My 19-year-old dad gave thanks on an LST off the coast of Okinawa. The war was over. It ended sooner for Ernie Pyle. On April 18, Japanese machine-gun fire cut down the celebrated combat journalist on Iejima, an island off Okinawa.
I thumbed through Brave Men, a firsthand look at boys on the front, decades ago. Along with William Shirer’s Berlin Diary―a day-by-day account of the momentous events leading up to the war in Europe―it taught me about writing, authenticity, and style.
Pyle, the master of storytelling, related the harsh truths and poignancy of war as lived by anonymous GIs. He wrote of personal anguish displayed by the gear littering the Normandy beaches.
“Here in a jumbled row for mile on mile are soldiers’ packs. Here are socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles, and hand grenades. Here are the latest letters from home, with the address on each neatly razored out. . . . Here are toothbrushes and razors, and snapshots of families back home staring up at you from the sand. Here are pocketbooks, metal mirrors, extra trousers, and bloody, abandoned shoes. . . .”
This quiet image outlived Ernie Pyle but recall his words: “Someday when peace has returned to this odd world, I want to come to London again and stand on a certain balcony on a moonlit night and look down upon the peaceful silver curve of the Thames with its dark bridges.”
In recent months, I read several biographies and histories about Churchill, Roosevelt, Ike, Patton, McArthur, Stalin, and Hitler. However, the stories of everyday soldiers and civilians took on greater meaning:
- Hampton Sides’ Ghost Soldiers relates the saga of the Bataan Death March, the grim reality of prison camps, and a daring rescue mission.
- Caroline Moorehead’s Village of Secrets spins the intriguing tale of a French village that helped save thousands hunted by the Gestapo.
- Donald L. Miller delivers a comprehensive, even-handed account in The Story of World War II. This critically acclaimed work knits the voices of soldiers, civilians, and leaders―their terror, desperation, and courage.
Sources estimate the death toll at 60 to 85 million―about 4 percent of the world’s population. The Chronicle of War estimates statistics (military and civilian) by country. The following countries suffered the most casualties: Soviet Union, 23,400,000; China, 20,000,000; Germany, 8,680,000; Poland, 5,820,000; Dutch East Indies, 4,000,000; Japan, 2,700,000; India, 2,587,000; French Indochina, 1,500,000; Philippines, 1,057,000; Yugoslavia, 1,027,000.
“Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”―John F. Kennedy.
Charing Cross Bridge/Claude Monet
Reblogged this on First Night History.
Truth is more shocking than fiction. How I wish I had written down more of my father’s stories.
Thanks for reading. 64 million dead–cataclysmic. The Battle of Britain is heart wrenching, as were many of the campaigns.
Perhaps you can piece together some memories with the help of family members? I collected only a fraction.
Yes I should – thanks for responding
agree with you, my father had a DC office job, but my uncle landed in Italy and later in the Pacific – I never did pay enough attention to his stories and deeply regret it today
I listen hard now to stories from old soldiers etc.
They call them The Greatest Generation…deservedly so. We need not forget. ❤️
This reminded me of Fogg In A Cockpit, a compilation of history and diary of my sister of the quill’s father-in-law hero from the 359 fighter group during WWII. Some of these men were remarkably sensitive and smart and truly did help make Europe free again.
Excellent! We must NEVER forget them!! Welcome to London anytime Storyteller!
Hi Dr. M. Thanks so much for reading! Would love to see you in London. But do let us know when you come to the States. Perhaps Eric S. & I can meet you in NYC.
Looking forward to seeing you. Soon!!
So, so much to be learned and honored here–incredible bravery, selflessness, commitment to a cause larger than oneself, loyalty to those with you on the journey–and so much being lost with each man’s passing. Thank you for the reminder, Catherine!
Glad you liked this, Lori. The Story of World War II (have almost finished it) brings home how soldiers/airmen loved and supported one another. Ernie Pyle said the civilian population could never understand how war affected those returned. It’s a universal truth.
Your comments brought to mind a recent, fascinating Vanity Fair article by Sebastian Junger on PTSD and the ways in which soldiers rely on one another in war times. I found it quite thought-provoking….
Thanks for sharing! Good read.