Ernie Pyle’s impassioned report of the death of a beloved World War II company commander instilled a dream in 8-year-old Joseph Galloway.
Galloway remembers reading The Death of Captain Waskow, about a Texas native like himself, in his uncle’s bound copy of Pyle’s collected columns.
“I thought, ‘If I am a reporter and my generation has a war, I must be there to cover it, and I want to cover my war like Ernie Pyle covered my dad’s war,’” said Galloway, who, 69 years later, is revered for his coverage of the Vietnam War.
Galloway’s account of his earliest inspiration to pursue journalism demonstrates the far-reaching impact of Pyle’s work. He told his story today to a crowd gathered in Franklin Hall to commemorate National Ernie Pyle Day, a celebration hosted by the Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation that remembered Pyle both as a titan of U.S. journalism history and a voice for the common soldier.
Pyle, an IU alumnus and summer 1922 Indiana Daily Student editor-in-chief, is memorialized across campus — in his namesake building, Ernie Pyle Hall; in the bronze statue of him that greets students and visitors as they enter Franklin Hall; and now in Franklin Hall’s new museum-like display of historical artifacts, including his jacket, his typewriter and his Purple Heart.
The holiday was officially sanctioned by both the U.S. Senate and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb. In December 2017, the U.S. Senate agreed to Senate Res. 345, which officially designated Aug. 3, 2018, as National Ernie Pyle Day. The bill was co-sponsored by Indiana Sens. Joe Donnelly and Todd Young. In June, Holcomb signed a proclamation recognizing the day.
“As a United States Marine and as a Hoosier, I’ve always appreciated the work and legacy of Ernie Pyle,” Young said. “Pyle was a true friend of the grunt; the common soldier, sailor, airman or Marine of World War II.”
Galloway, whose father served in World War II along with numerous other family members, grew up with the war as an ever-present part of his life.
“My first memories as a child were of growing up in houses full of terrified young women looking out the windows for the telegraph boy, who would bring devastating news,” he said.
Pyle’s work kept such people in touch with the war, Galloway said.
He lamented the lack of young people in the audience — it being IU’s summer break — joking he could tell listeners already knew about and respected Pyle from the sea of gray-tufted heads before him.
“It’s the kids who need to absorb the story of Ernie Pyle and take it to their hearts,” Galloway said. “The underpinnings of our democracy rest in the roots of journalism, newspapers and now the electronic media. Preserving Ernie Pyle’s memory is part of preserving that underpinning of democracy.”
But most of all, Galloway said, Pyle was brave. He was scrawny, balding and often tormented by deep sadness. He knew little peace, Galloway said, but he remained courageous and dedicated until the end. He died on Iejima during the Battle of Okinawa.
“One bullet stopped that brave heart in an instant,” he said, voice quivering and eyes watering.
After the formal ceremony, Tuck Langland, who sculpted the Ernie Pyle statue on the Franklin Hall lawn, brought attendees to see the statue. He talked about his process of designing and sculpting the piece, which began with a lot of research and the creation of a small clay model.
That research paid off, Langland said, when it came time to create the piece.
In his mind, the bronze replica of Pyle sits not outside of IU’s Media School, but somewhere in northern France. It’s shortly after D-Day — about a month, Langland says — and the climate is cool and damp.
“He’s looking around. He needs a place to plop down his typewriter and write,” Langland said. “He finds an old table sitting in a French farmyard, and the boards are warped.”
To bring that idea to life, Langland said he bought warped wood from a high-end woodworking shop and designed Pyle’s perch from it to capture details. He wanted to display Pyle sitting down.
“Ernie Pyle was not a pedestal guy,” Langland said. “He’s not going up on a pedestal.”
Instead, he wanted to sculpt Pyle in a way that would portray him as human, down to earth.
The rest of the sculpture features similarly fine details. The goggles on his head, though he wouldn’t have worn them in the French countryside, recall Pyle’s time in Africa. Small divots in the surface of the table he’s sitting at imply burn marks from a cigarette, and there’s a cigarette box-shaped lump in one of his jacket pockets and a lighter-shaped lump in the other. His left hand rests on a knob on his typewriter, because at some point during the war its automatic line-jumping function stopped working. Langland said he learned all of those facts as he researched Pyle.
Joe Hardin, a commander at Bloomington’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 604, said the celebration was an important remembrance of Pyle and the values of journalism.
Hardin, a Vietnam War veteran, said modern anti-journalism sentiments upset him.
“The things that are going on and being said about reporters in the media has to stop,” he said. “That is the common man’s touch with what’s going on in the world.”
Hardin said he was especially touched by Galloway’s remarks on Pyle. Galloway’s own reputation as a veteran journalist only made those words echo with more truth and meaning, Hardin said.
“He is a very, very honorable and trustworthy man, and a very concerned citizen of this country,” he said. “He was the one that stood out to me the most.”