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Moment of Indiana History

A War Correspondent’s Salad Days

"Bloomington is a nice place although it isn’t as big nor as modern as Champaign. The University is a nice place, not out-of-date like I had always heard."

Ernie Pyle was born in 1900 on a farm near Dana, Indiana. He died in 1945 on the Japanese island of Ie Shima, killed by a sniper’s bullet.

Before his years as a daily feature columnist for Scripps Howards in the 1930s and before his fame as a war correspondent in World War II North Africa and Europe, Pyle was a college boy at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

Pyle came to IU in September 1919. He was a farm boy who had traveled only as far as Illinois for his Naval reserve training. Some of his letters suggest a rural Indiana dialect.

Trying to become a man about campus, Pyle applied to join a fraternity but was rejected. His freshman and sophomore grades were average Bs and Cs. In his sophomore year, Pyle joined a fraternity and began to be active in social events on campus.

His friendships, dances and events he attended, his work on the campus newspaper—all these things were the subjects of the letters he wrote back home to his parents William and Maria and to his Aunt Mary. The letters show some of Pyle’s development from an inexperienced young man from rural Indiana to a budding journalist with a growing interest in his country and the world.

Bloomington is a nice place although it isn’t as big nor as modern as Champaign. The University is a nice place, not out-of-date like I had always heard. I have a room about a hundred feet from campus (522 E. Kirkwood Avenue). My room-mate is a fellow from Tipton, Ind. . . . Has papa got your fender straightened up yet? There is a lot of big fine machines down here. I have all my classes in the morning. I am taking French, I like it fine. . . . Indiana plays Wabash College in football here next Saturday.

–from a September 1919 letter to his Aunt Mary

I finished my [course] notebooks this morning, and I am pretty proud of them. I am confident I will get “A” on both of them. When my professors excused me from final exams, they all said my work had been very satisfactory. This week will be the hardest that I have had this year. Twelve of us have been picked to do the work of the regular staff of fifty [at the Indiana Daily Student], which means that we will have to work continuously from 11 in the morning until 1 o’clock at night.

I am mighty proud of my muffler, thanks ever so much for it. The boys all think it is pretty fine. The new hats are in and I will go down before long and get me one. I went to a dance at the Student Building last night, but couldn’t get a pass for it. I think it is only the second dance I have had to pay for this year. I ran onto some girls coasting down Indiana avenue yesterday afternoon, and coasted with them for about an hour.

–from a January 22, 1922, letter to his parents

I will write y[o]u a few lines to let you know that I am all right, but haven[’]t much time right now to write bec[au]se I just got back from the office. It is 7 o[’]clock and I worked thru the dinner hour because we had so much copy piled up, and I am going to see my girl tonight. This week is the first time that I haven[’]t worked every week night for about three months. I have been promoted to News Editor and just have to work at night every other week now. I work all afternoon until about 6 o[’]clock usually, then next week I will have to work till about 1 o’clock at night but not in the afternoon. I am going to work hard and I think I [c]an be editor next year but don[’]t say anything about it.

–from a February 1, 1922 letter to his parents

In March and early April of 1922, Pyle accompanied the IU baseball team across the country and then across the Pacific for a series of games to be played in Japan. Pyle’s imagination was fired by what he saw:

I had a long talk with Dean Edmondson yesterday and said he certainly admired us for this trip and he wants me to write a book about [it] when I get back. If I don’t get the editorship of the Student next fall on account of taking the trip, I think I will not work on the Student at all and will devote all my time to writing a book. I will have a lot of pictures in it and I think I can make a right smart [amount] of money out of it besides the experience. It is getting so rough I can’t keep the typewriter on the table so will have to finish this later.

–from an April 1922 letter to his parents

A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History published by the Indiana University Department of History.

Source: “It’s In the Air: Ernie Pyle’s Letters,” by Owen Johnson, Indiana Magazine of History, September 2011

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