For some time Highland illustrator Jim Barber had been drawing cartoons depicting “national days of…,” as it seems these days every day is the national day of something.
Well, he recently broke from that project to move to a theme of “States’ favorite sons and daughters” just as one of the few “national days” that I actually observe was coming up.
Thursday, April 18, was National Columnist Day, a time of the year that has me revisiting the work of one of my favorite columnists, Ernie Pyle.
Pyle was a Scripps-Howard reporter and columnists who covered the infancy of American aviation, traveled throughout North America as a roving reporter and had great impact as a World War II correspondent.
Rather than report on strategy, troop movements and generals, Pyle chose to travel with and report on the daily lives and experiences of front line troops of every job type. His signature personal and intimate reporting style provided a connection to the sons, brothers and fathers overseas that readers in the States desperately craved and cherished.
This was a time when world travel, especially for war, disconnected people almost totally from their loved ones at home. International phone calls were not commonplace, travel was slow so visits home were rare and TV news did not exist nor the Internet. Practically every American read the newspaper, and they all read Pyle. He was syndicated in approximately 400 dailies and 300 weeklies.
I love the vivid and personal way Pyle wrote of the smallest yet profound details of life on the front lines. From the way troops ate and slept to the peculiar ways they attempted to feel more at home in even the most temporary, foreign and hostile surroundings, to their views on war and death, Pyle observed it all and relayed it all back home.
Looking at photos of the Notre Dame fire this week brought to mind one column in particular, “A Dreadful Masterpiece,” in which Pyle recounts the horrifyingly beautiful scene of London lit up by hundreds of fires during one of Germany’s “terror bombings.”
Living so closely to the war and making those intimate connections to the men fighting it took a tremendous emotional toll on Pyle, yet, through devotion and love for the ”dogface” infantry, when war ended in Europe Pyle moved on to the Pacific theater.
On April 18, 1945 the war took its mortal toll when Pyle was killed by a Japanese machinegunner while covering the Battle of Okinawa. It’s in honor of Pyle, America’s most beloved columnist, that April 18 was made National Columnist Day.
Pyle was so beloved by American readers, in fact, that historians suggest that the nation never fully grieved the loss of Franklin Roosevelt because the president’s death was overshadowed by Pyle’s six days later.
Another of my favorite columnists is Brock Yates, the automotive and racing journalist for Car and Driver who created the underground cross-country race known as the Cannonball Run.
Yates’ race was created as a protest against the 55 mph speed limit and out of rebellion to the notion that Americans cannot be trusted with their own safety and must be protected from themselves through legislation.
Those illegal races and the films chronicling them (written by Yates) were the inspiration for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s Cannonball Memorial Run, in which local sergeants drive cross country only stopping to pay their respects to the families and departments of police officers murdered in the past year (see page 1).
In 2016, I covered the send-off of the first memorial run from the sheriff’s academy, which coincidentally fell about a couple of months from Yates’ death. The memorial run now begins its annual 3,000-mile journey at the Portofino Hotel in Redondo Beach, the final destination of Yates’ events.