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Ernie Pyle - American War Correspondent

Ernie Pyle was an American war correspondent during World War II. He was very well known across a great cross-section of the American public - a real celebrity in his day - and very well liked.

In his newspaper columns and in his book Brave Men, published in 1944, he describes the minutiae of army life in wartime from the perspective of the common soldier.

He described the way the war machine works - from engineers pulling captured tanks off the line with giant earth moving machines, to bomb loaders preparing bombers for a mission, to cooks cooking up thousands of meals for the troops.

The book describes the push from North Africa and up through Italy, then the waiting period in England before D Day, and then the invasion and the battle through France.

Here’s an example of those small touches of detail that he describes. American soldiers were stationed in London in the lead up to D Day, and the US Army established rules for one-way foot traffic for soldiers when walking along the pavements.

It was done in order to minimise how often soldiers would have to meet and salute one another while approaching from opposite directions.

Apparently, there were so many soldiers that before the rule was in place soldiers were having to salute every five steps or so and getting sore arms from all that saluting.

Another scene that he describes is of captured German soldiers on D Day standing on the cliffs and staring in disbelief and resignation at the sheer number of Allied ships that stretched to the horizon.

He wrote the final chapter in August 1944, about the war being more or less over.

That was, of course, before the German counter-offensive in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes in December 1944, which was the last major offensive against the Allied forces in Europe.

It's hard to tell you exactly why or how the book is so touching and sad. Certainly the tone changes when Pyle goes with the invasion forces on D Day, and he becomes more sombre and in the end, lyrical.

One passage is particularly poignant. It is about the jeep ride that he and another journalist and the photographer Robert Capa took into a town near Cherbourg.

The Germans has only just been pushed out of the town, and there was always the risk of snipers or of Germans left behind - manning a machine gun somewhere by the roadside. So Pyle was nervous, and he talks about the fearless Capa, who would push on whatever the risk.

Robert Capa was one of the original Magnum photographers. I know his work well and I also know that Capa was killed in 1954 when he stepped on a mine in South East Asia, in what was then called Indochina.

when reading up about the background to Brave Men, I learned that Ernie Pyle was killed in 1945 by Japanese machine gun fire on an island off Okinawa.

Ernie Pyle Theater

After the war, the Takarazuka Theater in Tokyo was taken over by the US Army headquarters and renamed the Ernie Pyle Theater - and retained its name until 1955.

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