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At Home with Ernie Pyle

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As anyone who has read his legendary WWII reporting knows, Ernie Pyle had an uncanny ability to connect with his readers, seeking out stories about the common people with whom he felt a special bond. A master of word painting, Pyle honed the skills that would win him a 1944 Pulitzer Prize for his battlefront reporting by traveling across America, writing columns about the people and places he encountered. At Home with Ernie Pyle celebrates Pyle’s Indiana roots, gathering for the first time his writings about the state and its people. These stories preserve a vivid cultural memory of his time. In them, we discover the Ernie Pyle who was able to find a piece of home wherever he wandered. By focusing on his family and the lives of people in and from the Hoosier state, Pyle was able to create a multifaceted picture of the state as it slowly transformed from a mostly rural, agrarian society to a modern, industrial one. Here is the record of a special time and place created by a master craftsman, whose work remains vividly alive three quarters of a century later.

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13 Chapters

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Hometown & Family

ePub

Back to the Midwest and its long, sad wind—and to a story about a little boy and some wild roses, and a blue racer and a whipping.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Ia.—It was soon after crossing into Iowa, coming south, that I gradually became conscious of the wind.

I don’t know whether you know that long, sad wind that blows so steadily across the thousands of miles of Midwest flat lands in the summertime. If you don’t, it will be hard for you to understand the feeling I have about it. Even if you do know it, you may not understand. Because maybe the wind is only a symbol.

But to me the summer wind in the Midwest is one of the most melancholy things in all life. It comes from so far, and it blows so gently and yet so relentlessly; it rustles the leaves and the branches of the maple trees in a sort of symphony of sadness, and it doesn’t pass on and leave them still; no, it just keeps coming, like the infinite flow of Old Man River.

You could, and you do, wear out your lifetime on the dusty plains with that wind of futility blowing in your face. And when you are worn out and gone, the wind, still saying nothing, still so gentle and sad and timeless, is still blowing across the prairies, and will blow in the faces of the little men that follow you, forever. That is it, the endless of it; it is a symbol of eternity.

 

Homecoming

ePub

The homing pundit breaks his long silence and
solves the solution of most everything

. . .

MY FOLKS—They got through the winter all right, with a few heavy colds but nothing worse. The new oil heater worked fine. My Aunt Mary was thinking about going to Finland to drive an ambulance, but the armistice stopped that. . . .1

Census catches Ernie and spoils his little scheme

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.— . . .

We slowed down in Orlando, to see the boy who was my closest chum from the time we were eight until we were 18, back in Indiana. His name is Thad Hooker and, like me, he is no longer much of a boy.

In the years that have passed his new acquaintances have warped “Thad” into “Ted,” and that is the name he goes by now. He has heard it so long he hardly answers to his old name.

He puts lath on new houses for a living, and there are plenty of new houses in Orlando, and pretty ones too. But my friend both lives and laths in order to be able to fish. He has come a long way from the tree-pole and cork-floater fishing of our creek days.

 

Indianapolis

ePub

Four bold men pass in review, one thrilling, one sad, one
puzzling and the other—was Doctor Brinkley

WASHINGTON—Four very bold men have been goose-stepping it across the pages in front of my leisurely eyes this past week. They are:

Peter DePaolo, the racing driver; John R. Brinkley, the goat gland doctor; Haw Tabor, the fantastic Colorado metal king; and William Randolph Hearst, the poor little rich boy.

About each of these men I have read a biography. It was a varied experience. These four had nothing in common—except boldness. But even that one bond knits a close society, for boldness is not squandered among us.

Peter DePaolo’s book is an autobiography. He wrote it himself. It is called “Wall Smacker.” It is not especially well written, but it is certainly not badly written.

DePaolo is an American-born Italian. He dreamed up following in the footsteps of his famous racing uncle, Ralph DePalma. And he did. DePaolo won at Indianapolis in 1925.

 

Brown County

ePub

Artists and hill people in Brown County, Indiana

BROWN COUNTY, Ind.—Brown County is to Indiana what Santa Fe is to the Southwest, or Carmel to California, or Provincetown to New England.

In other words, it is an art colony. But that is only a part of the picture.

It became an art colony in the first place, like the others, because the scenery is majestic and the native people are picturesque.

And, having become an art colony, it attracted non-artists and ordinary people, to its loveliness, and eventually it became a haven, and people came and fell in love with its placid ways, and built beautiful homes and stayed to become part of the spirit of the place. That is the way it has been with Brown County.

On the whole, I am ill at ease in the company of artists, for so much of the time I don’t know what they are talking about. And yet, invariably, I like the places that they have built into their “colonies.”

And so it is with Brown County, Indiana. I have fallen head over heels for the place, and the people, and the hills, and the whole general air of peacefulness. Good Lord, I even like the artists here!

 

Indiana University Connections

ePub

What the country is worrying about—at least on the Doylestown
Road—seems to be neither Hitler nor Mussolini, but Julia

PHILADELPHIA—“Julia, come here! Julia, stop bothering the gentleman!”

Julia was a little puppy dog, who lives on the Doylestown road up north of Philadelphia, in one of those old farmhouses so frequently turned into “Ye Olde Oaken Bucket Inn for overnight guests.” . . .

The name of the imaginary inn refers to the prize that goes to the winner of the annual IU-Purdue football game. The trophy was not actually awarded to the winner until 1925 (which turned out to be a scoreless tie), so Pyle’s use of the name provides evidence that he was still very much aware of what was happening in Indiana.

Two sets of tires took Ernie through 38 states, 5 Canadian provinces, and half of Mexico; twice he ran out of gas and it was not an accident

WASHINGTON— . . .

In over 300 days of driving, there has been only one day when I had an appointment at a definite time at the other end. It was in southern Indiana, and an old school friend whom I hadn’t seen for 13 years was going to meet me at 12:30 for lunch in a town along the way.

 

Evansville

ePub

Century-old physician interviewed by Ernie: Likes his pipe and the news, and is becoming fond of highballs; he knows most folks are crazy

EVANSVILLE, Ind.—Gentility is a characteristic that is hard to describe. I don’t know whether people are born with it, or whether it can be acquired. But if I could reach up into a tree, and pick off a characteristic for myself, I would pick gentility.

I am talking like this because I have just spent the afternoon in a home here, talking with three of the most genteel people I have ever met.

One is an old, old man, the oldest in Evansville. He will be 100 in September. Another is his daughter, a woman of middle age. The third is his grand-daughter, in her 30’s. The three live together in a fine old house.

I never knew it was possible to talk with a man 100 years old and enjoy it. I mean talk normally, discuss things, make jokes, talk about the present as you would talk with someone your own age.

This old man is Dr. C. P. Bacon. I talked with him for two hours. There was not an “old man’s phrase” in his entire conversation. He is an aristocratic, well-to-do retired physician—courteous, understanding, sharp-minded. He doesn’t look nor act a century old. He has the sense of humor of a man 70 years younger. He “gets” everything.

 

Around the State

ePub

Indiana preacher earns 101 Boy Scout merit badges, and
now he’s out to get the only two that are left

CLINTON, Ind.—His name is the Rev. Clyde Covington Pearce, but all the kids in Clinton call him “Pearce.” He’s the only preacher I’ve ever known that a kid could walk up to and call by his last name, just as though he were another kid.

He must be a good preacher, because he doesn’t act like a preacher at all. He’s about 6 foot 3, and athletic looking, and speaks not in mournful language. He’s in his 40s, I’d say.

I’m writing about him, not because he’s a preacher, but because he has the very great distinction of possessing more Boy Scout merits than anybody in America. Probably more than anybody in the world.

Under the Boy Scout setup, 103 merits are available. Pearce has 101 of them. The two he lacks now are “canoeing” and “citrus fruit raising.” He’s going to get the canoeing one this summer, and the fruit one as soon as he can save enough money to go to Florida.

 

Writers & Artists

ePub

Portrait of a WPA painter: Ernie meets a young Indiana giant at
Provincetown who finds life luxurious at $17.40 per week

PROVINCETOWN, Mass.—When I said to a friend up here that I’d like to pick out one artist and write about him as representative of the Provincetown art colony, my friend said:

“Well, we have two kinds here, you know. The ones who let their hair grow and never take a bath and do all the tricks. And then we have the serious kind.

“Everybody writes about the freaks. Why don’t you write about George Yater? He’s serious, and he’s one of the most up-and-coming of the younger group.”

So we went over to see George Yater. And what do you suppose he turned out to be? Just another boy from Indiana. I’ll bet if you invented a rocket and went to Mars, you’d find some small-town Hoosier sitting there.

George is 27.1 He has lived here for six years. He’s 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighs 225 pounds, and looks exactly like the hefty farm boys who go out in the fall and do or die for dear old Purdue. Except George never has.

 

Politics & Politicians

ePub

Portrait of a politician in a smoke-filled room: Ernie encounters Jim Watson in a Pullman cubicle, and that grand old vote-getter shows his technique

WASHINGTON—I was sitting alone in the smoking compartment, reading a magazine. The train was bouncing through the night at 70 miles an hour, making an awful racket. I thought I’d go to bed pretty soon. But just then the curtain was pulled aside, and who should walk in but Jim Watson.

I had never seen him before, but I recognized him from his pictures. We stared at each other as if we were about to speak, and then I raised up sort of automatically, like a knee-reflex, and said: “Aren’t you Senator Watson?”

“Why, yes,” he said. And he came over with his hand out ready for a big shake. He sat right down and started talking.

Some rough things have been said about Jim Watson and his political philosophies, and they may all be true. But you’ll have a mighty tough time trying not to like him.

I asked him if it wasn’t likely that he knew more Hoosiers than anybody else in the state. He said yes, he expected he did. After all, he’s been campaigning Indiana for 50 years, and he likes people, and remembering them is his stock in trade.

 

Hoosiers outside Indiana

ePub

MILES CITY, Mont. . . .

We saw Mr. Denien, who came to South Dakota five years ago from La Porte, Ind., to share the farm with a widowed uncle.

Mr. Denien and his wife and children packed up everything in the old Cadillac and drove out to the land of opportunity. The Cadillac has moved not an inch since they arrived. It is still there in the shed. Some of these days, when Mr. Denien gets up his courage, and enough money to buy a license, it may carry them away again.

I have never seen anybody so bewildered and discouraged as Mr. Denien. Here five years. A good crop the first year, but no money for it. No crop at all the last four years. He has five little children. “We came west all right,” says Mrs. Denien. “But we didn’t come far enough. They say things are good in Idaho.”

Mr. Denien was a janitor in the La Porte Y.M.C.A. for many years. He said he remembered me from the time I lived there on my first newspaper job. I don’t see how he could, but he had no other way of knowing I’d ever been there.

 

World War II

ePub

Machine-gunner Pyle goes riding in a five-ton tank

INDIANAPOLIS—Time was heavy on my hands today, so I appointed myself a corporal in the Panzer division and went out and rode around the country in a tank.

I sat in the machine-gunner’s seat, and mowed down trees and weeds and fence posts, and also killed a man on a dirt scraper driving two mules. His last words were, “Hey, what’s comin’ off here?”

The tank I rode in was a five-ton baby one, out at the Marmon Herrington Co. The ride lasted about half an hour, and was really only a small part of my afternoon’s education.

For Marmon-Herrington is deep in expansion for defense orders, as are most concerns of their type, and what they are doing was thrilling to me. But I’ll tell the rest tomorrow.

My little tank was built for two men, and was painted brown. You climb over the caterpillar tread mechanism, and step down into it from the top, like stepping into a box. Then you pull the steel roof down over you and lock it. And there you are, for better or worse.

 

Indiana Connections

ePub

Stop the Presses! Valiant Pyle makes it! 48th state is entered!

CISCO, Utah . . . . . . . .

Some states I have no more than a nodding acquaintance with. For instance, I merely went through Rhode Island on a train one night 10 years ago. In other states, I have spent weeks and months. I know Texas and Colorado and Virginia better than my own native Indiana.

A veteran flier finally uses a plane because he’s in a hurry, and
discovers that “coffee” is not always what it seems to be

INDIANAPOLIS, March—In case you’re contemplating a journey by air, I am prepared to offer, for the asking, a bit of eating-in-the-sky etiquet which might come in handy.

It all boils down to the simple advice: when dining aboard an air liner, look twice at your coffee before you put in cream and sugar. Might not hurt even to smell of it.

We were riding smoothly at 8000 feet over the Alleghenies, just before sunset, and the stewardess was so quiet about it all that I didn’t realize she was getting dinner ready till she put the tray across the arms of my seat.

 

Appendix

ePub

On some occasions, Pyle gives only the names of people from Indiana or refers only in passing to the state, with no detailed information. These instances are mentioned below.

May 28, 1929, [WASHINGTON]—On a flight from Washington to Dayton, O., in an Army Air Corps plane, we passed over 25 or 30 towns, and I knew what only four of them were. The others might have been Dana, Ind., or Swink, Okla., for all I knew.

June 26, 1929, ST. LOUISAfter missing a flight connection in Columbus, Ohio, Pyle winds up going through Indiana on the train, including a stop in Indianapolis, as he makes a transcontinental air-train journey.

August 28, 1929, CLEVELAND—[Doug] Davis flew here yesterday from South Bend, Ind., on the last leg of his trip from Wichita. . . .

April 14, 1931, DETROIT—[Among] the five newcomers to the [plane manufacturing companies is] . . . Cloud Coupe Aircraft of Milan, Ind., with a two-place, side-by-side cabin sesquiplane, driven with a 70-horsepower motor and selling for $1850.

 

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