Monday, March 05, 2007

'In It to the Hilt'

It's not so politically correct to admire Ernie Pyle's journalism anymore - his frontline columns from the hedgerows of World War II were brimming with sanitized action and a pervasive pro-American bent. But as a lover of troubled men who live through their words, I can't help but place Pyle high in the pantheon of torn epistlers. Consider his career: An accomplished travel writer before the war, Pyle added his powers of description to the nation's arsenal - first earning distinguishing himself in London where he issued street-level dispatches as the Luftwaffe's bombs pounded down around him. From there he rarely looked back, traveling with little more than a bedroll (and a bottle) as he slogged through the foxholes of North Africa, Normandy and beyond, always choosing the company of dogface grunts over spitshine Generals. Blind to high politics, this bedraggled little figure focused his sniper's eye for deadly detail on the young men dropping like flies around him. The resulting onslaught of newspaper columns held a worried nation spellbound. Long before television took viewers to the frontlines, Ernie Pyle's damaged genius transported his readers half a world away - where their sons and uncles were busy perfecting mechanized slaughter, when not dying in the process. Ernie eventually died too, caught in the temple by a Japanese bullet in a ditch in Okinawa. News of his passing caused Presidents to pause, housewives to collapse and combat veterans to cry, all distraught over the senseless demise of the G.I.'s humble, battle-hardened chronicler. We should all be so conflicted...

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