Sunday, February 03, 2008

Ernie Pyle at Peace

It may be stretching the point to call a photo of WW2 journalist Ernie Pyle "archaeology" but it definitely falls under the freelance writing heading of this blog.

Pyle wrote dispatches from the battlefronts of World War 2 that touch the heartstrings in a hundred ways. He was killed in 1945, and only now--63 years later--has a copy of a photo of him surfaced, taken just after he died. No gaping wound, just a rather peaceful photo.

Right to the point, here's a link to the USA Today story, that reprints the photo. The photos of D-Day and the Normandy coast here are from the Library of Congress' Prints & Photo Collection, online.

And here is a link to several of Ernie Pyle's wartime dispatches. My particular favorite is "A Long, Thin Line" written from the beaches just after the Normandy invasion in June, 1944. It begins like this:

NORMANDY BEACHHEAD, June 17, 1944 - In the preceding column we told about the D-day wreckage among our machines of war that were expended in taking one of the Normandy beaches.

But there is another and more human litter. It extends in a thin little line, just like a high-water mark, for miles along the beach. This is the strewn personal gear, gear that will never be needed again, of those who fought and died to give us our entrance into Europe.

Here in a jumbled row for mile on mile are soldiers' packs. Here are socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles and hand grenades. Here are the latest letters from home, with the address on each one neatly razored out - one of the security precautions enforced before the boys embarked.

Here are toothbrushes and razors, and snapshots of families back home staring up at you from the sand. Here are pocketbooks, metal mirrors, extra trousers, and bloody, abandoned shoes. Here are broken-handled shovels, and portable radios smashed almost beyond recognition, and mine detectors twisted and ruined.

Here are torn pistol belts and canvas water buckets, first-aid kits and jumbled heaps of lifebelts. I picked up a pocket Bible with a soldier's name in it, and put it in my jacket. I carried it half a mile or so and then put it back down on the beach. I don't know why I picked it up, or why I put it back down.

That last line: "I don't know why I picked it up, or why I put it back down." strikes me as the most profound ever written.

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