Monday, September 30, 2013

Pyle's Memory, Name Deserve Continued Honor at Indiana University

Pyle At Work
"Are you all right?"

In his last moments, Ernie Pyle poked his head up in an area full of Japanese machine gun fire to see if two army servicemen were unhurt by the bullets he was ducking to avoid.  In just a moment, he would be struck in the temple by a machine gun round, and, a few moments later, the legendary travel and war correspondent was gone.  Those four words above would be his last words on this Earth.

When you read Ernie Pyle's dispatches from the war zone, you come to the realization that he loved his job.  He may have loved to hate it some days, but he loved journalism.  He loved telling stories, and he used that love to tell the story from the perspective of the soldier.  He took his readers and put them on the front lines and wrote about what was occurring because he lived it too.  For all intents and purposes, he was a soldier, and the men he wrote about treated him as such.

Struck down by a sniper, Pyle was initially buried on the battlefield with other soldiers on the island of Ie Shima where he fell.  His remains would be moved to Okinawa, and he remains interred there.  This column was found unfinished in his pocket. That's the end of Pyle's story, but you have to know the story of his life.

Born near the small town of Dana, Indiana, Pyle worked on his family farm.  A PBS documentary on his life said that Pyle hated the idea of looking at "the south end of a horse" while plowing fields for the rest of his life, so he decided to enroll at Indiana University.  He did not finish his education but accepted a job in Northern Indiana.  Before long, Pyle was in Washington, D.C. and, by his early 30's, he was an editor.

Several years before that, Pyle made a great American road trip writing about his experiences along the way.  He wrote many travel pieces and slices of life bringing home to other Americans life in the late 1920's and 1930's.  He became famous.  When the war broke out, the World War I veteran resisted becoming a part of it.

When he did reluctantly start writing war pieces, he took that same style that made him famous and developed a new style of putting the war on the pages of newspapers across the country.  He wrote about the constant bombardment of targets in the UK.  He wrote about the perils of the foot soldier in the ground wars and trenches of Europe.  In 1943, Pyle won the Pulitzer Prize for his writing.

All the while, he was suffering the same effects that the soldiers he was covering were suffering.  According to reports, he was deeply depressed and clearly changed by the war he saw.  His wife was not well, and he was struggling. He returned home in July 1944 and spent time trying to recover telling his readers that his mental state needed a break from covering the war.

Pyle returned to war and was covering the Pacific Theater and the buildup for a possible invasion of Japan when he was struck down on April 18, 1945.  He was survived by his wife and his parents.  At the time of his death, Pyle was among the most famous journalists of his time.

You know, time passes.  We're in 2013, and the days of the newspaper are sadly not what they once were.  I'm part of the problem.  I haven't subscribed to the written version of the Indianapolis Star in years.  With journalism changing and expanding, Indiana University now is in the process of deciding what the future of its journalism school will be.

I graduated from Indiana University in 1997 with a degree in secondary education.  I have concentrations in English and journalism.  I'm here to tell you, I loved my time in the Indiana University School of Journalism.  Where the School of Education was impersonal and cold, the School of Journalism was warm and inviting.  While I mostly had associate instructors in the School of Education, I mostly had professors in the School of Journalism.  A full professor, in fact, served as my journalism academic adviser, and I had THE DEAN OF THE SCHOOL as a teacher in an intro-level class.  It was a great experience.

That School of Journalism is actually the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism housed in Ernie Pyle Hall on the Bloomington campus.

In the entryway of Ernie Pyle Hall, there is a display of a typewriter used by Pyle to pound out some of his columns.  Most people likely just walk past that typewriter, but I can remember looking at it one day and thinking about the legacy of the man who used it.

As times change, IU wants to change, too.  Indiana University wants to combine the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism with two other departments and create a new school that is more modern in its intent.  To do so, it wants to gut Ernie Pyle's memory and his name from gracing that school.  While addressing this new media landscape, why not make Ernie Pyle the center of it?  The Ernie Pyle School of Journalism and Media has a nice ring to it.  Indiana University's proposal is not to go that direction.  Instead, it wants to place this school within the College of Arts and Sciences where it will become just another department.

We cannot lose the legacy of Ernie Pyle on the campus of Indiana University.  Ernie Pyle was a storyteller.  The storytellers of the future need to be trained under Ernie Pyle's name and not some department that lacks identity.

If Ernie were to ask me today, "Are you all right?"  I'd have to say that I am not.  I am ashamed that Indiana University would even consider gutting the identity of the finest school on the campus.  Yes, it's small and it's probably outdated in some ways, but its reputation is the same.  The professors care, and they are some of the finest teachers anywhere on that campus...at least they were when I was there.

The Ernie Pyle School of Journalism DESERVES to live on in some fashion because once we kill it...that's just another part of the legacy of the brave men that fought World War II that dies.   We don't have to be prisoners to the past, but we should at least honor it.  I urge Indiana University to take this into consideration in the future discussions about how to modernize media education in Bloomington.

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