Before he became a WWII correspondent, Indianan Ernie Pyle wrote a popular syndicated column for the Scripps-Howard newspapers about the lives and hopes of typical American citizens in the 1930s. In 1942, Pyle went overseas as a war correspondent where he covered the North Africa campaign and the invasions of Sicily, Italy and Normandy.
Rather than focusing on the battles he saw, Pyle wrote about the experiences of ordinary enlisted men. D-Day was described as “… a lovely day for strolling along the seashore. Men were sleeping on the sand, some of them sleeping forever. Men were floating in the water, but they didn’t know they were in the water, for they were dead.”
In 1945, after being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished correspondence, Pyle traveled to the Pacific to cover the war against Japan. On April 18, 1945, Ernie Pyle was killed by Japanese machine gun fire on Iejima island.
“They were young men, but the grime and whiskers and exhaustion made them look middle-aged. In their eyes as they passed was no hatred, no excitement, no despair, no tonic of their victory—there was just the simple expression of being there as if they had been there doing that forever, and nothing else.”
“It would be wrong to say that war is all grim; if it were, the human spirit could not survive two and three and four years of it. … As some soldier once said, the army is good for one ridiculous laugh per minute. Our soldiers are still just as roughly good-humored as they always were, and they laugh easily, although there isn’t as much to laugh about as there used to be.”
“The most vivid change was the casual and workshop manner in which they talked about killing. They had made the psychological transition from their normal belief that taking human life was sinful, over to a new professional outlook where killing was a craft. No longer was there anything morally wrong about killing. In fact, it was an admirable thing.”
“A soldier who has been a long time in the line does have a ‘look’ in his eyes that anyone who knows about it can discern. It’s a look of dullness, eyes that look without seeing, eyes that see without conveying any image to the mind. It’s a look that is the display room for what lies behind it—exhaustion, lack of sleep, tension for too long, weariness that is too great, fear beyond fear, misery to the point of numbness, a look of surpassing indifference to anything anybody can do. It’s a look I dread to see on men.”
“They seemed terribly pathetic to me. They weren’t warriors. They were American boys who by mere chance of fate had wound up with guns in their hands, sneaking up a death-laden street in a strange and shattered city in a faraway country in a driving rain. They were afraid, but it was beyond their power to quit. … And even though they weren’t warriors born to the kill, they won their battles. That’s the point.”