Byline: Ernie Pyle
The country's best-known war correspondent learned his trade as an aviation reporter.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- Air & Space magazine, November 2011
Courtesy The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
(Page 3 of 4)
“He is an aviator, but he has never been to the North Pole, or the South Pole, or flown across the ocean at midnight with a pig in his lap, or stayed in the air a week without changing his socks.
“No, all he ever did was fly the night air mail between Cleveland and Cincinnati every night for 34 consecutive nights last winter.”
In these early columns, Pyle developed the easy, homespun style that would later characterize his World War II correspondence. Of Lieutenant Jimmy Doolittle running a 1929 radio beacon test: “If you had been at College Park Field just at dusk yesterday, you would have seen a little man, all stuffed and beclothed until he looked like a big man, waddle into his airplane and fly away into the northern darkness.”
Pyle wrote about pilots by day and socialized with them by night, often in his tiny second-floor apartment on N Street in southwest Washington. The airmail pilots were so comfortable with the slight, redheaded reporter that if they were forced to land due to bad weather, they’d call the postal service first and Pyle second, to give him the story.
Miller wrote that in 1929, “a young naval lieutenant, Apollo Soucek...was trying to set an altitude record. When he landed at the Naval Air Station after his first high flight and asked for a cigarette, Ernie was the first to hand him one. Another day, following a second flight, Ernie was there again with a cigarette. Still later, ‘Soakum’ stepped from his plane after another altitude flight—but Ernie wasn’t there. Soucek refused to smoke until Ernie was located, at Washington-Hoover Airport across the river, and rushed by taxi to do the honors.”
Pyle’s instincts were not always right. After flying in one of Eastern Air Transport’s big Curtiss Condors in November 1931, he offered this summary: “We think your airplanes are the most comfortable in the world, your pilots without peers, and your flying hostess idea a lot of foolishness.”
In 1940, the newspaper suggested a European trip; Pyle, by now a national columnist for Scripps-Howard, was lukewarm. Reluctantly, he decided to report from England, arriving in a blacked-out London on December 9, during the Blitz. His columns, eventually published as the book Ernie Pyle in England, were successful from the start; First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a fan, telling readers in her own newspaper column, “I don’t know whether any of you are reading about Ernie Pyle’s trip to England with as much interest as I am, but I have read everything since he left….”
After England, Pyle thought about following the American air forces: “I could become sort of an adopted unofficial biographer for them,” he wrote Miller. “In a way I could revive the old aviation column....” He ended up in Algeria instead, just two weeks after the invasion of Africa, his first columns covering the Allied troops that had made the original landings, and the hospital units that cared for the wounded. Pyle told Miller he found these columns “inadequate,” but they offered something—the empathetic voice, perhaps—that readers at home seemed to need.