Ernie Pyle, considered the GI’s war correspondent, was killed by Japanese sniper fire on the tiny island of Ie Shima off the coast of Okinawa on April 17, 1945. His death was universally mourned by Americans on the homefront and in the armed services.
The son of an Indiana farmer, Pyle became a roving war correspondent at the outbreak of World War II. Starting with the German bombing of England in 1940, Pyle went with the U.S. Army to North Africa in 1942, covered the invasions of Sicily and Italy, accompanied Allied troops during the Normandy landings, witnessed the liberation of France and then moved on to the Pacific.
By 1944 Pyle had established himself as one of the world’s outstanding reporters. He applied an intimate style to the war. Instead of the movements of armies or the activities of generals, Pyle wrote from the perspective of the common soldier, an approach that won him great popularity and also the Pulitzer Prize in 1944. In that year, he wrote a column urging that soldiers in combat get “fight pay” just as airmen were paid “flight pay”. Congress passed a law giving soldiers 50 percent extra pay for combat service and called it “the Ernie Pyle bill.”
In a letter to his wife early in 1945, Ernie Pyle wrote, “Of course I am very sick of the war and would like to leave it, and yet I know I can’t. I’ve been part of the misery and tragedy of it for so long that I feel if I left it, it would be like a soldier deserting.”
Author John Steinbeck said about Ernie Pyle: “There is the war of maps and logistics, of campaigns, of ballistics, armies, divisions, and regiments. Then there is the war of homesick, weary, funny, violent, common men, who wash their socks in their helmets, complain about food, whistle at Arab girls, or any other girls for that matter, and lug themselves through as dirty a business as the world has ever seen and do it with humanity and dignity and courage – and that is Ernie Pyle’s war.”