It was a Sunday in April. April 18, 1945 to be exact. The sun had been shining, maybe not as brightly, but certainly there. It was the day the U.S. invaded the tiny island of Ie Shima, just off the upper western side of Okinawa. A strategic airstrip was the main objective.
The Army's 77th Infantry Division was among those that landed on Ie Shima, each with their own mission to take down the tiny island. On the outskirts of the island, a jeep raced across the dirt, carrying a regimental commander and popular "GI journalist" Ernie Pyle.
Suddenly, a hail of gunfire seemed to come from nowhere - a Japanese machine gun hidden in the terraced coral slopes along the sides of the road. Both men in the jeep tumbled into a ditch for cover.
Pyle, ever the journalist, popped his head up quickly to see what was going on. Another machine gun burst, this time catching him full in th etemple just below the rim of his helmet, killing him instantly.
Three hours later, after an intense skirmish, Ie Shima was under U.S. control.
Pyle was buried in the 77th Division's cemetery on Ie Shima under a crude marker, which the Division later replaced with the current monument standing there. It reads simply: "At this spot the 77th Infantry Division lost a buddy, Ernie Pyle, 18 April 1945."
Every year, clusters of people - Americans, Okinawans, Japanese - gather on Ie Shima island at the site where Ernie Pyle died during that battle in 1945. Pyle was special to a lot of people during the war. He was known not only as the "GI journalist," but also as a "soldier's best friend." He did what the soldiers did - walked through mud, crouched in foxholes and hitched rides wherever he could. He was noted for not writing his stories from the rear, where it was "safe," like other journalists did. He was always up in front, where the action was, to get the real story out to the American public.
For over 50 years the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and American Legion have helped maintain this now sacred area. During the 1950's and 1960's thousands of people would come here to remember "the common soldier's writer." As time passed, the number of people visiting the site grew smaller, but Pyle would probably be pleased that anyone remembered him.
Every year, the memorial service, sponsored by the American Legion, begins with the raising of the American and Japanese flags. Speeches are sometimes given by various representatives of the American Legion, the United States Marine Corps Combat Correspondent's Association, and officials from Ie Village, then bouquets of flowers are placed in front of the memorial. As buglers from the USMC III MEF band play "Taps," everyone present solemnly stands, some with a tear in their eye.
Ernie Pyle once wrote: "I guess it doesn't make any difference once a man has gone. Medals and speeches and victories are nothing to them anymore. They died and others lived and nobody knows why it is so. There's nothing we can do for the ones beneath the wooden crosses, except perhaps to pause and murmur, 'Thanks, pal.'"
Ernie, we remember. . .and thanks, pal.