Tribute To A Fallen War Reporter

Gen. Hagee CBS

There is a memorial in Okinawa, Japan featuring row after row of black granite.

And on that granite appear the names of the 237,000 soldiers who were killed in the brutal fighting there 55 years ago near the end of World War II.

President Clinton took time out from the Group of Eight economic summit to go there Friday to pay his respects.

CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen was there too, remembering one American among the war's "forgotten heroes" who had no rank at all when he died there.

The name on the wall reads "Pyle, Ernest T." He was better known as Ernie Pyle— a combat correspondent who loved his "GI Joes."

A friend called him "that frail little fellow in Army fatigues". The soldiers of World War II called him their war correspondent for writing words like these:

"Now to the infantry-- the 'god-damned infantry,' as they liked to call themselves-- I love the infantry because they are the underdogs. They are the mud, rain, frost and wind boys. And in the end, they are the guys wars can’t be won without."

"It’s so true...it’s so true," remembered World War II veteran Murray Harlan.

GI's found Pyle easy to talk to. "He always seemed to say it like it was. That's what I liked about him," recalled former Marine Sergeant Whitey Fox.

From the first battles in Africa to the last in Okinawa, Pyle wrote of soda jerks and lawyers turned soldiers; his reports read like letters from the men at the front to the folks back home.

"What was unusual about Ernie was that he did it so well, so sensitively, and brought that form to a very large national audience," says Pyle biographer James Tobin.

"That was really his gift to journalism – it's that he did this so incredibly well. It wasn’t that he invented it, it was that he perfected it."

He perfected it with words like these:

"There are things that you at home need not even try to understand. For you at home they are columns of figures or perhaps a near one who went away and just didn’t come back. You didn’t see him lying so grotesque and pasty beside the gravel road in France. We saw him, saw him by the multiple thousands. That’s the difference."

On a Normandy beach after D-Day, he took a walk and wrote. "Men were sleeping on the sand, some of them sleeping forever. Men were floating in the water, but they didn’t know they were in the water, for they were dead."

And a few more of Pyle's words from D-Day. "Here are toothbrushes and razors, and snapshots of families back from home staring up at you from the sand. Here are pocketbooks, metal mirrors, extra trousers and bloody abandoned shoes."

But it was on a tiny island near Okinawa on a spring morning in 1945 that Pyle came under fire.

He scrambled into a ditch. A moment later he lifted his head and was killed instantly. Tere’s a memorial there now, with words so simple and straightforward that Ernie Pyle might have written them himself:

"At this spot, the 77 Infantry Division lost a buddy."

That buddy once wrote: "There is an agony in your heart and you almost feel ashamed to look at them. They are just guys from Broadway and Main Street, and you wouldn’t remember them. They are too far away now. They are too tired."

Ernie Pyle was wrong. We remember them... because of his words.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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