From somewhere in Texas
Did you know there was a National Columnists Day?
I didn’t, and I’ve been a member for three years of the organization that started it in 1995.
It was in a recent newsletter I learned April 18 is National Columnists Day.
It’s the same day in 1945 when Ernie Pyle was killed by Japanese sniper fire. Pyle is more or less the patron saint of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, sometimes called the NSNC.
“You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don’t ask silly questions,” Pyle once wrote.
Last year I missed the NSNC conference in New Orleans, probably the closest it will ever get to me. This year I will miss it again, but interesting that the location is Bloomington, Ind., Pyle’s home state.
Sadly though, the museum that honors his name in Dana, Ind., had to close this year.
Citing small visitation numbers and financial cost-cutting, state officials in January closed the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site in Dana, Pyle’s hometown.
State spokesman Phil Bloom said the site was “by far the least visited site we have” and that it attracted an annual average of 1,500 visitors over the past four years.
“When you compare it to the other least visited sites, Culbertson and Vincennes, they are at about 10,000 visits a year,” said Bloom, communications director for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the Indiana State Museum and Division of State Historic Sites.
It has often been said Pyle was known for writing about the common man, the so-called nameless soldiers often categorized into statistics and faceless numbers in other wartime dispatches. As a World War II vet once wrote, “The columns were honest, and the people real.”
Fittingly, Pyle was laid to rest between two unknown soldiers on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.
His datelines ranged from simply LONDON; or OKINAWA; to AT THE FRONT LINES IN ITALY; IN THE MARIANAS ISLANDS, SOMEWHERE IN SICILY or IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC.
Each year, the NSNC awards the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award to a columnist who exemplifies outstanding achievement in the tradition of Ernie Pyle. This year the award goes to Carl Hiaasen of the Miami Herald.
The NSNC established National Columnists Day “to reflect on the way newspaper columnists connect, educate, comfort, encourage, celebrate, outrage and occasionally even amuse readers and a time to express appreciation for them for their hard work.”
With the Ernie Pyle Historic Site forced to close, it’s more important than ever to keep alive the memory of Pyle’s contributions to the columnists’ craft and American journalism in general.
To read the best of Ernie Pyle’s wartime columns, go to http://journalism.indiana.edu/resources/erniepyle/wartime-columns/.
[E-mail Robert Hankins at Robert1961@live.com]