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Duke City to mark birthday of correspondent Ernie Pyle

Journalist Ernie Pyle chats with Marines aboard a U.S. Navy transport in March 1945, while en route to the invasion of Okinawa. Pyle was killed the following month on the island of Ie Shima after being hit by machine-gun fire. (Associated Press)

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Celebrated World War II news correspondent Ernie Pyle lived among the troops fighting on the front lines overseas and told their stories so Americans back home would understand what they were fighting for and would remember the soldiers and their sacrifices.

Pyle, who had an international following, made the ultimate sacrifice himself when he was killed by a Japanese machine gunner on April 18, 1945, as American forces pushed to capture the island of Okinawa.

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Today, it is the memory of Pyle that is in danger of fading as those who lived through the World War II era age and die, and younger generations find themselves with little knowledge of the journalist who made his home in Albuquerque.

The memory of Pyle fares better in Albuquerque than most places. Pyle’s home at 900 Girard SE is now a public branch library, and the Ernie Pyle Middle School in the South Valley is named for him.

Four years ago, a small group of remaining Pyle family members formed the Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation to keep the public memory of the deceased Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent alive.

A poster hangs inside the Ernie Pyle Library, the home of Pyle before he was killed in 1945 while reporting from the front lines during World War II. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Toward that end, the foundation is kicking off its campaign for a National Ernie Pyle Day in Albuquerque on Aug. 3, Pyle’s birthday. A daylong program will be held at the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial park, 1100 Louisiana SE, starting at 9:30 a.m. A free hot-dog lunch will be served to all.

Veterans groups will be honored, especially veterans of World War II, said Gerald Maschino, a foundation member whose wife, Wynne, is Pyle’s first cousin once removed.

A keynote address will be given by Joseph Galloway, a Vietnam War correspondent, columnist and co-author of the best-selling 1992 book “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young,” which was later made into a Hollywood movie.

Other guests and speakers include a ROTC color guard from Ernie Pyle Middle School, patriotic music from an American Legion band, the reading of the National Ernie Pyle Day proclamations signed by Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, and the presentation of “Ernie Pyle, A One Man Show” by local historian Baldwin Burr.

In addition, Maschino said, the first $1,000 Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation Scholarship will be presented to a journalism student at the University of New Mexico.

The only home Ernie Pyle ever owned was in Albuquerque, at 900 Girard SE. The home is now a public branch library. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

This first award is being funded by foundation members, he said. However, the foundation has applied for a grant from the Scripps-Howard organization to fund Ernie Pyle scholarships at journalism schools around the country.

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At the time of his death at age 44, Pyle was a syndicated columnist for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain. His columns were published in more than 300 newspapers nationwide and overseas.

Pyle was born on Aug. 3, 1900, in Indiana and joined the U.S. Navy Reserve at age 17. He served three months active duty near the end of World War I and then finished his enlistment in the reserves.

He attended Indiana University, where he studied journalism, but he quit school in 1923, months shy of graduating, to accept a reporting job at the La Porte Herald, now The La Porte Herald-Argus, in Indiana.

Pyle stayed only a few months before moving to Washington, D.C., to work for the Washington Daily News, a Scripps-Howard newspaper. There he became a managing editor and later the country’s first aviation columnist, becoming friends with aviation pioneers including Amelia Earhart.

War correspondent Ernie Pyle sets up his typewriter in a field in Normandy, France, in the weeks after the D-Day invasion. (Associated Press)

It was in Washington that he met Geraldine “Jerry” Siebolds. They married in 1925 and settled in Albuquerque in 1940. She died in Albuquerque of influenza seven months after her husband’s death in the Pacific.

In 1935, Pyle became a Scripps-Howard roving reporter, writing about the people and places he encountered along America’s better-traveled highways and lesser-known byways.

With the country’s entry into World War II, Pyle swapped the scenery of the U.S. for the landscape of North Africa, Europe and the Pacific.

Possessing a unique writing voice that a Scripps-Howard editor once described as having “a Mark Twain quality,” Pyle wrote dispatches about the war and those who fought the battles that served as a lifeline between the soldiers and their families at home.

Pyle’s death was mourned from coast to coast. His remains eventually were reinterred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

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