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