Indiana University
Journalism Ernie Pyle

In the Footsteps of Ernie Pyle: 2012

group at Westminster
Courtesy photo
Students paused briefly at Westminster Abbey on a day when they covered several historical sites.

The class heads to England and France with associate professor Owen Johnson, the fifth time the class has traveled to places the World War II correspondent made famous in his columns. They follow Pyle’s path from London to Paris as he reported on the war in Europe. The group also visits Omaha Beach and Normandy.

See daily blogs and reflective columns.

2012 Itinerary:

Friday, March 9: Depart Bloomington 8:30 a.m.

Saturday, March 10: Arrive London for half day tour of city.

Arrived, and tour complete, including a visit to the London Eye.

Sunday, March 11: Churchill Museum, Imperial War Museum guided tour

Monday, March 12: Tour of St. Bride’s, St. Paul’s Cathedral

Tuesday, March 13: Visit D-day Museum at Portsmouth, ferry across the English Channel to Caen, France

Wednesday, March 14: Tour of WWII in Normandy,  Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, Arromanches-Les-Bain

Thursday, March 15: Mount Saint Michel, travel to Paris

Friday, March 16: Meeting with John Morris, tour Paris, including  Sacre Coeur, Eiffel Tower.

Saturday, March 17: WWII Guided walking tour of Paris

Sunday, March 18: Arrive Bloomington 9 p.m.

Trip blogs:

The trip

By Kelly O’Brien

As we boarded the plane that would take us from Charlotte, N.C., to London, a general awe fell over our group. Not only were we boarding our actual flight to London, the flight itself was quite an adventure.

The sheer size of the U.S. Airways plane dwarfed the one in which we had flown from Indianapolis to Charlotte. The four seats per row with a walkway down the middle could hardly measure up to the massive aircraft that transported us across the Atlantic. This plane had eight seats in each row, set up in a two, four, two pattern with walkways in between. Besides the fact that this plane was twice as wide as the first, it also had a second section of coach seating, so that the plane was divided into three sections instead of the usual two.

As we found our seats, we could not help but marvel at how much bigger, softer and much more legroom they had compared to our previous seats. We settled in to our seats and checked our phones one last time for texts, Twitter and Facebook. We would not have free Wi-Fi during the flight, nor when we landed, so we had to get in a last fix.

Shocker No. 3 struck us next. Each person had his own television screen on the back of the seat in front of him. These weren’t just television screens, though. They began as maps, charting out our trip across the ocean and displaying the time in about nine different languages.

When you touched the start button, you were taken to a main menu screen. From this, you could select movies, TV shows, music games, flight information and more. We were in disbelief that we could all watch our own movie or show. On top of that, the movies were not old, unheard of films. They were new releases including Moneyball, Planet of the Apes and Water for Elephants.  

We could not believe they were tempting us with all this free technology when all we wanted to do was sleep. Our departure time from Charlotte was around 6 p.m. EST, but when we landed in London, it was just before 7a.m. local time. We would have no time to sleep when we arrived at our hotel in London because we had a full day planned for us, so we needed to catch some Zs on this flight.

But before anyone could manage some shut-eye, the flight attendants came around with an entire free meal. Each passenger was given the choice of a chicken or steak entrée, along with a side salad, roll and blondie. Most people leaned toward the pasta because chicken on a flight just seems suspicious.

We inhaled our meals as if we hadn’t seen food in days, even though we had all just feasted in the Charlotte airport. While the flight attendants cleaned up our trash, we settled in to watch our movies. A few of the group tried to sleep right away, to no avail. When those who watched films finished up, they had no luck sleeping either.

We rolled around uncomfortably, fidgeting with our scratchy pillows, and blankets went back and forth according to our roasting and freezing. It didn’t help matters much that the flight crew continued to make announcements even after they said they would not say much so people could sleep. Whoever was in charge of the lighting was struggling as well because he or she could not seem to keep them off for very long.

Around midnight, or 6 a.m. local time, we were graced with more free food, a Danish with a choice of tea, coffee or orange juice. We vacuumed these up as well while we started to pack up our carry-ons.

We would be landing at Gatwick in less than one hour. By this point, we were all too excited to even consider sleeping for an extra half hour. The plane began its descent through the clouds and our first glimpse of the London countryside came into view.

It looked exactly like photographs. Lush green, Tudor homes, and rolling hills spread as far as our little windows allowed us to see. Exhaustion evaporated as excitement took over.

The coach tour

By Missy Wilson

big ben
Photo by Yang Han
Students saw many sites during their coach tour, including the iconic Big Ben..

After making our way through the winding maze of customs this morning, we were greeted by our driver to the hotel. Upon reaching the bus and trying to enter the wrong side, we remembered that people in London drive on the opposite side of the car and street than in the U.S. It seemed like a minor difference, but it made the ride to the hotel and all rides after that extremely interesting, entertaining and slightly nerve-wrecking.

Sitting on the right side of the bus and watching cars go past outside the window just felt weird. The street signs also varied from ours in America. They are different shapes, sizes and colors from what we’re used to, so we attempted to make note of them as we whizzed by.

The highway itself didn’t seem much different, but once we made our way to the streets of the city, we were in for a shock. London streets were tiny and hardly wide enough for the traffic. The lines on the road seemed to criss-cross every direction and looked nothing like the yellow and white lanes from the states. Drivers didn’t seem to follow any specific rules and sped by in chaos. The roads wound around buildings and curved back and forth sharply.

Driving into the city felt like being dropped into a storybook. The buildings are old— old in a good way. Each one has character and personality, and a story to tell. Vines and flowers wrap around the weathered and worn bricks.

Porches and railings line the streets. London definitely doesn’t have any wasted space. Every nook and cranny is built on or being used. Victorian houses, local restaurants and various buildings are lined up to the very edges of the roads. Each inch of space is used, and everything is built essentially on top of each other. This means there was always something to look at and take in.

Driving through the city on the bus was difficult and overwhelming because a mere set of eyes can’t consume all there is to see. Heads whipped back and forth across the street to attempt the impossible and find everything. After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we loaded another bus— or, as locals call them, “coaches”— and embarked on our broad tour of the city.

Our experience of London driving was taken to another level on the trip as our driver weaved in and out of other cars. We held our breath at each turn as we peered out the windows to see how close the bus was to hitting corners and other cars, and curbs stood no chance against us.

Throughout the tour, we drove past famous London sights— Big Ben, London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Circus, shopping districts and various memorials and monuments. As amazing as all the sights were, the basic aspects of London were just as fascinating.

Watching the people interact, inspecting the small, local cafes and shops, and just taking in the atmosphere of the city was amazing. Each and every turn brought new experiences and widened our exposure to various cultures, and it served as a great introduction to the city and beginning to following the footsteps of Ernie Pyle.

Imperial War Museums

By Dalton Main

imperial war museum
Photo by Yang Han
Students toured the Imperial War Museums with a guide, who explained the many artifacts.

On the first normal-length day of the trip, we paid a visit to the Imperial War Museums near Parliament. We were slightly delayed due to the filming of the upcoming James Bond movie, but soon we were inside and impressed to stand in the corridors where Winston Churchill himself governed the British side of the war during the blitz. It was as though we were magically transported into the past to catch a glimpse of what life was like.

The cabinet war rooms are under “the slab,” a five-foot chunk of copper and concrete. The slab protected the war rooms from raids, while Churchill and his staff stood on the roof as fires blazed. It’s easy to imagine the tense atmosphere that must have permeated during the Blitz.

The most interesting portion of that tour and the day came in the Churchill Museum, which is dedicated to the life, career and events of Churchill and his time. It is filled with interactive displays and interesting artifacts.

Dates are projected onto a long table in the middle of the room. A slider at each side of the table allows you to expand certain dates and learn more about them. When we expanded April 15, 1912, water splashed across the table and a ticker tape announced the sinking of the Titanic.

This kind of interactivity brought many points to life. Learning about the life of Churchill is incredibly interesting, but anybody can start to wear down as they read detail after detail of a person’s life. The addition of interactivity and game-like qualities made the experience wonderful.

An interview with former war correspondent Martin Bell

By Brittany Liford

Monday, we met at St. Bride’s Church to listen to famous war correspondent Martin Bell tell us about his experiences during his 50-year career.

Bell met us in the crypt of the church and talked about how he is “pro-soldier” but anti-war.

Bell started his career in 1962 and covered every major war since that time, including Vietnam and conflicts in the Middle East. Twice the British Newspaper Society named him reporter of the year.

Bell talked about overseas conflict and how it affects soldiers and journalists alike. He said “ex soldiers are the best witnesses to the failure of war.”

Bell was a soldier himself and thought that he knew a lot about the inner workings of war. Still, he was impressed by the “whiz-bang aspects of war” when he first started. Over time, he learned that writing war commentary was more about focusing on the people affected than just giving figures. It’s more important to show how the soldiers or the citizens are reacting to the war than just stating what actually happened on the battlefield that day.

After Bell got out of the war correspondent business, he turned to politics and became a member of Parliament. Although he said he learned a lot from the experience, especially about politics, he wouldn’t go through another four years.

Shortly after he came out of Parliament, UNICEF asked him to become an ambassador for its programs. Bell is sent to places where the organization cannot send celebrities, such as acress Angelina Jolie, whom Bell called inspiring. In addition to working as a UNICEF ambassador, Bell writes for a British tabloid magazine.

Bell said the correspondent’s job will become more dangerous. Journalists are targeted now so there is more likelihood of getting hurt or killed. He also said journalists will probably try to embed themselves with troops more often. Bell said embedding is probably one of the best ways to get a story, but this takes courage.

“Courage is a finite resource and it’s about dealing with fear,” he said.

Bell said his strategy to deal with the constant strain of war was to go six weeks at a time, then have a break. He referred to Ernie Pyle and how much stress he put on himself.

He said that you have to know when enough is enough, and when you need to pull yourself out of the situation. In closing, he suggested that none of us become war correspondents and suggested we try to live a safer life than he did.

Fun with London’s wildlife

By Alexis O’Brien

If you were to ask the “footsteps” students what their highlight of day two in London was, some would probably tell you it was the Churchill War Cabinet or the Imperial War Museum tour. Some may mention their meal of fish, chips and ale, while others would say it was their trip on the London Eye.

A small group would tell you though, with much enthusiasm, that it was their break between activities when they were eating boxed lunches with some nice outdoor company – the London wildlife.

After our noontime arrival at the Imperial War Museum, we received boxed lunches of cheese, ham or jelly sandwiches that many of us took outside to eat. The weather was beautiful and in the upper 50s (Fahrenheit of course, because we aren’t used to this Celsius business), so we chose some wooden benches in the shade and began to chow down. That is, until we were interrupted by a flock of many, many British pigeons.

Johnny had the seemingly brilliant idea of feeding the birds some of his bread crust, so in addition to the many birds that had already landed in front of are picnic area came even more. Among them was, as so fondly named by some sophisticated journalism students, Nubby. He was a poor but well-fed pigeon with no talons to walk on, and waddled around in a pirate-like wooden leg fashion, fighting for his portion of Johnny’s sandwich among his fellow diners.

As many of us were still very tired at this point, we found this ruthless pigeon hilarious and made sure he got a full lunch meal, complete with cheese and crackers. Between giggles we joked about how proud we all were to have befriended a local, Nubby, whom we said had to be the best fed pigeon around.

He was fat and happy, and so were we. After squeezing the last drops of apple juice from our juice boxes, we bid farewell to our bird friends and had some additional time to pass outdoors before our official tour began.

During this brief interval, two of the students fed a squirrel by getting him to eat practically out of the palm of their hands. As other students gathered around, Rachael and Johnny taunted and teased the brown squirrel with crackers. More excited laughs and photo snaps broke out, in addition to excited commentary from Lesa.

Whether it was lack of sleep, just plain silliness, or college students being college students, we all got a kick out of our animal encounters of the day. We finished up outside and concluded today’s scheduled activities with an official two-hour tour of the war museum. It was nice and very informative, but I think it’s the ridiculous and unplanned moments that we’ll reflect on most fondly when we’re asked about our highlights in London.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

By Chelsey Carr

St. Paul’s Cathedral is a symbol of strength to the British, especially when remembering World War II. During the Blitz—when German bombers continuously bombed London, creating fires that destroyed large portions of the city—bombers aimed for St. Paul’s in hopes of destroying the morale of the city. St. Paul’s did not burn down although most of the buildings surrounding it did.

During our tour of St. Paul’s we learned about the four previous cathedrals all named St. Paul’s that had come before it in the same area, but the latest cathedral stood against the fires of the Blitz. They shared the history of the current cathedral, such as Henry VIII takeover of the Catholic Church and creating the Church of England.

St. Paul’s has a plaque memorializing the first American who died in World War II for the British. He posed as a Canadian and convinced five of his Canadian friends who were in England at the time to vouch for him as a Canadian citizen so he could join the Royal Air Force.

In addition to the amazing people buried and memorialized at St. Paul’s is the magnificent architecture. The ceilings are laid with painted glass in mosaics but they sparkle and shine like they were painted with the most careful hand. We climbed 256 steps to get to the Whispering Gallery, where we could look down on all of the cathedral. The view was amazing, especially staring at the mosaics. The height level was a little too much for me, though. Being that high was like having a moment with God himself.

One especially interesting section of the church was a winding staircase hidden behind huge wooden doors. It was used for filming Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Sherlock Holmes, and King George.

Notre Dame
By Autumn Scaglione

The final full day in Paris started with a free morning. Jessica and I took full advantage of this opportunity. After memorizing the path the night before, we sent out to navigate the complex metro system. Three line changes later, we arrived at our destination: Notre Dame.

I had heard of the beauty of this cathedral and had the opportunity to experience it in person. With low clouds and a dreary background, Jessica and I both passed on the opportunity to climb the tower, even though I was dying for an up-close picture with a gargoyle.

The inside of Notre Dame was breathtaking. I’ve been in beautiful churches and cathedral before — St Paul’s on this trip, the Vatican last year — but this place was different.

A private mass was being held in the front of the church, so the echoes bounced off the high ceilings and magnificent stain-glass windows (which I found out later were removed during World War II as to not be destroyed and replaced with plain-glass windows). Private confessionals and altars lined the walls. The entire place just had a different atmosphere to it.

There was no uptight, “no-fooling-around” feel. There was a security guard watching our every move. Notre Dame had a relaxed feel; it welcomes you in. No matter what religious or spiritual affliction, Notre Dame provides a relaxing, quiet place to sit and gather thoughts while being surrounded by beautiful statues, sculptures and stained-glass.

After lunch in the Saint Michel area, Jessica and I made our way back to meet the group for a WWII walking tour in the city. Our guide’s name was Gil Soltz.

Gil started the tour by drawing a map in the sand next to the Deportation Museum. He described the progression of Nazi Germany taking Paris and what life would have been like under Nazi rule. This walking tour took us through WWII Paris, pointing out landmark speeches, battle and even an occasional bullet shot. The tour ended outside the Louvre, just as the skies decided to turn light sprinkles to a full-on rain.

Besides the bullet holes we saw in the Department of Justice building, Gil said Paris remained unscathed through the war and the battles fought for liberation of the city. Nazi Germany surrendered the city swiftly. As Charles De Gaulle made his victory speech, he failed to mention the enormous amount of help from the Communist party fighting to liberate Paris.

Overall, I believe Gil was one of the best tour guides who assisted us throughout the trip. He was young, engaging, a storyteller, and it probably helped that he was easy on the eyes. Besides the rain putting a damper on the end of the day, it was a nice way to spend the last day in France.