was very thin, with skin "the color and texture of sand." Under the combat helmet, a wrinkled forehead sloped into a long, bald skull fringed by sandy-red hair gone gray. The nose dipped low. The teeth went off at odd angles. Upon meeting Pyle a few months earlier, the playwright Arthur Miller had thought "he might have been the nightwatchman at a deserted track crossing." In death his hands were crossed at the waist, still holding the cloth fatigue caphe had worn through battles in North Africa, Italy, France, and now here in the far western Pacific, a few hundred miles from Japan. A moment later the regimental chaplain and four non-commissioned officers crawled up with a cloth litter. They pulled the body out of the machine gunner's line of fire and lifted it into an open truck, then drove the quarter-mile back to the command post on the beach. An Associated Press man was there. He already had sent the first bulletin: COMMAND POST, IE SHIMA April 18, (AP) -- Ernie Pyle, war correspondent beloved by his co-workers, G.I.s and generals alike, was killed by a Japanese machine-gun bullet through his left temple this morning. The bulletin went via radio to a ship nearby, then to the United States and on to Europe. Radio picked it up. Reporters rushed to gather comment. In Germany General Omar Bradley heard the news and could not speak. In Italy General Mark Clark said, "He helped our soldiers to victory." Bill Mauldin, the young soldier-cartoonist whose warworn G.I.'s matched the pictures Pyle had drawn with words, said, "The only difference between Ernie's death and that of any other good guy is that the other guy is mourned by his company. Ernie is mourned by the Army." At the White House, still in mourning only six days after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, President Harry Truman said, "The nation is quickly saddened again by the death of Ernie Pyle." One of Pyle's editors at the Scripps-Howard newspapers, George Parker, spoke on the radio. "He went into war as a newspaper correspondent among many correspondents, " Parker said. "He came back a figure as great as the greatest -- as Eisenhower or MacArthur or Nimitz."Parker spoke of "that strange and almost inexplainably intimate way" in which Pyle's readers had known him. Indeed, people called newspaper offices all day to be sure Ernie Pyle was really dead. He had seemed so alive to them. Americans in great numbers had shared his life all through the war -- his energy and exhaustion; his giddy enjoyments and attacks of nerves; his exhilarations and fears. Through Pyle's eyes they had watched their "boys" go to distant wars and become soldiers -- green and eager at the start, haggard and worn at the end. Through his eyes they had glimpsed great vistas of battle at sea and they had stared into the faces of men in a French field who thought they were about to die. So no one thought it strange for President Truman to equate the deaths of Franklin Roosevelt and a newspaper reporter. For Pyle had become far more than an ordinary reporter, more even than the most popular journalist of his generation. He was America's eyewitness to the twentieth century's supreme ordeal. The job of sorting and shipping Pyle's personal effects fell to Edwin Waltz, a personable and efficient Navy man who had been working as the correspondent's personal secretary at Pacific Fleet headquarters at Guam. There wasn't much to go through -- a few clothes and toilet articles; books; receipts; some snapshots and letters. Here was Pyle's passport, stamped with the names of places he had passed through on his journeys to wa

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Review:

When World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle left for the Pacific Theater in 1945, he told friends and colleagues that he felt sure he would die there. Pyle was right; on April 18th, a Japanese machine gunner killed one of America's most beloved personalities, sending the entire nation into shock and mourning. In the years since Pyle's death, his particular brand of journalism has been criticized: he's been accused of ignoring the stupidity of generals, of downplaying the horror of battle, and of presenting the war in a better light than it actually deserved to be portrayed. James Tobin, author of the impressive biography Ernie Pyle's War, does not deny that his subject often smoothed the jagged facts of war, but he provides both the context--an era and a war in which correspondents were expected to be "team players" who helped their side to win hearts and minds at home--and the personal conflict raised for Pyle by the often irreconcilable demands of telling the truth and building morale.

In addition to detailing Pyle's mostly unhappy personal life, Tobin also includes samples of his columns, proving once and for all that Pyle was more than just a hick who fell into reporting; the man had real, substantial talent, evidenced by his ability to put words together and his sensitivity to the subjects he wrote about. More than just a biography, Ernie Pyle's War is also a study of war, and the peculiar, twilight world of suffering and half-told truths to which men like Ernie Pyle were drawn.

From the Back Cover:

"If you think Ernie Pyle is ancient history, think again. Barely half a century ago he was one of the most famous people in America. The columns he wrote were read by millions, anticipated and revered as though they were regular bulletins from a sacred source. . . . What he called his 'worm's-eye' view of combat set a standard for war reporting that remains influential unto this day. . . . A thorough, sympathetic, and revealing book."--Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

"A portrait of a complex, enormously gifted but tortured writer, entrapped and ultimately driven to death by a sense of obligation to the image he inadvertently created of himself. It is undoubtedly the best biography of Ernie Pyle ever written, but it is much more; few books about combat journalism have so vividly depicted the fascinating interactions between war correspondents and the folks back home. . . . World War II was quintessentially Ernie Pyle's war, and Tobin brilliantly explains why."--Malcolm W. Browne, New York Times Book Review

"A fine and fascinating new biography. Pyle didn't write about warriors and generals and lofty subjects like global affairs. He produced wonderful stories about plumbers and teachers and mechanics and all sorts of regular guys who, due to circumstances they had no control over, went to war and then did their best to win and come home alive."--Daniel LeDuc, Philadelphia Inquirer

"A wonderfully crafted biography."--William Prochnau, author of Once Upon a Distant War

"Ernie Pyle showed everybody else the way. He was a hell of a reporter."--Charles Kuralt

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