Born August 3, 1900, Ernie Pyle told the story of America by telling the stories of Americans. When he perished under fire in the Ryukus, an enormous void was left behind in the world of journalism and in the hearts of soldiers, mothers, sailors, bothers, tradesmen, and every other sort of reader everywhere. Even our own Walt Tuttle was speechless over the event.
Among many lengthy obituaries, the New York Times had this to add.
Ernie Pyle was haunted all his life by an obsession. He said over and over again, “I suffer agony in anticipation of meeting people for fear they won’t like me.”
No man could have been less justified in such a fear. Word of Pyle’s death started tears in the eyes of millions, from the White House to the poorest dwellings in the country.
President Truman and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt followed his writings as avidly as any farmer’s wife or city tenement mother with sons in service.
Mrs. Roosevelt once wrote in her column “I have read everything he has sent from overseas,” and recommended his writings to all Americans.
For three years these writings had entered some 14,000,000 homes almost as personal letters from the front. Soldiers’ kin prayed for Ernie Pyle as they prayed for their own sons.
While terribly modest about it, Pyle’s fame allowed him into places other people could not intrude, especially into the confidence of greasy workers and low-level enlisted men. [Tuttle confessed to riding Pyle’s coattails into low places many times.] He had this story to share about one modest but distinctive honor.
“Whenever a flier was fished out of the North Sea or the Channel, the RAF
rescuers gave him a little felt insigne about an inch high, in the form of a half
wing — showing a fish skipping over the water. This was a membership badge in
the ‘Goldfish Club.’ It was sewn under the lapel, and displayed when occasion
demanded. It wasn’t worn outwardly because, I presume, we didn’t want German
agents to know how many guys had been fished out of the water.
The boys had another memento of their salt-water bath. They all had Short
Snorter bills. But they had started a new series of signatures on bills which they
called ‘Dinghy Snorters.’ Only fliers who had had to ditch were allowed to sign
those bills. They flattered me by asking me to sign, and said mine would be the
only non-Goldfish signature permitted on their bills.”