Ernie Pyle, perhaps America’s greatest columnist ever, told a depressed nation in its worst economic calamity that smiles were still to be seen. His subjects, often found in out-of-the-way places, were people long without jobs in the 1930s, with few relief programs, with a future so very uncertain. Pyle mined them for funny tales and lessons in survival character and served up weekly Scripps Howard newspaper columns in conversational letters to the reader. He was a hit for his honest observations, relaxed writing and, most of all, the faith and hope he found at a time when pundits thought the sky was falling in, that the great experiment in a democratic republic was failing.
The people, so many not sure where the next bit of food was coming from, knew another nation, one not far removed from the pioneers who opened the West, from the tinkerers, inventors and manufacturers who brought the world electric light and assembly line-produced automobiles, and from the great waves of immigrants who laid the foundation for the middle class of their children and their new country.
Ernie Pyle, killed at age 44 covering the war in the Pacific, was the roving Mark Twain of his time, with an acute eye for the ordinary person’s special nature. Though he criticized his writing, Pyle’s columns produced great literature, for his words reported truth, and his readers nodded their heads as they found comfort and assurance through his observations.
Pyle would note the very same things today, in this difficult economic time, even in an age he could scarcely recognize for the intense consumerism of at least three decades. The individuals he would talk to, the places he would visit would still reveal the essential quality of American character-- conservative in thought, often liberal in giving and forgiveness. His take on government, on political leaders -- that they are as remote as ever from the national heartbeat -- would remain.
Most of all, Ernie Pyle would tell us in his “letters to readers” about old Joe, or about Smithtown, USA, or about anything so awfully ordinary that we come close to tears, or laugh, or say “yes, I know” -- that America is alive, enduring.
There is great hope in that these days, as well.