Men From Mars by Ernie Pyle – Selection #27 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♠4♠ Four of Spades.

The Suit: For 2016, Spades is my suit for “Indiana-related Short, Non-fiction Works”

The Selection: “Men From Mars” from “Final Chapter” – a collection of “war reports” from the Pacific Theater in World War II. My copy was printed in 1946, and I found it at Bookmama’s Bookstore in Indianapolis.

The Author: Ernie Pyle should need no introduction. An incredibly popular reporter of the war, who was from Dana, Indiana, it’s sad to think, while reading these reports, that he would be dead within a year of writing them. He was killed by a Japanese bullet on Iwo Jima in April , 1945.

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storylegacy project seal of approval 2roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

(You don’t make it onto a U.S. Postage Stamp unless you were one of the greats!) 

Men From Mars

“Marine Corps blitzes in the Pacific had all been so bitter and the men had fought so magnificently that I had conjured up a mental picture of a marine as someone who bore a close resemblance to a man from Mars. I was almost afraid of them. I did find them confident, but neither cocky nor smart-alecky. They had fears, and qualms, and hatred for war the same as anybody else. They wanted to go home just as badly as any soldiers I’ve ever met. They are proud to be marines and they wouldn’t be in any other branch of the service, yet they are not arrogant about it.”

This piece chronicles Pyle’s time with a company of the First Marine Division on the island of Okinawa. Initially, he’s sharing hillside dugouts with the grunts, fending off rain, fleas, and, with less success, swarms of mosquitoes that were unrelenting. (“Okinawa mosquitoes sound like flame throwers…”) Calling himself “the world’s choicest morsel for mosquitoes” Pyle relates that “every morning he woke up with at least one eye swollen shut.” Most of the “Japs” on their part of the island had fled or were dead if they remained. A few captures of unresisting stragglers occurred, though.

(above: the island of Okinawa. I have to confess I’ve always imagined it was a much smaller place – maybe I’ve been confusing it with Iwo Jima? – but it’s quite a significant piece of land)

Eventually, the company Pyle was with “settled down” for several days in a small village. Pyle writes that “It’s wonderful to see a bunch ofAmerican troops go about making themselves at home wherever they get a chance to settle down for a few days.” and shares some nice tales of their interaction with the local civilian population: “A good many of the Okinawan civilians wandering along the roadside bowed low to every American they met. Whether this was from fear or native courtesy I do not know, but anyhow they did it. And the Americans, being Americans, usually bowed right back.” I liked that.

Pyle also writes that before he started this tour in the field, several officers had asked him to try to get a sense of “just what the marine spirit is” and indeed, that is the one branch of the service that has always seemed to have a special mystique about its members. He mentions that, in peacetime, it was more true that only a certain type of soldier was attracted especially to the marines but that, at the time of his writing, the mix of recruits was more homogenous with the rest of the service as more manpower was needed to fill the ranks. He writes of the composition of the corps that:

“It had changed, in fact, until marines looked to me exactly like a company of soldiers in Europe. Yet that Marine Corps spirit still remained, I never did find out what perpetuated it.”

(above: Okinawa today [pic from])

♫ Personal Notes: As in the other piece of Pyle’s that I’ve read for Deal Me “IN” 2016, he often gives the hometowns and addresses of the rank and file soldiers he writes about.  In this work there were two who were from my home town of Indianapolis. The address of one marine, Charles Bradshaw (nicknamed “Brady”) was on a “Holmes Ave.” which I had to look up. I had even considered being ambitious enough to go see what the house looked like today. Before I went that far, though, I googled him and was quite saddened to find him on a list of “NAVY DEAD” from a newspaper archive at the Vigo County Library.  He’s the first name listed in the screenshot below.  Kind of a sobering reminder that these were real lives that Pyle was writing about and that many of them didn’t make it back alive. R.I.P. Corporal Bradshaw.

My brother served in the Marine Corps in the ’80s, but was never deployed to where he saw any combat.  I still have a camo mini-duffel bag he gifted me that I used for decades for carrying around my chess equipment to tournaments. When I ‘came out of (chess) retirement’ last summer, it did too. Pictured below (note my lucky “Mockingjay” pin – a more recent addition. 🙂 ) from a recent tournament.

camo bag with pin

I also spent “countless hours” on afternoons after school during grade school watching re-runs of the tv show “Gomer Pyle, USMC” on WTTV – something my parents didn’t approve of, as that show was just “silly” – which it seems to me now as well, but at the time, all I knew about the Marines was from watching those episodes.  I remember especially liking the shows where they went on maneuvers and wore battle fatigues and helmets.  Do YOU remember that show?

(Oh, yeah, the title of this piece reminded me of a book that was quite popular back in the 90s… No, I never read it, and yes, communication with the opposite sex remains largely a mystery to me… 🙂 do you remember this book?  Did you read it?)

“Life on a Flat Top” by Ernie Pyle – Story #4 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♠Q♠ The Queen of Spades (pictured at left from my own deck of World War 2 cards; and below is a deck of cards distributed to armed forces by the Red Cross.)

The Selection: “Life on a Flat Top” by Ernie Pyle, from the collection of his reports titled “Last Chapter”

The Author: Ernie Pyle (pictured in the top middle, from the back over of this book) likely needs no introduction to most, but maybe you don’t know he’s a native of Indiana, born in the small town of Dana, a few miles north of Terre Haute. He was already a well known roving correspondent for Scripps-Howard when the United States entered World War 2 in 1941, at which time he began imbedding (in today’s terms) himself with U.S. fighting forces and reporting back to the folks at home how “our boys” were faring. His writing was wildly popular and he counted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt among his fans. “I shall never forget how much I enjoyed meeting him here in the White House last year,” she wrote, “and how much I admired this frail and modest man who could endure hardships because he loved his job and our men.”

What is Deal Me “IN” 2016?

(For an explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post.  For a look at my deck of cards/story roster see here. Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection”of some kind. )


“Life on a Flat Top”

So, I’ll start by admitting that, though I’m only up to week four of Deal Me “IN” 2016 so far, in this story I have an early favorite, and I’m also happy to know that I have two more pieces written by Pyle on my reading list for this year: “Men from Mars” and “The B-29’s” – both from his collection of reports titled “Last Chapter.” Though not mentioned by name in this report, the small aircraft carrier which is the subject of this piece was the USS Cabot (picture – from Wikipedia – below). I also learned, at least according to Wikipedia, that the US Navy had a policy of not allowing individual names of sailors to be used in reporting, but this was lifted in Pyle’s case due to his popularity. Pyle takes this to the extreme, even giving sailors’ hometown addresses in many cases. It made me wonder how many of these homes are still standing and what having their addresses given “in the press” back in the day may have led to…

“An aircraft carrier is a noble thing. It lacks almost every thing that seems to denote nobility, yet nobility is there.” 

“The first time you see a plane land on a carrier you almost die.”

In beginning this report, Pyle immediately states his intentions saying “I’ll try to describe what living on an aircraft carrier is like, and how a big task force works when it goes out after the enemy.” Though the carrier Pyle chose was classed as “light” it still was over 700 feet long and had a crew of over 1,000 men. Pyle points out that “…every Navy in the world has as its No. 1 priority the destruction of enemy carriers,” something he calls a precarious honor… but a proud one.” He goes into detail about the logistics of takeoffs and landings and how slight the margin of error is in those situations, with mistakes frequently resulting in the signalman waving off the attempt. Pyle notes that “…somebody said that carrier pilots were the best in the world, and they must be or there wouldn’t be any of them left alive.”

I also read – in some of my drive-by research for this post -that Pyle thought less of the Navy men and their hardships than he did of his European theater subjects, though I must say I felt little of that tone in this reading. The closest was a passage where he relates that “the boys” asked him “a thousand times” how their lives on board ship compared with “the other side” and tells of Seaman Paul Begley’s philosophical approach – and that of others…

“(Begley said)’I can stand a lot of the monotony if I know my chances are pretty good for coming out of it alive.’ But others yelled their heads off, and felt they were being persecuted by being kept out of America a year. I heard some boys say, ‘I’d trade this for a foxhole any day.’ You just have to keep your mouth shut to a remark like that.”

In my opinion, Pyle was just reporting the facts. Life on the carrier may have been monotonous for those aboard, but they did have movies, barbers, doctors, and dentists, good food, etc. so surely their individual privations were less extreme than the boys in the foxholes, even if their ultimate role in the war’s big picture was no less important.

(below: “Smoke ’em if you got ’em” (as my Dad used to say whenever taking a break from anything) Pyle shares a cigarette with some of “the boys”)


Update 1/27/16:  Just ran across an interesting article in Investor’s Business Daily News toady with more info about this remarkable writer.  It’s here if you’d like to take a look.

Personal Notes:
I did have an uncle who served in the U.S. Navy during WW2 and will have to ask my mom where and for details (I’ll save that for when I draw one of my other two Ernie Pyle cards from the deck!). I also had a good friend and schoolmate from junior high school who went on to become a Navy Pilot and has blogged about his experiences at “Has-Been Pilot“ (link on the side bar) but aside from that, I know almost nothing about the U.S. Navy so having a fellow “civilian” like Pyle describe what life was like on the USS Cabot was particularly interesting.

I also have been intrigued by the very old copy of this book I picked up at Bookmama’s Bookstore on Indianapolis’s Eastside. The paper cover is crumbling apart as I read it, and I suspect it’s from the first printing, which would put its age at about 70 years old. It also includes a personalized note (pictured below). It’s faded and hard to read, but I think it says* “To Joe – Dec. 13 Christmas 1947 – Judy”. It’s been tantalizing for me to wonder and try to imagine who Joe and Judy were. Was Joe a veteran of the war? Maybe one who was dating Judy and had mentioned that he admired Pyle’s writing? Was Joe a father who had lost a son in the war? Was Joe a serviceman at the time this book was given as a gift? What do you think? Has an old inscription in a used book you’ve purchased ever captured your imagination and led to speculation? I’d love to hear about. It. 🙂

*I actually shared the photo with the “hive mind” of Facebook, asking what my friends on social media thought it said. One thought it said, “To Joe and Irene B,” while another wondered why the Dec 13 date would be included in addition to it noting “Christmas 1947” – also a good question.