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D-Day and the legacy of Indiana’s own Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle, D-Day and the human stories of WWII

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Thursday marks 80 years since D-Day. By land, sea, and air, 150,000 U.S. and Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, in an invasion that helped liberate France and led to the eventual victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Ernie Pyle was one of the best-known journalists in the country and joined American forces after the landing. Pyle was an Indiana native, grew up in the Vermillion County town of Dana, and went to Indiana University before there was even a journalism school. The journalism program was later named after him and his writings are still remembered today.

David Chrisinger is the author of “The Soldier’s Truth: Ernie Pyle and the Story of World War II” and joined Daybreak on Thursday to talk about Pyle’s war reporting and his continuing legacy.

“By the time D-Day occurs, Ernie’s been a correspondent for a couple of years at that point and he’s built his readership — sort of slowly but surely in the beginning and then when he was in Italy, his readership really exploded. So by the time he gets to France, there are about 12.5 million households across the United States that, that are reading his column every single day,” Chrisinger said.

“It took about a week for Ernie’s writing to get back from France. And people really waited with  bated breath to find out what Ernie was going to say about D-Day.”

Pyle wrote a series of columns after D-Day and said it seemed to be “a pure miracle” that our troops made a successful landing. Chrisinger says part of Pyle’s appeal was his honesty and ability to humanize the war.

Chrisinger says Pyle wasn’t like other journalists.

“He really created this kind of new style of war reporting where he embedded himself with the troops. He lived with them. He tried to present the war from what he called the ‘worm’s eye view’ instead of the bird’s eye view. And he wasn’t really interested in generals or in the big strategic stories; he really wanted to put a human face on the war,” Chrisinger said. “He was able to put a human face on the war and also help people really understand what it was costing to win the war against Nazi Germany.”

Pyle’s work changed the landscape of journalism and is still influential today, according to the author.

“We have reporting coming from Ukraine, coming from Israel, all sorts of places where there’s conflict. We expect, now, reporters to be on the ground and be embedded and get those human stories. And I think a big reason for that is because Ernie sort of set that expectation for us all those years ago. Not just his ability to report on the human cost of war, but to tell stories that made people understand what the war was about without him lecturing,” Chrisinger said.

Pyle was shot and killed by fire from a Japanese machine gun while working as a war correspondent on an island northwest of Okinawa on April, 18 1945.


(The front cover of the book “The Soldier’s Truth: Ernie Pyle and the Story of World War II.” (Provided Photo/David Chrisinger)