BRIAN LAMB, HOST: James Tobin, who was Ernie Pyle?
Mr. JAMES TOBIN: Ernie Pyle was the most famous war correspondent of World War II. He started out as just one war correspondent among many and became a kind of folk hero,
really, identified with the war effort, identified with the fighting men of World War II in a way that really no other reporter ever has been.
LAMB: Why are you interested in him?
Mr. TOBIN: I suppose I'm interested in him just because I started to read his stuff when I was in graduate school at the University of Michigan. I was writing a dissertation about the home front during World War II and knew that I had to read some war correspondence;
started out with Pyle. And I had read only a few of his pieces before I realized I was on to something quite extraordinary.
LAMB: When was this picture taken?
Mr. TOBIN: That picture was taken in the fall of 1944 at--it was in the studio. You can see in the background when you've got the full thing like that, you see the busts in the background. It was taken in the studio of Jo Davidson, who was a famous sculptor in New York. And he was doing a bust of Pyle. And Al--Alfred Eisenstadt, the famous Life photographer, came in and took Ernie's picture.
LAMB: Where was Ernie Pyle born?
Mr. TOBIN: In Dana, Indiana, which is a little farm town out on the far western edge of Indiana, just a couple of miles from the Illinois border. Born in 1900.
LAMB: What's it near?
Mr. TOBIN: It ain't near much. It's near...
LAMB: What's the closest...
Mr. TOBIN: It's near Clinton. Terre Haute is the nearest decent-sized town.
LAMB: So it's right on the western border.
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah.
LAMB: How long did he live there?
Mr. TOBIN: He got out as soon as he could; lived there until he went to college at Indiana University just after finishing high school. Went back only when he felt obliged to see his folks.
LAMB: Have you been there?
Mr. TOBIN: Oh, yes. Yeah, a number of times.
LAMB: What's there?
Mr. TOBIN: The town of Dana, I'm told, is not much different than it was when Ernie was living there. It's a h--a lovely little town. And the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site, which is a part of the--part of the state museum, you know, setup, is there. And it has both a Pyle museum and a wonderful collection of Pyle materials. It's where I did a good deal of my research.
LAMB: So what do you see when you get there?
Mr. TOBIN: You see a silo. That's the first thing you see coming out from Indianapolis. You cross the Wabash River and you come up a rise and you're suddenly in a landscape that is just about as flat as western Texas. And you drive a little bit farther and then you see a silo and a little--I've always thought of it as a little oasis of trees surrounding the town. And there's a little traditional main street and houses surrounding it. You stand in the middle of Dana and you can look to the east and to the west and you see the farms on either edges--either side of town.
LAMB: And when you first get to the Ernie Pyle Memorial Museum or whatever you call it...
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...what do you see there of him?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, you see that--the house where he was born; not the house where he actually grew up, which is still outside of town. This house was outside of town and was moved in about 1975, I think. And it's a pretty, little, white farmhouse that has been moved in. And there's also a mural there on the side --of a building that commemorates Pyle and the GIs of World War II.
LAMB: So what is he? What's he all about?
Mr. TOBIN: Pyle was a working newspaperman in the '20s and '30s, a good one, but one who never reached any particular kind of acclaim or fame, until he went out on the road in 1935 for the Scripps-Howard newspapers and became one of only a very small handful of roving reporters. That's what he was called. He wrote a six-day-a-week column just based on the stuff that he saw wherever he went. He went--he traveled all around the US, and they gradually extended his trips farther and farther through the Western Hemisphere; went to
Alaska and--and South and Central America and wrote about just whatever he could find.
It's an extraordinary collection of material that both he and I felt was really his best stuff. If you get into Ernie's stuff before the war, you're really reading the most remarkable of his
material. But, of course, he just was known to his fans, a relatively small group of people who were subscribers to the Scripps-Howard papers and some syndicated papers that picked him up.
And this, as I say, was not the period of his great fame. That only happened when he went overseas. He went through a terrific personal crisis and decided that the best way to sort of free himself from that was to get overseas and cover the war. And...
LAMB: What--what was his personal crisis?
Mr. TOBIN: Pyle was a troubled guy himself: depressive, drank too much. But his great difficulty was a very sad marriage. He was married to a woman who was bright, witty, a wonderful woman in many ways, Geraldine--Jerry--but had just terrific emotional problems and was alcoholic and suicidal. And their relationship just became more and more difficult as she tried to recover --from her problems. And that didn't happen. The recovery didn't happen, and so ultimately they divorced in early 1942. And to just sort of escape this problem and to try and shock her back into a sense of sanity, he decided it was best to go overseas.
LAMB: So how long were they married?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, let's see, they were married in 1925 and were divorced then in early '42 and then remarried while Pyle was overseas--remarried by proxy when he was in Africa and stayed married until his death in '45. And she died a few months thereafter.
LAMB: One of the things I kept writing down about him, as you go through the book, is--I don't know how strong you--these words are, but `drunkenness and depression and...'
Mr. TOBIN: Hers or his?
LAMB: His. I mean, he knew...
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah.
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah. I don't--yeah. I'm no expert on alcoholism and didn't feel...
LAMB: `Self-loathing and suicidal despair,' and, you know-but --actually, that was her.
Mr. TOBIN: That describes her, right. Right.
LAMB: Yeah. But there was, `always tired, anxiety-ridden, stress-ridden.'
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah. Well, it's interesting because the guy that readers came to know in the column was almost happy-go-lucky. You got the sense of a--sort of this carefree tramp driving all around the country. It's a very lighthearted column before the war, and yet he was under terrific strain all the time. It was a tough job that he had set for himself, to write six columns a week. And writing it not as a Walter Winchell did it, with press agents calling him all the time, but a working reporter who had to find out stuff wherever he was. And--so that was a--that was just a tough strain. And, of course, that became worse for various reasons during the war.
And--but he was a melancholy guy, a depressive guy, no question about it. And I never quite figured out why. I made a few guesses in the book, but I could never quite pinpoint the causes of his troubles.
LAMB: And now--where do you live now?
Mr. TOBIN: I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
LAMB: What do you do for a living?
Mr. TOBIN: I'm a reporter for the Detroit News.
LAMB: How long have you done that?
Mr. TOBIN: Since September of 1986, right after I got through with grad school.
LAMB: And all--how many degrees do you have?
Mr. TOBIN: More than I need. Well, I have a BA and a MA and a PhD in history.
LAMB: You run into many reporters that have PhDs in history?
Mr. TOBIN: No, I don't. No. A lot--lot of people say, `Why the heck did you spend the time doing that if you were just going to be a newspaper reporter?'
LAMB: Why did you?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, I sort of bounced back and forth trying to decide whether to be a journalist or a historian and had decided at a certain point that I wanted to go whole-hog the academic route. And then, oh, for a variety of reasons having to do with my wife and I having our first baby and--and her having a good job that we didn't want to give up, decided to go back into journalism. And after I finished the PhD--and--and the PhD came in surprisingly handy at many points along the way; gives you a different perspective on things.
LAMB: What was your first job in journalism?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, I did various internships while I was in college and--but --I've never really had a real job with any paper other than The News in Detroit.
LAMB: And where's your home originally?
Mr. TOBIN: Outside of Detroit--Birmingham, Michigan.
LAMB: Anybody in your family a journalist?
Mr. TOBIN: No. But all...
LAMB: Anybody in your family a historian?
Mr. TOBIN: No. Uh-uh. But all interested in history and all readers.
LAMB: How often have you run into people that know all about Ernie Pyle?
Mr. TOBIN: Practically anytime that I hit anybody over the age of 60. Then it's a big name. And they say, `Oh, of course' and `I remember reading him' or `My dad cared so much about Ernie Pyle' or `My mom cared so much about Ernie Pyle.' When I talk to folks my age or younger, I usually get a blank stare. It's not a name that's lasted.
LAMB: What would have happened to Ernie Pyle in this country or even in the news business if he had covered the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf situation the same way...
Mr. TOBIN: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...he covered World War II?
Mr. TOBIN: That's a real good question and I think that he--I--you know, I think it's the nature of the war, to some extent, that led him to be as supportive of the troops as he was in World War II. If he had been covering Vietnam at the time that David Halberstam or Neil Sheehan, Malcolm Browne were there, I think he would have started to write the story the way they wrote it. They went in supporting the war effort. And it was only when they started to report what they saw happening in front of them that they came to become skeptics.
LAMB: In a minute I'm going to show some video of a training tape that--or training film. It's old stuff. It's not--actually, there's not much we could find on...
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...Ernie Pyle on film. Why is that?
Mr. TOBIN: I just don't know the answer to that question. Why the Newsreel guys didn't pick up on him more, I'm not sure. Whether they weren't as far forward as he was--I just don't know. There's a little bit that exists.
LAMB: There's a photo in the book of Ernie Pyle with George Patton, and the cutline on this photo says, `He never, ever mentioned George Patton in any column he ever wrote.'
Mr. TOBIN: Right.
Mr. TOBIN: All we know for sure is what a good friend of his, Don Whitehead, who worked for the Associated Press, said, which is just that--that Pyle hated Patton's guts. The only references of Ernie's own in his letters home just referred to--I think he just called him
`the big general.' That always meant--that always meant Patton. Patton was the antithesis of Pyle. He was a--you know, a terrific soldier, but something of a braggart and a great egotist who, you know, rode herd over his--over his men, and Pyle didn't have much use for that.
LAMB: We got some video, and the context of it--before I show it, I want to ask you at what point was Ernie Pyle the best known in this country? And for what reason at that time?
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah. Yeah. Well, his great fame begins in the spring of 1943. He has, at that point, been in North Africa for a number of months, but it's when the infantry campaign really picks up in North Africa, when the warm weather comes and the--the spring campaign
really begins he started to write these dispatches home. And very quickly people started to realize that this guy is covering the war in a way that nobody else is. And he suddenly becomes this sort of `must-read' figure.
And then he covers the Sicilian campaign that summer and that sense of--of, `My God, you--you've got to see what this guy is writing' really picks up. And it's because he is offering a very realistic and at the same time very affectionate view of what the average soldiers are going through in combat and--and not just in combat, but when they're not in combat, when they're sitting around in--in rest camps, when they're waiting to go into battle, recovering. And it's a view of the soldiers that folks weren't getting anywhere else.
LAMB: Let's look at this video. This is about a minute and 22 seconds long. And what it is, it's a training film...
Mr. TOBIN: OK.
LAMB: ...in which you've got a bunch of actors dressed up in military uniforms talking about ordnance or whatever.
Mr. TOBIN: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And he comes into the picture, as you'll see. I mean, he--his being comes in. Let's watch that, and we'll get back to more on Ernie Pyle.
(Excerpt from training film)
LAMB: `As a journalist, a great booster of everybody at the front.' How would that work again today?
Mr. TOBIN: You mean, would it be the right way to cover a war that happened today?
Mr. TOBIN: God, it just wouldn't happen. I've j--been reading about coverage of the Gulf War and that wasn't how most reporters saw their role. The whole mind-set has shifted, and I won't say which way was right and which was wrong. But Ernie did s--he certainly--well,
you know, I don't--he didn't set out to be a cheerleader for the GI. He set out to tell what he was seeing. And because of a kind of--just an--a natural gift for empathy, I think he saw that these soldiers were going through a very great ordeal that people at home needed to understand.
And it was a great ordeal and it was very different from the sort of ordeal that--if you can call it that, that troops went through in the Gulf War, which was just so quick--not a pleasant experience, but --not what Army infantry went through in Italy, say.
LAMB: In your appendix you have some of the pieces that he wrote.
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah.
LAMB: How did you sift through all those and decide?
Mr. TOBIN: That was hard. Well, some--a couple choices were hard because I wanted to pick early things that he had written that were representative of the pre-war stuff. The wartime columns were easier. There are certain columns that are just real well-known to
anybody who remembers Pyle and, at the same time, representative --of his war works so that anybody who hadn't read his stuff just could immediately get a sense--get a taste for his writing and why he was who he was.
LAMB: What's your favorite piece?
Mr. TOBIN: Oh, I don't know. Some of the--there are pieces that Ernie wrote that nobody remembers that I like a lot. There's a--sh--it's hard to explain, but there's a piece that he writes about looking at a picture magazine. I think it's--I never could quite figure it out; I think it's Time--just in North Africa, where he sort of speculates about why war seems dramatic when you're away from it, but it doesn't seem dramatic when you're in the middle of it. That's a very sensitive piece.
And the most--the best known of his pieces is quoted right in the text of the-- book, and it's about a scene in which an infantry captain is led down on the--he's been killed in Italy, and he's led down off a--off a mountain on the back of a mule and his--sort of--the body is greeted by several of his guys down at the bottom of this mountain. Officer's name is Henry Waskow. That's a--it remains both his most famous and probably his most moving story.
LAMB: Well, if it's all right with you, I'd like to ask you to read it, and because--I mean, I picked it out, page 134, because it's hard, if you've never head of Ernie Pyle or have any idea why anybody would care as much as you did to write a book about him...
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...in this day. So if you don't mind, just read...
Mr. TOBIN: Sure.
LAMB: We've got some--we've got it typed up so people can follow it along, but it's a--it's a bit long. But go ahead.
Mr. TOBIN: Mm-hmm. OK. The--the dateline is: At the front lines in Italy. And this was written--I know that the fellow died December 14th, 1943, so that's the setting.
`In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them, but never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Captain Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.
Captain Waskow was a company commander in the 36th Division. He had been in this company since long before he left the States. He was very young, only in his middle 20s, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.
"After my own father, he comes next," a sergeant told me. "He always looked after us," a soldier said. "He'd go to bat for us every time." "I've never known him to do anything unkind," another one said.
I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Captain Waskow down. The moon was nearly full at the time, and you could see far up the trail and even part way across the valley. Soldiers made shadows as they walked.
Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed onto the backs of mules. They came lying belly down across the wooden packsaddle, the heads hanging down on the left side of the mule, their stiffened legs sticking awkwardly from the other side, bobbing up and down as the mule walked.
The Italian mule skinners were afraid to walk beside dead men, so Americans had to lead the mules down that night. Even the Americans were reluctant to unlash and lift off the bodies when they got down to the bottom, so an officer had to do it himself and ask others to help.
The first one came early in the morning. They slid him down from the mule and stood him on his feet for a moment. In the half-light, he might have been merely a sick man standing there leaning on the other. Then they laid him on the ground in the shadow of the stone wall
alongside the road. I don't know who that first one was. You feel small in the presence of dead men and ashamed of being alive, and you don't ask silly questions.
We left him there beside the road, that first one, and we all went back into the cowshed and sat on water cans or lay on the straw, waiting for the next batch of mules. Somebody said the dead soldier had been dead for four days, and then nobody said anything more about him. We talked for an hour or more; the dead man lay all alone, outside in the shadow of the wall.
Then a soldier came into the cowshed and said there were some more bodies outside. We went out into the road. Four mules stood there in the moonlight in the road where the trail came down off the mountain. The soldiers who left them stood there waiting. "This one is Captain Waskow," one of them said quickly.
Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow beside the stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally, there were five lying end to end in a long row. You don't cover up dead men in the combat zones. They just lie there in
the shadows until somebody else comes after them.
The uncertain mules moved off to their olive orchards. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually I could sense them moving, one by one, close to Captain Waskow's body; not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him
and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear. One soldier came and looked down and he said out loud, "Goddamn it."
That's all he said and then he walked away. Another one came and he said, "Goddamn it to hell anyway." He looked down for a last--a few last moments and then turned and left.
Another man came--I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the half-light, for everybody was grimy and dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain's face and then spoke directly to him as though he were alive, "I'm sorry, old man."
Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer and bent over and he, too, spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper, but awfully tenderly, and he said, "I sure am sorry, sir."
Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the captain's hand and he sat there for a full five minutes, holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face. And he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there. Finally, he put the
hand down. He reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain's shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. And then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.
The rest of us went back into the cowshed, leaving the five dead men lying in a line end to end in the shadow of the lone stone wall. We lay down on the straw in the cowshed, and pretty soon we were all asleep.'
LAMB: What was the impact on the country when columns like that came out?
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah. That particular column, you know, sort of was an instant sensation and was reprinted beyond Pyle's papers and was acclaimed.
It was interesting, I sort of found different things that people wrote about it and it was read in different ways, depending on people's point of view. And although Pyle himself was very proud of that column, he never said, `Here's why I wrote it. Here's what it meant to me.' Some people saw it as--well, it was--the interesting thing, some people --were shocked that soldiers would swear in the middle of the combat zone. That bothered some folks. Others saw it --as sort of a passivist statement, a curse upon wars and some--somebody said. You know, I see it more as sort of a testament to the comradeship of the soldiers.
It's interesting, I spoke to a couple of the guys who were there that night including the soldier who brought Pyle's body down from the mountain.
LAMB: That--not Pyle's body.
Mr. TOBIN: Not Pyle's body; Waskow's body.
LAMB: Waskow's body.
Mr. TOBIN: Guy named Reilly Tidwell, who was from a small town in Texas and had been Waskow's runner and--his messenger--and had been right next to him when Waskow was killed and was worried about whether the body was going to be--was going to be removed. It's up at the top of this mountain, Mt. Simoucro--and had been waiting for a day or two, figuring that the guys who were--he had--himself had been wounded--Tidwell was. And so when the body didn't come down, figured he'd better go back up and get it and he did and was wounded again on his way back down, and then he was one of the guys in the little circle of men there.
And he became--it's interesting, the column was so acclaimed that Tidwell, although not named in the column, was sought out and became sort of a war hero himself. He was put on tour and taken around the country.
LAMB: And where did you find him again?
Mr. TOBIN: He lived in--gosh, he's now--he just died recently and I can't remember the town that he has lived in. But it was one of those things where you sort of talk to one person who put you in touch with another person who said, `You've got to talk to Reilly Tidwell and here's his phone number.'
LAMB: What was his reaction when you called him?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, Tidwell had done this interview before. He was s--sort of well known in those circles and he wasn't shocked to be contacted. So--but very pleased and had felt--had very tender feelings about Pyle.
LAMB: When did you start on your book in the first place?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, I did some work on it when I was in grad school --in the middle '80s and then started back in about--well, I guess I went down to Indiana University, where some of the Pyle papers are, in late '91, got a--sort of got a look at the letters and then really started in earnest in about '93.
LAMB: A lot of correspondence that you quote in there from his wife, Jerry.
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah.
LAMB: Where was that?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, to his wife.
Mr. TOBIN: Not very many of her letters to him survived. The bulk of that is at IU, at the Lilly Library at Indiana University. There's a real treasure trove of stuff, most of which is Pyle's letters to his boss at Scripps-Howard, Lee Miller, and that's at this little Pyle historic site in Dana.
LAMB: You have a picture in the book of Lee Miller and also Lester Cowan?
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah.
LAMB: Who are they?
Mr. TOBIN: Miller was...
LAMB: That was his picture, by the way. Where is this?
Mr. TOBIN: I beg your pardon?
LAMB: Where is this picture?
Mr. TOBIN: That picture is at Dana, and Miller, on the right, was Pyle's editor and close friend, not his--not really his closest personal friend, but they were very close professional colleagues and worked both before and during the war together. And Miller really became sort of Pyle's agent, too. Scripps-Howard called him vice president in charge of Pyle because just managing Pyle's career during the war became such an undertaking.
Lester Cowan was the Hollywood movie producer who wanted and did make a movie based on Pyle's writings. Yeah, that's a picture of Pyle with Burgess Meredith, who played the role of Pyle in the movie "The Story of GI Joe."
LAMB: When was the movie put out?
Mr. TOBIN: The movie actually came out after Ernie was killed, in the summer, of '45 and was--it's funny, it's not in general circulation now. It's sort of tied up in Cowan's estate but was acclaimed as a great work of war realism at the time. You look at it now and it doesn't seem to compare in terms of realism to more recent movies.
LAMB: We have some more raw footage of--I guess that's lingo for our business, but it's--it's just...
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...old black-and-white footage of Ernie Pyle. Why don't we run this? I think this was about--we have about a minute of it, and there's no audio on it, and we can see what he looked like on a ship.
Mr. TOBIN: That's in the Pacific. Yeah.
LAMB: At what point in his career did he go to the Pacific?
Mr. TOBIN: He had been all through the various campaigns in Africa and Europe. This film I'm not sure if I've seen this or not. It's great to see it. You see that smile, very famous smile. And he went--he came home after the liberation of Paris really exhausted and down and felt like he couldn't go on any further. But then felt and, you know, was sort of advised by various folks, including Eleanor Roosevelt, that it would be a great idea if he--oh, that's a--there's a very famous still from that footage right at that moment. Yeah, it's in the book. Yeah, a guy wrote to me who--when Pyle was signing on top of his head, the guy wrote to me and said, `That's me that Ernie's--whose head I'm--whose head Ernie is signing the autograph on top of.' But anyway, he just came to feel that he had an obligation to the Marines and sailors and--and soldiers who were in the Pacific to tell their story, too.
LAMB: You mean, in this photograph, you have talked to the man that he's...
Mr. TOBIN: Guy--guy--yeah, guy claims that he's the guy that--right underneath Ernie's hand there.
LAMB: How did he know you were working on this?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, I put out a couple of query letters, one in The NewYork Times Book Review, which got a terrific result from some wonderful folks who knew Ernie, and then a couple in veterans magazines--I'm trying to think--VFW Magazine, and I think that guy saw
that author's query in VFW and wrote to me. I got a number of interesting replies.
LAMB: How does that work? How do you do the ads?
Mr. TOBIN: It's as easy as can be. The New York Times Book Review--I just--I'm forever indebted to them. It's free. It's just no big deal. You say, `I want to--I'm doing this book. I'd like to do this query.' They say, `Great. Fax us a copy,' and there it was just a few weeks later. And I got just amazing, invaluable material from that, including--a guy wrote to me who was the son of a woman named Moran Livingstone, with whom Ernie had a long love affair during the war. And just based on this one exchange of letters, he told me who he was,
and I wrote back to him and I said...
LAMB: Did you say he was the son of?
Mr. TOBIN: He was the son of Moran Livingstone. And it was--this confirmed that this was the woman that I had read about, heard about. I knew that Ernie had had an affair during the war, but I wasn't positive of with whom. And the son said, `Yeah, she was the one,' and he sent me back just an envelope, a clipping of a file full of Ernie's love letters to her, the originals. And my wife, who was an archivist, sort of rolled her eyes saying she couldn't believe that this guy had committed these letters-these original Ernie Pyle letters to the--to the mail, but he had. And so we made copies and got them back, and they're wonderful letters that reveal many of Ernie's deepest thoughts about the war.
LAMB: When was their relationship?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, they met just before the war. She was married to the--a guy named Barney Livingstone, who was the head of the AP bureau in Albuquerque, which is where the Pyles made their home, and they sort of ran in the same social circle. And they developed a close friendship and, I think, sort of had a mutual crush on each other. And then after Ernie was divorced during that time, the--I think that's when the--the affair sort of began and became more intense after his remarriage.
LAMB: You have even the specific information that Ernie Pyle was impotent.
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah.
LAMB: How do you find that out?
Mr. TOBIN: He told his best friend, Page Cavanaugh, and talked about it quite frankly in letters to P--to Cavanaugh.
LAMB: And wha--how did you find that out?
Mr. TOBIN: That the letters existed?
LAMB: No, that he--you know...
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...I mean, how did you get the--yeah, or...
Mr. TOBIN: Well, I mean, you--he's--I mean, it's a--yeah, it's an extraordinary friendship between these two. Cavanaugh had been a World War I veteran whom Ernie met when they were both in school at IU. And Ernie was just the kind of guy who didn't keep secrets from his best friends and he d--he is constantly making himself--making fun of himself for his impotence. But it was what a psychiatrist would call selective impotence. He was not able to have a sexual relationship with his wife after a certain time but then overcame it with Moran Livingstone.
LAMB: How close did he come to getting shot at or wounded...
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...throughout the entire time? And go back over the years that he was actually in the combat zone.
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah. Yeah. Well, let's see, he goes--well, he he had been in London during the Ba--during the Battle of Britain and spent so--several months there when London was being bombed. Doesn't, you know--I mean, he sees--he sees the bombing like anybody else who was in London at the time, but he doesn't have any particular close calls. Then he goes to North Africa in late fall of '42, just a couple of weeks after the American invasion there, goes all through the campaign in--in Tunisia and is definitely close to the front there, comes under artillery fire there and under German bombing there, then goes to Sicily and is, you know, close to the front --all through that period and then again in Italy.
And I guess the closest call in Italy is when the--there's a picture of that. This is in Anzio, the beachhead, which was a very narrow beachhead, almost the whole--there wasn't--as they said, there was no rear at Anzio. They were constantly under shell fire. And this is a--sort of a villa on the waterfront where the press had their headquarters. Pyle was sleeping upstairs and a big stick of bombs hit right next to this building. And he had just gotten out of bed and
gone over to the window when the bomb hit. Wall collapsed right onto the bed where he had been only a few seconds earlier. So that was a real close call and really shook him up very badly.
LAMB: How many books have been written about him?
Mr. TOBIN: This is the second biography. Lee Miller, his editor, wrote a biography called the "Story of Ernie Pyle." It was published in 1950. There were two compilations of Pyle's columns published in the '80s put together by a guy named David Nichols. And that--one is
called "Ernie's War," and then the second was--published in '89, was called "Ernie's America," which is the prewar stuff.
LAMB: The censors--what was is relationship to the censors and what was the difference in World War II compared to the wars in the last 30 years?
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah. Yeah. Well, Ernie got to know a bunch of the censors pretty well, palled around with them in North Africa and sort of sympathized with their unenviable position. His stuff did not reveal much that worried the censors much. The censors worried about things that would reveal military doings of various kinds. And Ernie's stuff was so feature in what we call soft news that they didn't concern themselves much and he wasn't censored much.
He was bitterly disappointed at one point at the end of the North African campaign when he wrote a column about battle fatigue, and that was thought to be not good for home-front morale. And so he was very angry and disappointed about that. That is the only incident I know of on the European side of things where he couldn't wr--you know, send something that he wanted to that he had actually written.
In the Pacific, the Navy was very particular about actually naming sailors and soldiers and Marines, and Ernie really bridled at that because the heart and soul of his column was to talk about individual guys. And, in fact, he was so unhappy with this--he had been promised ahead of time in going to the Pacific that he would be allowed to name fellows in the column. But then it was--there were holdups, and the Navy wouldn't let that stuff go through.
And so he finally marched into the public information office in Guam, I think, which is where fleet headquarters were, and said, really, `Maybe it's a better idea if I just go on to the Philippines and rejoin the Army under General MacArthur. I'm sure they'd have a much more understanding view.' And that ended Ernie's censorship problems with the Navy right there.
LAMB: Roy Howard--he comes up several times. Who was he?
Mr. TOBIN: Roy Howard was the chairman of the Scripps-Howard chain and was a guy who hadn't paid too much attention to Ernie's career before the war but then realized, of course, that he was a very hot commodity and took an interest in Ernie's career, which made Ernie nervous because Ernie didn't like brass of all types, either in the--on the military side or on the newspaper side. And so it made him a little uncomfortable when Howard would sort of scrutinize what Ernie was up to. And Howard wanted Ernie to go to the Pacific very much because Howard idolized MacArthur and felt that Ernie ought to go and do some good PR for MacArthur, and Ernie resisted successfully.
LAMB: When he started to become well known, things like Pulitzers, Time magazine cover stories...
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...radio shows and all that, ex--explain how that started to happen.
Mr. TOBIN: Well, let's see, he was awarded the Pulitzer for the body of hi--or a certain body of his work for 1943, so that was mostly the North African and Sicily stuff.
LAMB: How important was it when he won it?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, I think it was the same as it is now. It was the ultimate in journalism awards and--but nobody really--certainly nobody was surprised. And, in fact, I don't know if this has happened at other times, but the guy who was sort of the executive secretary of the Pulitzer committee at Columbia actually solicited an entry from Ernie Pyle, wrote to Lee Miller and said, `We certainly would welcome a Pyle entry.' And that was very unusual and they didn't understand what the heck was going on. But it looked like the decision had already been made. That was in January on '44, I think, and the Pulitzers aren't awarded until April or May. So that was unusual.
LAMB: What about the Time magazine cover story?
Mr. TOBIN: That happened in--while Ernie was in Normandy, I think, in July of '44, and he knew about it a little bit ahead of time but was extremely disappointed when he actually saw it. It was a very flattering piece, but a lot of it was wrong, and some of Time's guys had gone to Hollywood to gather material and had made the mistake of talking to scriptwriters who were working on Lester Cowan's movie. And at that point those guys were making a fair amount up out of whole cloth but didn't make it clear to the Time guys that this stuff was
not literally true. And so it portrayed Ernie as a much more sort of bewildered and backwards sort of guy than he was. He was a very shrewd person, a very intelligent--and this portrayed him as kind of a bumbling, inept guy who just sort of lucked into the--the sort of
writing that he did. And so he was privately quite incensed about the cover story.
LAMB: Have you ever heard his voice?
Mr. TOBIN: Just a little bit, not much.
LAMB: What's it sound like?
Mr. TOBIN: It's surprisingly deep for a little guy. He's--he has a low voice, and I found out that as he--when he was a kid, Ernie was--he went through that period that all of us do when
their--their voice breaks, and he developed a habit of deliberately speaking--sort of lowering his head and speaking slowly and softly and--to keep himself from squeaking, and that habit stuck with him. It's a--it's a plain voice. When--he was solicited to do a lot of radio work and his--and he considered it at various times. And some of his close friends and superiors at Scripps-Howard sort of politely advised him that that probably wouldn't be a great idea. They don't--they didn't think he'd have a great radio voice.
LAMB: So how did he live when he was in a war zone?
Mr. TOBIN: He would, as much as possible, get himself attached to sort of a low-echelon unit, ideally an infantry company, and he would spend time living with those guys for as much as a couple of weeks. And he wouldn't--he--likely would not write while he was with them. He would save up stuff, largely saving it up in his head--he didn't take notes much--go back to a press area, and that's where he would do his writing.
And interestingly, you know, we--he's remembered for being--for sort of taking people to the--sort of the-- emotional experience of being in combat, of--sort of making that come to
life. And so it's assumed that he was typing columns while right there in the foxholes. In fact, he was almost never right at the fighting front. He was normally just to the rear a little bit in a safer area, and he would say that when he was at the front his--especially when he'd been there a long time, he would become numb to the experience of combat and to the terrible scenes that he was witnessing. It was only when he came back and was spending time thinking about it and bringing it back to his memory that he was able re-create these scenes.
And so what we're getting is sort of combat through the filter of Pyle's sensibilities and removed a week or two from the scenes. That wasn't always the case. For instance, when he was covering the invasion of Normandy, he writes a very famous couple of columns about
simply walking on the beach at Omaha Beach, writing about the little things that he sees at his feet, the personal debris that soldiers had left behind, whether dead or still alive. He wrote those columns right away. He spent a day on the beachhead and then quickly went
back to a ship and composed those columns. So that's pretty firsthand, very shortly after the event. Then he came back to the beachhead.
LAMB: As a matter of fact, I think I've got some of these. He says, `I took a walk along the historic coast of Normandy in the country of France.'
Mr. TOBIN: Mm-hmm. That's it.
LAMB: `It was a lovely day for strolling along the seashore. 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.' It's rather direct.
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah, it's kind of a surreal quality to that. It's an odd way of opening that scene.
LAMB: `The water was full of squishy little jellyfish about the size of your hand, millions of them. In the center, each of them had a green design exactly like a four-leaf clover, the good-luck emblem. Sure. Hell, yes. I walked for a mile and a half along the water's edge of our many-miled invasion beach. You wanted to walk slowly, for the detail on that beach was infinite. The wreckage was vast and startling. The awful waste and destruction of war, even aside from the human life, has always been one of the outstanding features to those who are in it. Anything and everything is expendable, and we did expend on our beachhead in Normandy during those first few hours.' Did he go in with the landing force there?
Mr. TOBIN: No, he went in the second day, June 7th. He--it's kind of interesting. He had hooked up with General Bradley--General Omar Bradley, who was in charge of the-- ground forces in the invasion. He had hooked up with his staff in--over in England, and Bradley invited him to go with him on his ship. And that was the kind of invitation that you didn't turn down very lightly, but he did turn it down ultimately and went ashore with--well, he went over on a ship with just sort of low-level GIs and then actually went onto the beachhead with members of Bradley's staff. Sohe was right there on Omaha Beach, but it was the day after the worst of the fighting. The fighting had moved about a mile inland at that point.
LAMB: When you--know, your book came out, what--what's the reaction you're finding from people?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, again, I still get blank stares from younger folks, and I try and, you know, sort of say, `It's not Gomer Pyle that we're writing about here.' That's the name Pyle that they remember.
LAMB: Do they really think there's a connection?
Mr. TOBIN: They--I think-- people wonder. I've often wondered whether the folks who came up with the name Gomer Pyle were consciously or subconsciously drawing on that name, which is a name that connotes the kind of common-man quality that Pyle had. But folks who are, as I say, 50, 60 or older, they respond viscerally. They--they're delighted to see that--that somebody's writing about him, and they're always puzzled that somebody who was not of that generation would write about him. I don't know. I guess as a guy who loves history, I can't imagine why someone wouldn't want to write about him, and it flabbergasts me that nobody has written a more recent biography.
LAMB: Who keeps the name alive and--like back in Dana, Indiana? Who pays for the--keeping the home going?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, the state of Indiana pays for keeping this place up and there is an absolutely wonderful woman who has devoted her--the last 20 years of her life, Evelyn Hobson, to collecting Pyle material. And it's because of her that there is such a wealth of material at this one spot. And busloads of people come through there every week, thousands of people...
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah, thousands of people of that generation visit that site every year.
LAMB: And how do they entertain you once you get there?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, there's a new--well, the--as I say, the original museum site is in the home where Pyle was born. They carted that house into Dana 20 years or so ago. Now there is a more extensive museum that's built in a couple of Quonset huts on the property, and there's a very nice museum there that--that sort of introduces the visitor not just to Pyle's life but sort of to the whole combat experience in World War II.
LAMB: In his early years, who influenced him?
Mr. TOBIN: That's a good question, and I don't think I've answered that as well as I would have liked to. I know that he read Ring Lardner as a kid. He read a lot as a kid--Ring Lardner, a great sort of colloquial-style writer of the--of--of Pyle's boyhood. And when I
went to red some of to read some of Lardner's stuff, a light went on and I thought y--I was picking up some of that influence in Pyle's work.
LAMB: How old is he in this picture?
Mr. TOBIN: That's his high school graduation picture, so I guess he's 18.
LAMB: What were his parents like?
Mr. TOBIN: H--Ernie's mother was the one who, according to a neighbor who is still alive, wore the pants in the family, Maria (pronounced muh-ree-uh) Pyle, called Marie. I'm sorry, I should say her name is pronounced Maria (pronounced mariah), though spelled Maria (pronounced muh-ree-uh). She's there in the center. That's after she had become quite feeble from a stroke in the l--in the later '30s. And that's Ernie's car in the background that he used in his roving reporter days. And Marie Pyle was a formidable person in the neighborhood, strong, devout, f--I think a lot of fun but a pretty tough customer.
His father, Will Pyle, was a very shy and retiring man. And the other woman in that picture is his aunt, Marie Pyle's sister, Mary Taylor, who married a fellow named George Bales. And Ernie was devoted to them, but they led the sort of small-town farm existence that he wanted to get away from. He did not--I think Ernie, more than anything else, was haunted by the image of his father, who was a man who never went very far in life and Ernie felt sorry for him, and I think that helps to account for the melancholy of his later years.
LAMB: How many books were published in his name?
Mr. TOBIN: Let's see, the first book was called "Ernie Pyle in England," which is about that Battle of Britain period, then "Here Is Your War," which is about North Africa, and then "Brave Men" is a collection of columns from Sicily, Italy and--and France. And then there's a book published posthumously called "Last Chapter," which is the Pacific columns, and then a wonderful book published in 1947 called "Home Country," which is a collection of columns from the travel period.
LAMB: In those days, how many sold?
Mr. TOBIN: Tons. Best-sellers of the--at least of the--"Here Is Your War" and "Brave Men" were big best-sellers.
LAMB: How --I don't know what the word is. How much money did he have when he died?
Mr. TOBIN: Boy, I used to know that when I had all this financial sit--the statements sitting in front of me. He was on his way to becoming quite a wealthy man and had been paid a lot of money for the movie rights. Whether he was a millionaire, I'm not quite sure.
LAMB: He left Europe and eventually got to the Pacific. How did that happen?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, he had hoped to go all the way through the end of the war in Europe. He comes under the--just to sort of explain how he comes to leave Europe, because it was a surprise to a lot of people, after the invasion he's with infantry and then comes under the bombardment at the so-called San Lo breakout. This is when Bradley coordinated this huge effort to break out of the Normandy beachhead, which had been very, very difficult to do and
the Allies had failed to do a couple of times.
And so there was a--an absolutely horrific artillery bombardment and mistakes were made by the Air Force which involved American bombs falling on American troops. And Ernie was in that and had bo--bomb--American bombs falling all around him, and that was an experience that really shook him very deeply. He continues for a number of weeks but has really sort of lost his steam and he says in a column, `I had been--pushed down into a flat, black depression.'
So he sticks it out through Paris and then decides he has to leave, goes home for a rest and doesn't get a rest because, by that point, his fame is such that he is being constantly hounded for appearances and, you know, just all kinds of things, the real celebrity whirlwind type of thing, and decides at that point that he does feel an obligation to go over to the Pacific.
And it's funny, I mean, people have asked me, `Could he have stayed home?' and I think the answer really is no. He had become so much a part of the war effort, so much a symbol of the war effort that to stay home would have been unbearable to him. And he said, `I couldn't
have lived with my conscience if I had stayed home.' Certainly, he had done as much as anybody could expect him to do, but he felt --that he had to go, and so he did.
LAMB: Where'd he go?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, let's see, first he flew to Hawaii and then...
LAMB: What was the timing on this?
Mr. TOBIN: Let's see, he goes--it's a long trip to get to the Pacific and he reaches Guam about the end of January '45. And one of his first things is to go on a long carrier trip. That's what some of that footage is from, I think. He goes on a carrier trip on board the USS Cabot, which was a so-called baby flat top, one of the smaller aircraft carriers, and takes a long cruise, which he found unbelievably sort of peaceful and easy to take. And he gets in
trouble with a lot of the guys over in the Pacific because he says that their war is paradise compared to the war in the Pacific. And the guys over there are disappointed to hear him say
that and criticize him for it.
And so it's partly to convince himself that he is doing justice to the Pacific side that he goes in on the invasion of Okinawa, which involves him then in the--in the little campaign called Ie Shima, a little island off Okinawa, which is where he's killed.
LAMB: Let me just show the last--some more video that we have. It's one of those Universal Newsreels of the end. Why don't we go ahead and roll that, and we can get your...
Unidentified Man: (From "Landings on Okinawa" Newsreel) The admiral of the fleet's five stars flying above the Pacific naval headquarters at Guam are ready to follow Admiral Nimitz, left, about to set out for the conquest of Okinawa. Coming aboard the flagship of task force 58 is Admiral Mitcher, scourge of the enemy in waters about Japan. Fourteen hundred ships get under way, and the invasion forces aboard cast worry aside for the moment and beat a tune out on the old squeezebox while Ernie Pyle, left, watches a fast-stepping jitterbug run up a little hot rug-cutting for the biggest invasion fleet ever
assembled in the Pacific.
LAMB: And what happens then?
Mr. TOBIN: He goes ashore on D-Day at Okinawa, which was Easter Sunday, April 1st, '45. The landings on the first day are--are really quite easy, surprisingly easy. The Japanese had concentrated inland, so it was a lot easier to take than everybody expected. People knew that Okinawa was going to be a very bloody campaign. He spends some time with Marines--went in with Marines and spent time with Marines for the first, oh, 10 days or so and then goes back to write that up.
And then he hears about--Oh, what is it then?--an armored troop carrier that's going to be used in this little campaign of Ie Shima and decides just kind of casually that he wants to get a look at how that's going to be used in action. And so on the 17th of April he went ashore with the Army, the 77th Division, and spent an afternoon and a night on shore and then catches a ride with a colonel, who's crossing the island to set up a new command post. Their jeep is fired upon by a Japanese machine gunner. Ernie and the others jump out of the jeep, go into a ditch at the side of the road and a minute later Ernie raises his head up to get a look at what the--what's happened to the other guys, and he's hit in the head and killed.
LAMB: What happens then?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, this is how I start the book: He--his body just lies there for several hours, and a number of guys finally come and retrieve it and pull him back.
LAMB: Why is it there for several hours?
Mr. TOBIN: Because anybody who tried to retrieve it would have been killed by this machine gunner who hadn't yet been--gotten out of there.
LAMB: He wrote 2 1/2 million words...
Mr. TOBIN: Yeah, that's right.
LAMB: ...in how many years?
Mr. TOBIN: I'm not sure. I think that covers the whole period from '35 on, so about 10 years.
LAMB: Can you find all those words somewhere?
Mr. TOBIN: You bet, yeah. The--you know, a good deal of it is in these collections, especially the war. You can find just about everything he wrote during the war in either the newer collections published in the '80s or in the old stuff, which you can find in any good used bookstore. The travel columns--is--it's harder to get your hands on all of that stuff, but the typescripts are at the Lilly Library now at Indiana University.
LAMB: What do you think you would have thought of him if you knew him?
Mr. TOBIN: Everybody who knew Ernie Pyle liked him. He was an extraordinarily nice guy and I can't find anybody who felt otherwise.
LAMB: Plan to write another book?
Mr. TOBIN: Sure hope so. Don't have an idea yet.
LAMB: No idea at all?
Mr. TOBIN: Well, I'm kicking around a couple things but nothing firm enough to be sure yet.
LAMB: What would make this book a success for you?
Mr. TOBIN: You know, it's a terrific feeling to have people who knew him--or, you know, who read him during the war, of that generation, read the book and appreciate it. But I guess it's been really fun to have folks more my age or younger read it and say, `Boy, that's a view--that's a glimpse of the war that I'd never had before.' So I'd love to have a bunch of people say that to me.
LAMB: And our guest has been James Tobin. Again, here is the cover. Where'd this photo come from?
Mr. TOBIN: That photo is now at the Lilly Library. That's an Army Signal Corps photo that I think has never appeared before. That's at the NCO beachhead.
LAMB: "Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to World War II." Thank you very much.
Mr. TOBIN: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1997. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.