Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle is as relevant to journalism today as he was on April 18, 1945, when he was killed by a Japanese machine gunner while covering American forces pressing to capture the island of Okinawa.
Pyle, whose Albuquerque home is now a public library branch, “is a symbol of what great war corresponding really is, and you don’t want to go to war without us,” said Joseph Galloway, a war correspondent for more than 40 years.
“We need to come along, because we are the eyes and ears of the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents and friends of those who put on the uniform and go into harm’s way under our flag, and on behalf of our country. If we’re not there, there’s nobody telling their story, and it’s too damn easy to forget them.”
Galloway, 75, was the keynote speaker Thursday, Pyle’s birthday, at the inaugural celebration of National Ernie Pyle Day, held at the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial. He is also the author of several books, including the 1992 best-seller “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young,” later made into a Hollywood movie starring Mel Gibson.
About 300 people attended the event, mostly older veterans and active duty members of the military services. The youngest people present were the color guard from Ernie Pyle Middle School. That generational absence underscores why a small group of remaining Pyle family members formed the Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation to keep public memory of the deceased Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent alive.
In addition, senators from Indiana, where Pyle was born, are pushing for official congressional recognition of National Ernie Pyle Day, said Pyle family member Linn Benson, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who served during the Vietnam War.
“The World War II generation knew Ernie Pyle intimately and loved him,” Galloway said. “Their sons and daughters knew him because they heard their dads and uncles talking about Pyle and they had his books,” including compilations of his newspaper columns.
With each subsequent generation, knowledge of Pyle was lost. Even though secondary schools taught the history of World War II, Galloway said, there was scant mention of Pyle’s contribution to that history.
Pyle’s columns were syndicated to more than 300 newspapers and served as the conduit of information to families who had loved ones in uniform.
“He was telling the story of the common soldier in combat. That was his place on the battlefield,” Galloway said. “For me, he was a hero and a role model. I wanted to be a reporter. And I figured, if I managed to do that, and if my generation had a war, I wanted to cover that war like Ernie Pyle covered his war in his generation.”
And Galloway did just that, writing from the front lines during four separate tours in Vietnam, as well as covering the Persian Gulf War, the Haiti incursion and two tours in Iraq.
“Anytime I found myself reporting from a war zone, I was following Ernie’s map,” he said.
Howard Romme, 93, a World War II Navy veteran, grew up in Albuquerque just a few blocks from Pyle’s home on Girard SE.
“I didn’t know him personally, but we read him daily in the Albuquerque newspaper and felt like we knew him,” he said. “His column was the first thing my mother looked for in the paper, and when I was in the Navy it was the first thing I looked for anytime we got a newspaper. He’s been gone a long time, but he’s worth remembering.”
Another World War II Navy veteran, Joe Padilla, 90, remembers that he was on his way to Okinawa when he learned that Pyle had been killed. “I had access to newspapers and of course read his columns. He was a real war correspondent who was always right there with the troops. He didn’t stay in hotels.”
The inaugural events also included the reading of separate proclamations signed by New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry recognizing National Ernie Pyle Day; awarding of the first Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation Scholarship to University of New Mexico journalism student Andres Del Aguila; music from the American Legion Band; and presentation of “Ernie Pyle, A One Man Show,” by local historian Baldwin Burr.