Ernie Pyle is the columnists’ columnist
(Tomorrow is National Columnists Day. This is part of a tribute to Ernie Pyle first published by Charles Memmminger April 18, 1995.)
PUNCHBOWL CEMETERY » I wasn't really ready for the emotional reaction I had when I finally found the grave of Ernie Pyle. I'm familiar with the National Cemetery of the Pacific. My dad and mom are buried in this ancient volcanic crater. I'm familiar with the gravestones that lie flat along the ground to make the mowing easier. They all look alike. And there are thousands of them.
Even though I had never been to Ernie's grave, I figured I could find it without asking for directions. My guess was that it would by the main pavilion, near that huge statue of Columbia, made famous in the opening shots of TV's "Hawaii Five-0."
So I began walking in that direction, reading the headstones. The death dates were in the '70s and '80s so I knew I had a way to go.
Strangely enough, I was here because of National Columnists Day. And it's no coincidence that it falls on the anniversary of Ernie Pyle's death. Ernie is a kind of patron saint of columnists.
Ernie was a cool little guy. Author Samuel Eliot Morison called him "a frail little man, a gentle soul who hated war, who had come out to the Pacific ... to tell the American people ... how the ordinary soldier and sailor felt.
A wire reporter described him as a disheveled 42-year-old balding hypochondriac who was a delightful drunk.
The soldiers he wrote about remember him as a brave little son of a gun who hung out where the action was and told stories of their lives with an elegant simplicity.
So you can see why columnists nationwide picked Ernie as our patron saint. As columnists go, they don't get any cooler.
IT WAS 50 years ago today that Ernie should have ducked. While riding in a jeep with soldiers on some flyspeck of a Pacific island, he was picked off by a machine gun.
I figured that it would be easy to find his grave. I thought his grave would be piled high with flowers.
I wandered around the area carefully avoiding the Easter flowers and lei gracing the headstones. I knew I was getting warm when the dates of death became 1945.
Finally I found it, sandwiched between two gravestones simply etched "Unknown." There was no pile of flowers on Ernie's grave, just two vases with some wilted orchids and a rain-sodden lei.
I don't want to get mushy, but finding Ernie here, just about a driver and a nine-iron away from my dad's grave was, well, pretty intense.
Ernie would have gone to Vietnam and, man, what columns he would have written. Ernie would have gone.
I brushed some of the dried grass from Ernie's headstone and placed a fresh lei of orchids and a cold can of Budweiser. I was going to wish him Happy Columnists Day but that sounded kind of weird. So I just said, "Cheers."
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