By Robert T. Buckman
One reason I drove to the SPJ convention in Anaheim this year was to scratch some things off my bucket list, including Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the Arizona-Mexico border and the Ernie Pyle Home and Library in Albuquerque, N.M.
I have shared by email with my friends, on the anniversary of his death, the dispatch I used to read every year to my feature writing classes on the Death of Capt. Waskow. In more recent years, I’ve also read his dispatch from the Normandy beachhead just after D-Day.
Photos here (TO COME) show the house he built in 1940 for him and his wife, Geraldine, or Jerry, but he spent little time in it. Later that year, Scripps-Howard sent him to England to cover the German blitz. After the U.S. entered the war, as you know, he accompanied the troops as what today would be called an embedded reporter—first to North Africa, then Sicily, then Italy, where he wrote the Waskow dispatch, then to France, where he finally burned out and came home on leave in September 1944. A few months later, though, he went to the Pacific to cover the war against the Japanese. He was killed by a Japanese machine gun on April 18, 1945, on the tiny island of Ie Shima, off the coast of Okinawa.
His wife, who suffered from mental illness, died seven months after he did. They were childless, and in 1948 the house was donated to the city, which made it a branch library. It is tiny, two bedrooms, 1,145 square feet. Besides library books, it contains a good deal of Pyle memorabilia, as you will see, including his handwritten last dispatch, to mark the surrender of Germany, which was then imminent but he was killed three weeks before it happened. It was found in his pocket. Zoom in on the piece of paper in his typewriter. It’s the Normandy dispatch.
He received the Pulitzer Prize for war reporting in 1944.
Outside, in the side yard, is a marble monument. You’ll recognize what’s inscribed on it. So you see, I wasn’t the only one affected by his emotive prose. The death of Capt. Waskow also appears as a scene in the 1944 movie, “The Story of G.I. Joe,” in which Burgess Meredith plays Pyle and a very young Robert Mitchum plays Waskow.
If you’re ever in Albuquerque, it’s worth a visit, even if it isn’t listed in the Albuquerque tourist guide I picked up at the New Mexico welcome center on I-40. It’s located at 900 Girard SE, just nine blocks south of Central Avenue, which is also Historic Route 66. It has strange hours: Closed Sun-Mon, open 10-6 Tue, 11-7 Wed, 10-6 Th-Sat. Take a bookmark home as a souvenir; I brought several extra for some of my alumni.
If you go in the evening, when you’re done go back to 3222 Central SE and have a brew or two at Kelly’s Brewpub, located in an old car dealership and decorated with Texaco signs and Norman Rockwell reproductions.
Robert T. Buckman recently retired as associate professor of journalism at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.