KERRY HUBARTT: Memory of Ernie Pyle endures through honor

Kerry Hubartt

Friday was “National Ernie Pyle Day,” the 118th anniversary of the day the World War II news correspondent was born.

The day was not set aside just to recognize Pyle’s birthday, but to celebrate his legacy. The idea was proposed by the Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation, and the U.S. Senate passed Senate Res. 345 in December, which officially designated Aug. 3, 2018 as the first National Ernie Pyle Day. The bill was co-sponsored by Indiana Sens. Joe Donnelly and Todd Young, who attended the celebration at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Pyle was killed doing his job on an island west of Okinawa on April 18, 1945, when he was struck by Japanese gunfire while riding in a Jeep. The famous war correspondent is memorialized at the Ernie Pyle World War II Museum in Dana by the Friends of Ernie Pyle, a nonprofit organization that rescued his birth home from demolition in the mid-1970s and took ownership of the site from the state of Indiana in 2011.

Pyle is especially significant to Indiana journalists like myself because he was born in a farmhouse near Dana in Vermillion County near the Indiana-Illinois border. He was a journalism student at Indiana University in the early 1920s and served as editor of the Daily Student, the IU student newspaper.

I, too, like so many others, was an IU journalism student and member of the Daily Student staff, which contributes to my great sense of respect and reverence for Pyle’s heroic service to the profession in writing from the front lines during the war.

When I went to school, the journalism department was housed in Ernie Pyle Hall. Later in my own newspaper career l became a member of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame board, which selects inductees each year. The hall of fame was later housed in Ernie Pyle Hall. I still serve on the board and revere the honor of helping recognize the best of the best in Indiana journalism.

Ernie Pyle was a member of the first group inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame in 1966.

Pyle left IU before graduating to begin his reporting career. He eventually became a popular columnist for Scripps-Howard newspapers. Then, in 1942, one year after the U.S. entered World War II, Pyle was sent to Northern Africa where he witnessed his first battle action. From then on, his columns brought the reality of war into millions of homes across the country through daily newspapers.

When he died at age 44, he was known and beloved in America as the news correspondent who best told the story of the war through the men who fought it. Pyle’s descriptions of WWII portrayed life on the front lines as it really was. And his work earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1944.

A celebration recognizing Ernie Pyle Day was held Friday on the IU campus in Bloomington at Franklin Hall, which recently replaced Ernie Pyle Hall as the site of both the IU Media School and the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. There is a stunning bronze sculpture of Pyle outside the school.

“Now more than ever the example of heroic journalists such as Ernie Pyle is much needed,” Media School Dean James Shanahan said in a news release. “Ernie Pyle is one of IU’s most notable alumni, and we are proud of his ties to our journalism program.”

Pyle is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. Thankfully, his memory will endure through this great honor.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.