Ernie Pyle vs. The Usual Suspects

ernie_pyle2Tucked somewhere between the panzer uniforms studded with death skulls and the wooden shoe mine display is a two-panel tribute to a journalist.

It’s not the sexiest display, and it has little direct relation to the museum’s namesake, Dwight D. Eisenhower. But Ernie Pyle, the Soldiers’ Reporter, has his own place inside the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kan.

I once had a crusty editor at the newspaper where I worked who bristled at stories filled with “the usual suspects.” It was infuriating for him to read the stilted government-speak of these talking heads.

“Goddammit, talk to some real people,” he’d say.

That’s a lesson I carry over to my students – tell readers what regular people are doing. Tell us how they feel and how they are affected.

That’s what Ernie Pyle did. He cared little for the generals, the officers, the diplomats, the presidents and the prime ministers.

He traveled with the soldiers, dodged the same bullets and told their stories. So, maybe that’s where he fits into this museum dedicated to one of the world’s greatest talking heads.

Ernie Pyle was there to experience the decisions made by generals and presidents and prime ministers.

One of the two panels reprinted a column that Pyle wrote about soldiers mourning the loss of an officer while fighting in Italy. He won a Pulitzer Prize for these columns.

This is a well-known column about the death of Captain Waskow, which the Ernie Pyle World War II Museum in Dana, Ind., and the Scripps Howard Foundation make available for reprinting from time to time. It’s plainly written and stark, yet there’s this sensitivity that permeates the whole column.

“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.”

We didn’t plan this trip to the Eisenhower library and museum on Sunday. It just sort of happened. And I’m glad we went. Experiencing a piece of Ernie Pyle outside of a textbook and classroom was quite thrilling.

And experiencing Eisenhower in the same fashion was just as exciting. As we made our way into a modest theater to view a historical film about Ike, I couldn’t help but reflect how fitting our visit was on the eve of Memorial Day.

What an excellent way to honor the day.

We all need these historical reminders. Ike was an interesting man – the kind of Republican anyone could get behind. He was truly a forward thinker, a global leader and a remarkable ambassador for peace.

Ike may have ripped off R. Buckminster Fuller in his April 16, 1953 address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors when he said:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

“It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary. War is obsolete. It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry.” – R. Buckminster Fuller

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