Indiana's Non-Soldier Hero of WW II (VIDEO)

By Eric Olson

May 28, 2013 Updated May 28, 2013 at 10:04 AM EDT

DANA, Indiana--While soldiers dodged bullets in France and Germany and the Pacific, the civilian soldiers on the home front were fighting a war of nerves; parents waiting word everyday from their sons overseas, wives wondering what each new day held for their husbands in uniform. Life went on here at home during the war years; there was work to be done.

Fort Wayne girl scouts collected money for the war effort, and Allen County factories assembled weapons. But in the back of everyone’s mind was always the question...where is my son today...where is my husband today...is he hungry, is he cold, is he alive.

Throughout World War Two one reporter followed the boys into the trenches, ate what they ate, lived as they lived, faced death as they faced it. And everyday Ernie Pyle put it all down on paper and sent it home, to more than a hundred and fifty American newspapers, telling folks across the 48 states what the war was like on that day, for their husbands and sons.

“And he'd write about what it was like to have wet feet all day,” says historian Rick Bray, ”what it was like to eat cold C-rations. He wrote about these little things, so his reporting was more like getting a letter from a loved one who was fighting in the war.”

Ernie Pyle was born in Dana Indiana, west of Indianapolis, a prairie town far from Normandy and North Africa and Okinawa, all the battlefields where Pyle would later write his famous dispatches. The state historic site in Dana preserves his boyhood home and houses many of the famous mans relics...his hat and press id...but it's in town, in Dana Indiana you get a real sense of where Ernie Pyle got his special gift, his ability to write from the battlefield, and speak directly to the heart.

“He would walk up to a group of soldiers he'd never met before, and within five minutes they felt like they'd known him their whole lives,” Bray says. “I think growing up in this rural Indiana town had a lot to do with that because even today you drive down the street, everybody waves at you. I think that contributed to the way Ernie looked at life and looked at people.”

For four years Ernie Pyle marched with the soldiers across Europe, then island hopped with the troops in the Pacific. It was there on the island of Iashima, west of Okinawa that Ernie Pyle was shot to death by a Japanese sniper. He was buried alongside friends, the soldiers of the Tenth Army. When word of his death reached home, millions of Americans mourned.

“It was just a couple of weeks after Roosevelt died,” Bray says. “The nation was already in mourning and this was just one more hit.”

Among the relics in Dana Indiana, Ernie Pyle's Purple Heart, the only Purple Heart America ever gave to a non-soldier. The fact he wasn't a soldier never bothered the boys and men Ernie Pyle followed into battle. And the fact he wasn't their husband or their son, never stopped Americans from grieving when this Hoosier newspaperman, died.

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