War Correspondent Pyle Dies in Combat Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Veteran newspaper columnist Ernie Pyle died in an attack by an unknown Japanese sniper during fighting in World War II’s Pacific theater. A Pulitzer Prize winner for his folksy stories about common soldiers, Pyle insisted on sharing troops’ experiences, even when the risks were great. His death was a terrible touchstone for readers who had followed his dispatches since the Battle of Britain. He remains a journalistic icon.

Summary of Event

Decades before the label “embedded reporter” was coined, Ernie Pyle became America’s eyewitness to the twentieth century’s greatest military conflict, sharing with thousands of readers what he dubbed his “worm’s-eye” view of war because he spent most of his time alongside regular soldiers. Frequently near the front lines and occasionally under fire, Pyle covered the Battle of Britain, as well as military campaigns in North Africa, Italy, and France, before traveling to the Pacific to accompany U.S. Army and Marine infantrymen there. War correspondents World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];journalism [kw]War Correspondent Pyle Dies in Combat (Apr. 18, 1945) [kw]Pyle Dies in Combat, War Correspondent (Apr. 18, 1945) [kw]Combat, War Correspondent Pyle Dies in (Apr. 18, 1945) War correspondents World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];journalism [g]Asia;Apr. 18, 1945: War Correspondent Pyle Dies in Combat[01460] [g]Japan;Apr. 18, 1945: War Correspondent Pyle Dies in Combat[01460] [c]Publishing and journalism;Apr. 18, 1945: War Correspondent Pyle Dies in Combat[01460] [c]World War II;Apr. 18, 1945: War Correspondent Pyle Dies in Combat[01460] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Apr. 18, 1945: War Correspondent Pyle Dies in Combat[01460] Pyle, Ernie Truman, Harry S. [p]Truman, Harry S.;World War II Coolidge, Joseph B. Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;World War II military leadership[World War 02 military] Eisenhower, Dwight D. [p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;World War II

The forty-four-year-old syndicated columnist was with U.S. forces after they had fought on Iwo Jima and during the Battle of Okinawa Okinawa, Battle of (1945) , southwest of Japan’s main island. He went ashore on nearby Ie Shima (also known as Iejima) the day after U.S. troops invaded that island, and he spent the afternoon of April 17 talking to the troops. Pyle then spent the night in an abandoned Japanese bunker near the beach. The next morning, he had a cold C ration for breakfast and met with Lieutenant Colonel Joseph B. Coolidge, commander of the 305th Regiment, who planned to scout locations for a new command post on the island.

Ernie Pyle talks with a U.S. Marine on Okinawa. A few days later, he was killed by a Japanese sniper.

(Courtesy, U. S. Army Center for Military History)

Joining Coolidge and Pyle in a jeep were Major George Pratt Pratt, George of Eugene, Oregon, radio operator Dale Bassett Bassett, Dale of Brush, Colorado, and driver John Barnes Barnes, John of Petersburg, Virginia. The group left at about 10:00 a.m. and went up a narrow road through mined fields en route to forward positions closer to the village of Ie. At an intersection along that road, shots from a Japanese sniper using a .31-caliber Nambu machine gun were heard coming from a ridge above the jeep, more than two hundred yards away. Barnes pulled over, and the men took cover in nearby ditches.

After sporadic bursts of gunfire, Pyle raised his head to ask how the others were, and the sniper fired again, striking him in the left temple, just beneath the helmet, and killing him. His body lay where he fell, while the sniper continued to fire at the remaining soldiers in the area. A combat photographer reached it a few hours later; he was soon joined by a chaplain and four soldiers, who retrieved the body. Pyle was buried about one hundred yards from the sea in a coffin made of scrap lumber in a row of graves. A primitive marker was erected, reading “At this spot the Seventy-Seventh Infantry Division lost a buddy. Ernie Pyle. 18 April 1945.”

The shot that ended Pyle’s life cut short a groundbreaking career that had touched many people. Born on August 3, 1900, near Dana, in rural Indiana, Ernest Taylor Pyle helped his tenant-farmer father and attended school until he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War I. Before he was deployed, the war ended, and he enrolled at Indiana University, where he studied journalism and made friends, including future recording artist Hoagy Carmichael and lifelong confidante and writer Paige Cavanaugh. In 1923, before graduating, Pyle left school to be a reporter at the La Porte Herald in La Porte, Indiana. Afterward, he moved to Washington, D.C., to work first as a reporter and then as a copy editor for the Washington Daily News.

After his 1925 wedding to Geraldine (“Jerry”) Siebolds, beginning what would be a tumultuous twenty-year marriage, Pyle took his bride on a makeshift honeymoon, traveling thousands of miles across the country for ten weeks. He then worked at the New York Evening World and the New York Evening Post before answering a 1928 call from his friend Lee Miller to come back to the Washington Daily News. There, Pyle worked as a wire editor, aviation columnist, and managing editor until 1935, when he became a roving reporter for a six-times-per-week Scripps Howard News Service Scripps Howard News Service newspaper column that eventually appeared in about two hundred newspapers.

After World War II erupted in Europe, Pyle went to England in 1940 and covered the Battle of Britain and other events in the European campaigns for about six months. He combined his conversational writing style with keen observational skills, showing Americans both the human face and the effects of the war across the Atlantic Ocean. He returned to the United States in mid-1941, but went back to Europe in June, 1942, as a correspondent for Scripps-Howard’s United Features United Features . He accompanied troops through actions in North Africa and Italy, as well as during the invasion of Normandy and the liberation of Paris.

Pyle occasionally found himself at as much risk as the soldiers he covered: He was blown out of a ditch by a German dive-bomber and blasted out of a building in Anzio by a five-hundred-pound bomb. He narrowly missed injury when German planes strafed an open meadow where he was located and when Allied planes mistakenly bombed U.S. troops at St. Lo. Throughout his coverage of the war, Pyle peppered his columns with everyday soldiers’ names and hometowns and the wartime routines of life and death that they all faced. He won the Pulitzer Prize Pulitzer Prizes;journalism in 1944. Pyle returned home once more that year. Then, in January, 1945, he set sail to join Allied forces in the Pacific, where he perished.


Coming just six days after the death of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and with victory over Japan seemingly achievable, Pyle’s death was like a death in the family for thousands of readers and soldiers who followed the reporter’s stories. Further, the loss of the sobering but hopeful journalistic style he originated created a vacuum that has never been filled in subsequent decades of an adversarial, even cynical, press relationship with the military. The immediate reactions to his death included one from Coolidge, the officer who had been with Pyle on Ie Shima. He tearfully recounted, “I was so impressed with Pyle’s coolness, calmness and his deep interest in enlisted men. The GI has lost his best friend.”

Days after taking office following Roosevelt’s death, Harry S. Truman said, “The nation is quickly saddened again by the death of Ernie Pyle. No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told. He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen.” In Europe, General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower echoed Coolidge’s sentiments when he said that Pyle’s death meant that GIs had lost one of their best, most understanding friends. Pyle’s death as the war was winding down also seemed to underscore war’s fickle timing or outright senselessness. It broke a special bond people on the home front felt to the troops overseas.

Pyle’s war reports—appearing in more than two hundred daily and four hundred weekly newspapers for three years—used an unpretentious style to capture the fears, pains, and loneliness of average soldiers. Instead of covering actions by generals or armies, Pyle wrote from the point of view of the common GI. Moving relatively freely from unit to unit, he was so loyal to the troops with whom he lived that he lobbied Congress to enact extra combat pay for soldiers, like flight pay for pilots. Creating a body of work estimated at 2.5 million words over a decade, Pyle was a craftsman of short nonfiction, exposing readers to people and places they otherwise would not discover or could not comprehend. In short, declarative sentences, he painted brief, idealistic snapshots of citizen soldiers whose nation longed for their return. Sometimes subsequently criticized as sentimental, Pyle did not draw back from war’s horrors, but he emphasized the greater good being accomplished by those horrors.

The ongoing aftermath of Pyle’s death included several posthumous honors, including a Medal of Merit from the Army, Navy, and federal government. The medal was given to Pyle’s wife, Jerry, at a July screening of the film based on his life and reporting, The Story of G.I. Joe Story of G.I. Joe, The (Wellman) (1945). Jerry Pyle’s health deteriorated, and she died of complications from influenza on November 23, 1945.

Years later, Pyle’s remains were moved to an Army cemetery on Okinawa, then to Hawaii, where they were buried alongside Army and Navy dead in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, in Punchbowl Crater, on the island of Oahu. Since World War II, other reporters in other wars have not matched Pyle’s skill in observing, in interviewing, and in explaining and describing the inexplicable and the indescribable in accessible language. He set the standard for reporting designed to convey both the experience and the importance of war to the people remaining on the home front. War correspondents World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];journalism

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dedera, Don. “Ernie Pyle’s Tales of WWII Eclipsed His Days as a ’Tramp with an Expense Account.’” Arizona Highways, May, 1998, 49. Focuses on Pyle’s development as a journalist who wrote about regular people and routine events instead of officials, experts, and the sensational.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Evans, Frank. “Remembering Ernie Pyle: Former Soldiers Can’t Forget War Correspondent Who Died Sixty Years Ago.” Denver Catholic Register, April 13, 2005, 15. Pyle’s special relationship to GIs and their families back home is recalled.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fish, Peter. “Ernie’s Place.” Sunset, August, 2002, 148. Summarizes Pyle’s personal side, including his marriage and the house he built in Albuquerque.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, Lee G. The Story of Ernie Pyle. New York: Viking Press, 1950. Affectionate and richly detailed biography of Pyle by a longtime friend and editor.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nichols, David. Ernie’s War: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches. New York: Random House, 1986. An introductory biographical essay provides background to Pyle’s writings, which culminate in pieces sent from the area in which he died.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sentman, Mary Alice. “Ernie Pyle.” In American Newspaper Journalists, 1926-1950. Vol. 29 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1984. Thorough profile of Pyle’s life, with special attention to his career in journalism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tobin, James. Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness to World War II. New York: Free Press, 1997. Finely crafted prologue and epilogue bookend an examination of Pyle as both participant and observer in World War II.

U.S. Censorship and War Propaganda During World War II

Invasion of North Africa

Western Allies Invade Italy

Invasion of Normandy Begins the Liberation of Europe

Allied Forces Break German Front in France

Okinawa Campaign Meets Stiff Japanese Resistance

Categories: History