By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – August 6, 2017) — In a day and age when the media — journalists included — are under attack by some in political office, it’s nice to reflect on a journalist who was beloved across the political and social spectrum.
Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Ernie Pyle (1900-1945) wrote about the every-day person; be it in rural America or on the battlefield during World War II. His compassion for the common man, written in simple prose, earned him the respect of millions of readers, with over 400 newspapers around the country carrying his stories.
Pyle is credited with taking the aphorism “There are no atheists in foxholes” into national consciousness. Pyle wrote, “Sergeant Harrington is the only soldier I’ve ever seen who digs round foxholes instead of rectangular ones. He says that’s literally so it will be harder for strafing bullets to get at him, but figuratively so the Devil can’t get him cornered. He says he’s convinced the adage is true that ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’” .
Born in Indiana on August 3rd, Pyle got his start in journalism editing his college paper, The Daily Student at Indiana University. Pyle later moved to Washington, DC as a reporter for the Washington Daily News. In Washington, he met his future wife Geraldine Siebolds. Geraldine died in Albuquerque in 1945.
In 1926, Pyle and Geraldine left Washington, driving across the country finding stories of public interest, which eventually led Pyle and Geraldine to New Mexico where they took up residence in Albuquerque. Pyle was writing for the Scripps Howard chain of newspapers at the time, but in 1940 Pyle traveled to the UK to cover the Battle of Britain, an event that would change the course of his writing. A new calling commenced. From his war correspondence, Pyle began to write about America’s involvement in the war efforts in North Africa, Italy, and, later, Japan. Though Pyle covered many facets of the war, it was his writing about the men on the front lines that earned him the respect and love from people around the United States.
And it was with the men that he loved and wrote about that he died with. On April 17th, 1945, Pyle — along with some in the Army’s 305th Infantry — were killed. The story as told to the New York Times stated, “Lt. Col. Joseph B. Coolidge, the commanding officer of the 305th, toward Coolidge’s new command post when the jeep encountered enemy machine gun fire. The men immediately took cover in a nearby ditch. ‘A little later Pyle and I raised up to look around,’ Coolidge reported. ‘Another burst hit the road over our heads … I looked at Ernie and saw he had been hit.’ A bullet had entered Pyle’s left temple just under his helmet, killing him instantly.”
For those of us who live in Albuquerque, Pyle’s name is quite familiar. There’s a library named after him (housed in Pyle’s former home) and a Middle School named in his honor. And now as of August 3rd, there’s an Ernie Pyle Day, instituted by Governor Suzanna Martinez and Mayor Richard Barry .
There were various events around town commemorating Ernie Pyle Day, including a service at the Veterans War Memorial and a viewing of an Ernie Pyle documentary at the Public Library, of which I attended.
And though the combination of an esteemed journalist and an up-and-coming city (as Albuquerque was in 1940) may seem odd to some, for us Burquenos the choice of Albuquerque is fitting, uniting beautiful scenery and culture with a haven for artists and common folk; Pyle was a natural for our city and state.
In answering the question “Why Albuquerque,” Pyle wrote: “We like it here because we’re on top of the world, in a way; and because we are not stifled and smothered and hemmed in by buildings and trees and traffic and people. We like it because the sky is so bright and you can see so much of it. And because out here you actually see the clouds and the stars and the storms, instead of just reading about them in the newspapers” .
Pyle and Geraldine built their home in 1940, having what he called “a deep, unreasoning affection” for New Mexico. After Pyle death, the City of Albuquerque purchased the home and made it into the first branch of it’s growing public library system. The home is now on the National Register of Historic Places and a designated National Historical Landmark.
For those in Albuquerque, Pyle’s influence transcends his journalism, however, entering the realm of community partner and legend. His home left us with a legacy, making an indelible impact on many minds in our community.
Award-winning Christian author, Latayne C Scott, was one touched by the library. Writing in her blog, How a Helped Library Save Me, she states, “When I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, as a ten-year-old girl in 1962, I devoured the written word. From the time I was a toddler I had wondered at the magic of black marks on white paper and determined I would solve those mysteries; and once I learned to read I was voracious. Previously living in the raw-boned boomtown of Farmington New Mexico, I never went to a library…But once we moved to Albuquerque I discovered to my delight that there was a library just ten blocks away, down the Chinese-elm-lined street of Girard Avenue…The walls of wonder in that library were a cosmography for my young mind…
“I go back to that little library sometimes. What once seemed a kaleidoscope of ideas I now see as a tiny residence, where books were once ‘shelved’ even in the bathtub. It is the modest ‘little white house and picket fence’ that Ernie Pyle often wrote about, the one he and his wife built, now a public library in Albuquerque. His dog Cheetah’s grave is still there. Ernie built that very picket fence…
“I thank him for his home, the safe haven for my young mind” .
On behalf of all Americans — but especially residents of Albuquerque—we thank you, Ernie Pyle, for touching many minds and hearts around our country with your writing. But especially those of us in your adopted home, we are especially grateful for the treasure of your legacy, helping mold minds with the majesty of words and books, something that will continue well into the future .
And we thank you, New Mexico Legislature, for taking “the unprecedented step of declaring 3rd August to be Ernie Pyle Day” . So on behalf of all journalists around the world, Viva Nuevo Mexico.
5) We can add another posthumous legacy Ernie Pyle has left our community: The Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation Scholarship for Journalism was enacted, with the first recipient, Andres del Aguila, a multimedia journalism major, garnering the honor.
Photo captions: 1) Ernie Pyle in New Mexico. 2) Ernie Pyle Home and Library. 3) Ernie Pyle statue at Indiana University. 4) Ernie Pyle in England book. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon
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