On the Wing and On the Ground

Ernie Pyle’s aviation and war dispatches.

By 1944, Ernest Taylor Pyle (in Normandy, France) had won millions of loyal readers and a Pulitzer. (The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana)

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“The papers say he’s been missing for 17 hours out west. I can’t get any information. Can’t you help me?”

There hasn’t been any information. As this is written, he has been missing for two weeks. Hundreds of men, on snowshoes and skies, on horses, in airplanes, have hunted the western mountains over, but there is no trace. The missing man is Howard Stark, known in many countries as the greatest blind flier of them all.

Missing—that is aviation at its worst.

Sudden news of death is like a knockout blow, which hurts and bewilders and gradually diminishes. But missing—that is the torture screw, with each hour that passes giving the screw another turn. You can’t resign to grief; you must hang alone by the tips of your hope, dangling, imagining, lying to yourself, waiting.

The night after Howard Stark disappeared, another woman called me up.

“Is there any news?” she asked. “I couldn’t sleep last night. All night I was thinking of Mrs. Stark, and living over my trouble again.”

Her “trouble” was on the night mail. Three years ago her husband crashed and died, half an hour after kissing her goodby at the airport.

Two telegrams have come to Mrs. Stark from Ohio. They were plain printed words on yellow slips, but they said things that only the women of aviation who sit at home would ever understand. Both of them ended with something about “praying for you.” They meant it too, deeply, for they are members of that corporation of loneliness.

I have been there, many times, when word of a crash came in. There is nothing romantic about aviation then.

To hear pilots cussing, with tears in their eyes. To see women wild with grief, or dazed and dry-eyed and staring.

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