- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) — The figure in the photograph is clad in Army fatigues, boots and a helmet, lying on his back in peaceful repose, folded hands holding a military cap. Except for a thin trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth, he could be asleep.

But he is not asleep; he is dead. And this is not just another fallen GI; it is Ernie Pyle, the most-celebrated war correspondent of World War II.

As far as can be determined, the photograph has never been published. Sixty-three years after Mr. Pyle was killed by the Japanese, it has surfaced, reminding the world of a humble correspondent who told the story of a war from the foxholes.

“It’s a striking and painful image, but Ernie Pyle wanted people to see and understand the sacrifices that soldiers had to make, so it’s fitting, in a way, that this photo of his own death … drives home the reality and the finality of that sacrifice,” said James E. Tobin, a professor at Miami University of Ohio.

Mr. Tobin, author of a 1997 biography, “Ernie Pyle’s War,” and Owen V. Johnson, an Indiana University professor who collects Pyle-related correspondence, said they had never seen the photo. The negative is long lost, and only a few prints are known to exist.

The news of Mr. Pyle’s 1945 death stunned a nation still mourning the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt six days earlier. Even amid heavy fighting, Mr. Pyle’s death was a prime topic among the troops.

“If I had not been there to see it, I would have taken with a grain of salt any report that the GI was taking Ernie Pyle’s death ‘hard,’ but that is the only word that best describes the universal reaction out here,” Army photographer Alexander Roberts wrote to Lee Miller, a friend of Mr. Pyle.

But Mr. Pyle was not just any reporter. He was a household name during World War II and for years after. From 1941 until his death, Mr. Pyle riveted the nation with personal tales about hometown soldiers in history’s biggest war.

However, the photograph of his body, taken by Mr. Roberts, was never seen by the public. He told Mr. Miller the War Department withheld it “out of deference” to Mr. Pyle’s ailing widow, Jerry. At least two such prints were kept as souvenirs by veterans who served aboard USS Panamint, a Navy communications ship in the Okinawa campaign.

Retired naval officer Richard Strasser, 88, of Goshen, Ind., who recalls Mr. 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. Mr. Strasser recently provided his photo — a still-pristine contact print — to the Associated Press.

Former 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.” Mr. Bannan, 82, of Boynton Beach, Fla., said “Joe” told him he was ordered to destroy the negative for morale reasons.

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