Ernie Pyle columns found in old trunk in Minden
Ernie Pyle, beloved World War II correspondent, would have celebrated his 100th birthday this month. Here in the Carson Valley, 55 years after his wartime death from a sniper’s bullet, some residents still recall how important his printed and spoken words over the radio (“wireless”) were then, and how they were, for many, the only lifeline to loved ones fighting a continent and an ocean away.
“Every mother and every person had someone fighting over there,” said Minden resident Marie Wilson, 76. “I had four brothers over there, and Ernie Pyle wrote about the war from the soldier’s point-of-view. We didn’t have the instant news coverage we have now – the only other place to get news of the war was from the newsreels at the movies – so we hung on the words of Ernie Pyle’s daily columns.”
Wilson and her family discovered a box of neatly cut-out, yellowing Ernie Pyle clippings from a San Francisco newspaper when they looked through a trunk of items left by Frances Wilson, Marie’s mother-in-law. For many reasons, the trunk lay unexplored for years after Frances died in 1983 at the age of 82.
Only recently, grandson Kurk, who works at Scolari’s grocery store in Gardnerville, Marie and her husband Ralph Jr., had a look-see and, finding the historic newspaper clippings, they began to wonder if someone might be interested in them.
“It just seems a shame to have these where no one can share them,” Kurk said. “I wondered if the newspaper might be interested in them.”
The 60-plus San Francisco News columns that Frances carefully stacked into that small box, each titled only “Pyle,” date from June 12 to September 16, 1944. During the war, Frances worked in firearm factories in San Francisco, while her husband, Ralph Sr., ran the APOFPO, a communication service. Their son, Ralph Wilson, Jr., now 76, Marie’s husband and Kurt’s father, was in the army during the war, in Normandy and at the Battle of the Bulge. He recently had a stroke and is under Marie’s care.
Why Frances saved all the clippings, the Wilsons will never know.
“We never talked about it while she was alive, but they obviously meant something to my grandmother,” Kurk said.
n He was there. Pyle was called “America’s most popular war correspondent,” when he reported for Scripps-Howard newspapers on the day-to-day events during World War II. He was heard on the radio, and his daily column appeared in many newspapers. Pyle’s writing style was descriptive and colorful, bringing the war to life for Americans hungry to hear any news about the distant conflict.
Writing about the days surrounding the massive D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944, Pyle reported every detail he could see, using each of his senses for the description.
After D-Day, many of Pyle’s stories were filed from “somewhere in France (by wireless),” or “on the Western front.”
n He died while working. Pyle, a slight Indiana native, who weighed in at around 112 pounds, received fan mail and requests while overseas and was dogged by fans when he returned to the states, mostly by people asking about loved ones still fighting the war, and others wanting to say “Thanks” or get his autograph.
On Sept. 5, 1944, Pyle filed his last column from Europe.
“By the time you read this, the old man will be on his way back to America. After that will come a long, long rest,” he wrote. “I’m leaving for one reason only – because I’ve just got to stop. ‘I’ve had it,’ as they say in the Army. I’ve had all I can take for a while.
“I’ve been 29 months overseas since this war started; I have written about 700,000 words about it; have totalled nearly a year on the front lines…. My spirit is wobbly and my mind is confused. The hurt has finally become too great.
“All of a sudden it seemed to me that if I heard one more shot or saw one more dead man, I would go off my nut. And if I had to write one more column, I’d collapse. So I am on my way.”
Pyle traveled home to the United States for health reasons, but was unable to stay away for long.
“I hurt inside,” he said during a 1945 interview in San Francisco, months before he was killed by a Japanese sniper’s bullet. “I don’t relish one bit going out in range of Japanese bombs and shells. They’ll be just as hellish and terrifying as the German bombs. But the men fighting the war don’t like the shootin’ either, and I’m going back to covering the shootin.’ Not because I want to, but just because something inside me says I’ve got to.”
He returned to the war in 1945, this time going to the Pacific theater. While riding in a jeep during Operation Iceberg, the seizure of Okinawa, Pyle was killed on April 18 at the age of 44.
“When he died, it was like when Princess Diana died,” Marie Wilson said. “It was devastating, because we weren’t going to be able to read his words anymore. Nobody really took his place, and his passing was a very big deal.”
n Trunk contents. In addition to the Ernie Pyle clippings and assorted World War II clippings, Frances Wilson had an old Alexander doll wrapped in a child’s wool army coat and some sheet music in her trunk.
That she saved the clippings year after year indicated she must have felt as most Americans felt – Ernie Pyle was “America’s favorite war correspondent,” and his words were well worth keeping, like photographs and momentoes of an important event.
More than a half century after his death, Pyle’s vivid, mesmerizing accounts of those days of World War II still bring the daily experiences of thousands of soldiers – the survivors and the casualties – to life.
n If you are interested. Frances Wilson’s Ernie Pyle clippings will available to be read at The Record-Courier until a permanent home is found for them.