DANA — I didn't know who Ernie Pyle was as a third-grader growing up in Rockville in the 1950s.
But the famous WW II correspondent, who had died 15 years before on an island while covering the Pacific Theater, would set me on my career path.
It all started when I began checking out a series of biographies of famous Americans from the public library's children's section. They had the same book cover format (see photo) and old-fashion silhouette illustrations within.
Pyle, I learned, grew up in nearby Dana, the son of a tenant farmer. He was fond of writing.
I, the son of a local butcher, also was in love with writing.
I was too young to be going into the adult section of the library, but that was where I had to go to find his books: “Brave Men” and “Here is Your War,” both collections of Pyle's World War II columns.
The books provided an altogether different picture of warfare and soldiers than what I had envisioned based on my extensive viewing of John Wayne films.
The story of the beloved Indiana University product had inspired me to find a niche in the newspaper business in a way that I doubt a 144-character tweet or a five-minute video ever could. The biography and his books had ushered me not just into the adult section of the library, but the adult world, where the good guys also died.
I knew from the time I was 10 years old what I wanted to do with my life, thanks to Ernie Pyle.
There probably will never be another war correspondent like him.
Warfare has changed.
“Embedded” doesn't necessarily mean now what it did then.
The media have changed.
Pyle's dispatches embraced the notion that the war was just as much Pvt. Russell Lusher's as Gen. Douglas MacArthur's, and told readers so in describing the Marion, Indiana, GI's two-man dugout.
A quote from Capt. Jed Dailey of Sharon, Massachusetts, regarding why he rushed back to his combat unit from a shoulder wound: “... Your place is with your outfit,” carried just as much weight as a comment from Gen. George S. Patton.
What Lt. Jim Gray of Wichita Falls, Texas, had to say about flak jackets merited as much space as anything five-star Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower might have intoned.
Was it an unconventional way to cover a war?
Was it old-fashion schmaltz, tinged with too much sentimentality?
Pyle won a Pulitzer Prize with his method.
It would be a shame to think the Ernie Pyle WWII Museum would once again have to close its doors as it did in 2009, and visitors would not experience the full flavor of the Hoosier writer's legacy.
His was the common touch. While it might not be appreciated now, it should.
A great American who went to war with a typewriter, Pyle had legions of followers … more than any general or admiral.
Stick your nose in a book, the older generation frequently tells youngsters.
Maybe we haven't told them often enough why they should.