Ernie Pyle (1900-1945) was raised in Dana, Indiana, and attended IU, where he left school a semester short of graduating. He went on to become an aviation columnist, travel columnist, WWII correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner. He was killed by machine gun fire on Iejima, an island northwest of Okinawa, Japan.
I wrote a letter to him because I took a class in the Media School — Footsteps of Ernie Pyle — this past semester, which took me through Paris, Normandy and London. He went many places in the world, but I was lucky enough to see a few.
So. I guess I just wanted to thank him. It’s also easier to talk to people who aren’t here than people who are, sometimes.
Another school year has basically come and gone. I usually take time to reflect on the school year, and — well. I guess the time to do that is here and now. I’m booked for the next many months, so I need to do this — like I said — now.
I learned a lot about you this semester, Ernie. I took a class called Footsteps of Ernie Pyle, and I went to Paris, Normandy and London. I think it’s borderline ironic that we have a class dedicated to someone who dropped out of IU to go write and see the world — it doesn’t seem totally in line with what our professors want for us, but, hey, I think that was very cool and brave of you. Sometimes — yeah, I won’t lie — I wish I could do that.
Just go, you know? Just go.
You went and saw the world, Ernie. And part of me wishes I could’ve grabbed your shoulders and stared you straight in the eye and told you, “Look at you. Look at everything you do. Look at how you make people feel. Look at how you make people think. Look at what you show people — people who have never and may never see this part of the planet. Look at the mark you are leaving on the world.”
But then again, maybe I should shake my own shoulders. Did you leave school because you didn’t think you were good at it? Or were you just ready to move on? I don’t think I know your reasoning. If I ever left school, I think it’d be because I’ve just never felt very smart, never felt very worthy of attention and praise, never felt like I stacked up.
I wish I knew what you would say in this moment. I wish I knew if you’d tell me a lie in some elegant, quotable prose, or if you’d look me in the eye and tell me the truth: I may never feel like I stack up.
Ugh. Ernie! It sucks when the only person you want to talk to about all of this is not only dead, but someone you never met. It doesn’t make much sense, does it? A 20-year-old girl wants to talk to a long-gone war correspondent?
I don’t always get myself either.
I don’t believe in heaven or hell, by the way. I think you probably just close your eyes one last time and you go in the ground and call it a life. But if there exists some parallel universe that allows you to read this letter, Ernie — well. That wouldn’t be so bad. Because, after a really long semester of learning about you, I guess it actually does make sense that I’d want to talk to you.
I just hope you had moments where you understood the gravity of your writing and the weight of your existence and the value of your presence. That’s all, Ernie. Because I understood it — your writing and your existence and your presence. And life isn’t worth it if you don’t realize that at some point.
One day, I hope I realize that about myself, too.
One day, I’ll see where you died. I’ll go to Iejima and take the trek you were told not to take. And, before that, I’ll go to North Africa and Italy and all 50 states, and I’ll go back to Paris and London and Normandy, and I will see you and wonder about you and be in awe of the fact that you did so much.
One day, I’ll finally come say hi to you. I know where you are — you’re in Hawaii. You’re in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. You won’t say anything, but you won’t need to. When two people really get each other, there isn’t much to say, anyway. And you would’ve gotten me, Ernie. And I would’ve gotten you.
We grew up Hoosiers and went to IU and worked for the IDS and adored the Indianapolis 500 and wanted to see the world and probably wondered constantly if we were doing enough — or if we were enough, period.
You once said, “I’ve contributed a little and received a great deal.” And I’m not exactly sure how to define “being enough,” Ernie, but you have to know you were more than that. You contributed more than “a little.” And I hope, one day — when I’m long gone — someone will be able to look at my life and say, “She was more than enough.”
And maybe they’ll write me a really cool letter that I’ll somehow be able to see when I’m in the ground or in the stars or amongst the clouds in the sky. I don’t know where we go when we die, Ernie. But I know that some people’s spirits seem to linger on Earth just a little bit longer than others.
Yours did. Yours does.
Ellie, That Girl who found you and your writing when she needed it most
Ellie Albin (she/her) is a junior majoring in journalism with a minor in environmental and sustainability studies and a certificate in rock 'n' roll history. She is a real-life princess.