Just yesterday the tagging of the personnel file of WWII era correspondent Ernie Pyle led to a fascinating discussion here in our office. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/40918116
Although his WWII era exploits are well known, it was not until 2008 that a photo taken just minutes after his passing was "Discovered." Death photo of famed war reporter surfaces after 63 years - USATODAY.com
Although I had read his excellent "War Dispatches" https://www.amazon.com/Ernies-War-Ernie-Pyles-Dispatches/dp/0394549236 I had no idea that his life story was made into a movie starring a young Burgess Meredith and co starring Robert Mitchum: The Story of G. I. Joe (1945) - Overview - TCM.com
The story of how Mr Meredith got the role (He was a Captain in the Army at the time), as well as how other journalists got to play themselves in the film due to Pyle's insistence prior to his death, is fascinating all by itself..
That sounds wonderful! The stories and articles he wrote were read all over the world and he had a profound impact on how people read about war stories. Thanks for sharing!
That is fascinating! I am curios how the photo might have been authenticated. There seems to be no information about the photo online other than a couple of mirror articles to this one.
I was also curious about the photographer, Alexander Roberts, to see if he might have other iconic photos. The article even states he earned a bronze star. There is zero information about him also.
This article delves into that aspect a bit deeper:
"Considering all the photo research done on World War II, and thousands of letters requesting information about our holdings, my guess is it would have been 'discovered' by a researcher or staff member by now," said Edward McCarter, NARA's top still-photos archivist.
Prints taken from Roberts' negative at the time of Pyle's death "would appear to be the only record that the photo was actually made," McCarter said.
At least two such prints were kept as souvenirs by veterans who served aboard USS Panamint, a Navy communications ship in the Okinawa campaign. Although the two men never met, they came by the photo in similar ways, and both later recognized its importance to posterity.
Retired naval officer Richard Strasser, 88, of Goshen, Ind., who recalls Pyle visiting the ship just before he was killed, said a friend named George, who ran the ship's darkroom, gave him a packet of pictures after Japan surrendered in August 1945.
Months later, back in civilian life, Strasser finally opened the envelope. "I was surprised to find a picture of Ernie Pyle," he said. "At the time, Ernie's widow was still alive and I considered sending the photo to her, but had mixed feelings about it. In the end I did nothing."
Strasser recently provided his photo — a still-pristine contact print from the 4-by-5-inch negative — to the AP. He since has made it available to the Newseum, a $435 million news museum scheduled to open in Washington this year.
Margaret Engel, the Newseum's managing editor, says the photo is "of strong historic interest," and because Pyle died at the height of his fame, "the circumstances of his death ... remain a compelling story for students of journalism and the war."
Ex-Petty Officer Joseph T. Bannan, who joined USS Panamint's crew in May 1945 after his own ship was damaged by a kamikaze, said his Pyle photo came from a ship's photographer he remembers only as "Joe from Philadelphia."
Bannan, 82, of Boynton Beach, Fla., said "Joe" told him he had been ordered to destroy the negative "because of the effect it would have on the morale of the American public."
In 2004, Bannan donated copies of the photo to the Wright Museum, the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site at Dana, Ind., and the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla.
Yet another copy was acquired by the Indiana Historical Society at a 1999 auction. Historian Susan Sutton said she had no information on its origin or the seller.
Both Strasser and Bannan assumed a Navy photographer had made the picture. Only Roberts, however, is known to have visited the death scene, and with no Army Signal Corps photo lab nearby, his film went to the nearest ship offshore — USS Panamint.
This was "standard procedure" in the Pacific, says retired AP photographer Max Desfor, 96, who covered Okinawa and later won a Pulitzer Prize in Korea. "No question that's what happened."
In tracing the picture's history, AP learned of a second photo, showing Pyle's body on a stretcher. The fatal wound, unseen in Roberts' photo, appears as a dark spot above his left eyebrow.
That photo, of unknown origin, appears to be an amateur snapshot, said Katherine Gould, assistant curator of cultural history at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, which acquired it and Bannan's photo last year from the Dana historic site.
As war photographs go, neither could be considered grisly, but they were never displayed at Dana. "We get a lot of kids here," spokeswoman Janice Duncan said.
One who did see the Roberts photo there is Bruce L. Johnson, 84, of Afton, Minn., a nephew and one of the few surviving relatives who knew Pyle.
In April 1945, Johnson was a sailor aboard the seaplane tender USS Norton Sound, which by a quirk of fate was a few miles away when Pyle was killed. In fact, the two had been writing letters home, trying to figure out a way they could rendezvous.
"We were in the mess hall and the news came over the ship's loudspeaker," he recalled. "It was just a shock."
And then here is a follow up:
Posted 2/13/2008 6:03 PM
In a Feb. 4 story, The Associated Press said a recently surfaced picture of the famed World War II reporter lying dead in a ditch on a tiny Pacific island had never been published "as far as can be determined," based on an extensive search of wartime and postwar archives.
Subsequently, the AP learned that the photo — taken by Army photographer Alexander Roberts shortly after Pyle was killed by a Japanese machine gun bullet on April 18, 1945 — did appear previously in at least two publications more than a quarter century ago. On Dec. 14, 1979, the Daily Times News of Burlington, N.C., ran the picture with a story about B.F. Coleman Jr., a local resident who, as a Navy chief petty officer in 1945, had acquired a copy from a naval photographer aboard USS Panamint, a command ship in the Okinawa campaign.
The picture also appeared in Buddy Ernie Pyle: World War II's Most Beloved Typewriter Soldier, a 1982 book by Rudy Faircloth, who in 1945 was an Army photographer on military leave from AP. The 83 page personal memoir contains examples of Pyle's writings and Faircloth's recollections of meeting Pyle and being nearby when he was killed. Faircloth died last year at age 92. Pyle, 44, was killed while covering the U.S. 77th Infantry Division's attack on Ie Shima, a small island off Okinawa. Roberts and Faircloth were both assigned to that unit as photographers. Their film was sent to the USS Panamint for processing. In its own inquiry, AP found Roberts' photo — showing Pyle lying peacefully on his back as if sleeping, with only a trickle of blood from his mouth to indicate otherwise — was so scarce that even the National Archives, the largest U.S. repository of military records, had never seen it.
Of a few copies found to exist in museums or private hands, all appeared to have belonged to former USS Panamint officers and crew members, who, like B.F. Coleman, had acquired them as souvenirs from friends in the ship's photo lab. Roberts himself wrote in 1945 that the picture had been withheld from public release by the War Department. Two ex Panamint crew members said, separately, that the original negative was ordered destroyed. In the 1979 Times News story, Coleman said the decision was made by Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander of U.S. Naval forces in the Pacific.
The 29 year old newspaper story was brought to AP's attention by Coleman's son, James Coleman, of Rougemont, N.C., and by Tom Oliver III, a former city editor of the 28,000 circulation Daily Times News. Oliver, who left the paper in 1983, told AP he remembered the photo generating a stir among readers. For months, "We continued to receive letters and inquires from Pyle fans all across the country." He also recalled that the TimesNews h ad offered the picture to AP's Raleigh bureau. No record was found to indicate whether AP distributed it to other member papers. No copy was found in AP's own library.
I received a request from one of our former presidents to digitize the personal diaries of an uncle who was a POW during WW2. The diaries are quite fragile (there are five in the series dated from 1941-1945) and written in pencil but very legible.
It was more than interesting to read his accounts of the reaction to the Pearl Harbor attacks and his capture on Guam the following week (after attempting to evade capture for that time.)
However, what was the most fascinating is that I discovered something which had been secreted into one of the diaries bindings - and it took 75 years to discover! The artifact has been sent to our preservation lab for analysis and once it has been sent back to us with all the information we requested on it, I will post the finding and the results. All I can say now is that it may be something - it may be nothing. We'll hopefully find out soon!