Enchanting People of New Mexico - Ernie Pyle

Welcome to the Fresh Chile Company Podcast - Enchanting Stories of New Mexico. Tune in to listen to all things New Mexico Chile, and other enchanting facts about New Mexico.
Click the picture above to see all of the ways that you can listen to this podcast or click one of these links to go directly there!
Spotify, Apple Podcast, iHeartRadio

Episode 16 - Ernie Pyle

Michael Swickard here. Welcome to Enchanting People of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Our award-winning Hatch Green and Red Chile is from locally owned farms in Hatch, NM, The Chile Capital of the World. Every Monday and Friday I do Historical and Cultural New Mexico Podcasts. Wednesdays, I celebrate people.

You will find some place names in New Mexico, specifically in Albuquerque with the Name Ernie Pyle. In Albuquerque is the Ernie Pyle Middle School 78 years after his death. From the school website I learned they are the Ernie Pyle Warriors. There is also the Ernie Pyle House/Library at 900 Girard Boulevard, SE in Albuquerque.

How was he connected to New Mexico? We have two connections with Ernest Taylor Pyle best know as Ernie. Last week on the Wednesday look at interesting people with a connection to New Mexico podcast, I featured Bill Mauldin, the editorial cartoonist who in WWII had the Willie and Joe cartoons in military newspapers showing what it was like to be a combat soldier at the front. That is what Ernie Pyle did in WWII as a newspaper columnist. He showed the very human side of ordinary people who were fighting the war.

For the people back home in the United States Ernie Pyle was of the utmost interest. He didn’t hang around with the Generals; rather, he stayed in the field with the common soldiers and wrote their story. Many years later Charles Kuralt with a long CBS career did Kuralt’s On the Road segments which people loved. This was the style of Ernie Pyle who did newspaper columns like Kuralt in the 1930s traveling all over the country looking for human interest stories so when the war started, he went to the war zone and hunkered down with the combat soldiers.

Luckily, there are a couple books of his columns still in print. In his book, Brave Men, he talked about a unit in Italy in combat and often gave the home address of the soldier along with a story. He mentions Captain Ben Billups of Alamogordo having a narrow escape from an explosion. This is what was written later by a biographer: Ben Billups was an early, and significant, employee at White Sands. Ben Billups was mentioned by War Correspondent Ernie Pyle on page 54 in his book "Brave Men" (New York: Henry Holt, 1944).

For the record also mentioned in that Ernie Pyle column was Lt. Colonel Lewis Franz from Las Vegas, New Mexico; Captain Waldo Lowe from Las Cruces; Major Jerry Hines from Las Cruces who Pyle identified as the former athletic director of the Aggies; Captain James Bezemek and Captain Richard Strong of Albuquerque along with Captain Pete Erwin of Santa Fe. And after identifying these soldiers Ernie Pyle told several stories about the life they were living in the field. Such great folky writing that to this day I know thousands of families still have and treasure because their loved one rubbed shoulders with Ernie Pyle and he wrote about that loved one. Again, I have interviewed families about history all my adult life and have been shown Bill Mauldin cartoons and Ernie Pyle column often. It is family pride.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

We are talking about Pulitzer Prize winning American journalist and war correspondent in World War Two Ernie Pyle. He came within a couple months of surviving his hazardous profession of being a war correspondent on the front lines. He was by far the best-known war correspondent at the time. His columns were in about 700 newspapers which were clipped and saved best I can tell because when I interviewed the relatives of World War II soldiers almost all the time, they would pull out an Ernie Pyle column talking about a unit or battle that their relative was in. And several times there would be the relative who lived in a town and often there was the street address. They were not nameless faceless soldiers; they were real people.

Ernie Pyle was born in Indiana and pursued a journalism degree but left one semester early to take a journalist job and then moved to Washington, D.C. at the Washington Daily News. He already had developed his easy-going style of writing which was a hit. He married his wife Jerry in 1925 and started in 1927 writing a column on aviation.

The year before Ernie and Jerry Pyle quit their jobs and for ten weeks, they traveled thousands of miles across the United States in a Model T Ford Roadster writing and looking at the country. This turned into a gig from 1935 to 1942 again kind of like what Charles Kuralt did decades later because in 1934 he took an extended vacation to the Western States and filled in for a syndicated columnist. He wrote a series of eleven articles about the trip and people along the way. The Scripps-Howard newspaper chain editor said Pyle’s articles had a Mark Twain quality and they knocked his eyes right out. Great praise that started a new phase of Pyles life.

His travels across our country were published in a 1947 book Home Country after his death.

In 1940, to get a sense of permanency they bought a lot in Albuquerque and built their ranch style house with a white picket fence that he wrote about at times.

Ernie Pyle wrote that they had selected Albuquerque for their home after visiting many times and developing in Ernie Pyle’s words, “A deep, unreasoning affection for New Mexico.”

The house is now the Ernie Pyle House/Library. It is a branch of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Library, and containing Pyle memorabilia and a monument to Pyle. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

One more historical note. There was a late 1945 movie made, Story of G. I. Joe which was also known as Ernie Pyle’s Story of G. I. Joe starring Burgess Meredith and Robert Mitchum. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and was Robert Mitchum’s only Oscar nomination. You can still see the movie which is a fine movie about the allied troops driving the German army out of Italy. There are also several fine documentaries about Ernie Pyle. But to my way of thinking, if you are interested get the book, Brave Men and read Ernie’s words.

What I took for reading his words was that the American public really needed a look at the war from the perspective of the soldiers so that they would understand what the soldiers were feeling when they came home. Ernie would certainly speak with Generals, but they were not where his interest was focused. It was all the dog faces of enlisted, NCO and Combat Officers who day to day never knew if they would survive another day.

As to his status, Pyle wrote a column while in Italy in 1944 saying combat soldiers should get fight pay the way airmen received flight pay. Congress passed a bill know as the Ernie Pyle bill authorizing a 50 percent extra pay for combat services.

One of his most cherished by readers column was The Death of Captain Waskow which was written while at Anzio in Italy. It was published in January 1944 and was spot on as to the way that good citizen soldiers would be at breakfast with fellow soldiers and then could be dead by nightfall. The soldier’s friends had little time to mourn, they had to pack up and keep fighting.

After his death in April 1945 President Harry Truman who fought in World War One said of Ernie Pyle, “No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told. He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen.”

My father, Sergeant George Swickard, landed in North Africa, made the landing in Sicily and Italy and was at Anzio for that battle. He smoked cigarettes and had several Zippo lighters which were engraved with Italy while another had Anzio and another Sicily. He never spoke much about his time in the war other than to talk about the mud since there was quite a couple of years of rainfall. He also had lost all interest in camping in a tent.

In June of 1958 my father was transferred from Kirtland Air Force Base where he had served for four years to Yakota Air Force Base in Japan. I was seven, about to turn eight in August and could not imagine the change of life. Especially since my mother, who was born in Lordsburg and lived most of her life so far in New Mexico wanted to live in the Japanese village next to the base, in Fussa Naka as it was called. The three years in Japan made me see the entire world and the United States differently. Reading Ernie Pyle likewise made me see their lives. I wish the Middle School in Albuquerque named Ernie Pyle Middle School would teach about him and his very rich history. I bet some grandparents will already know Ernie Pyle’s story. Lastly, should they be The Ernie Pyle Warriors? He was a journalist. Students need to know his story.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

Let me tell you about some new products at the Fresh Chile Company that I find wonderful. We have a mild, Machete Hatch Green Chile, best for people who love the Chile flavor but do not really want too much taste heat. Varietal Special Reserve Machete (Mild) Hatch chopped Green Chile is only made with 1" thickly chopped Machete Chile. Machete is a mild Hatch Green Chile with a heat level below average compared to other types of Hatch Chile.

Now we have a medium taste heat Big Jim Special Reserve Varietal. This product is only made with Big Jim Chile in a 16-ounce jar.

Hot? You like Hot? We have our varietal Matador Hatch Chile made with 1" thickly chopped Sandia Select Chile. Matador is an XHot Hatch Green Chile with an above-average taste heat level compared to other types of Hatch Chile. So, friends, for the flavor of Chile with just the right taste heat level check these three out to discover which one is just right for you.

There is also a Local Honey with Hatch Red Chile that is great on biscuits. French fries are so much more with the Fresh Chile Company’s Hatchup which is ketchup and Hatch Red Chile. Know this, Monday to Saturday, the Fresh Chile Company Gift Shop is open at 1160 El Paseo Rd, Suite D7A in Las Cruces, NM. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Michael Swickard here. This is the Enchanting People of New Mexico. Thank you for your time today. We will always have lots of News and stories about New Mexico for you on these Podcasts. If you have something you want me to talk about in a future podcast, write to: michael@freshchileco.com

The same is true if there is someone you would like me to talk about who was or is important to our little slice of paradise.

Have a great rest of your day. Oh yes and eat plenty of that good Hatch Valley Chile. Like I always say, “Some Chile is good, more is better.” Bye for now.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.