Sincerely Yours: Ernie Pyle Day

Individual photo portrait of Ernie Pyle
Ernie Pyle’s 1923 yearbook photo

This Friday, August 3rd, Indiana University celebrates an adopted hometown hero on National Ernie Pyle Day! Did you know, however, that Pyle did not receive an IU degree until twelve years after he left Bloomington? The Vermillion County native began his studies here in 1919, but left a year before completing his degree in order to take a position with the La Porte Herald. Bittersweet personal circumstances also surrounded his IU departure: he had recently experienced a bad run-in with some Department of Journalism faculty, and a love interest gave him back his going-steady pin. Despite this, Pyle remained close with companions from IU his entire life. In 1941, at the height of his fame, he waxed longingly to his friend “Hermie” (yes, that one: Herman B Wells) about planning a chance to “escape” to Monroe and Brown Counties. So it was with anticipation, nostalgia, and some nerves that Ernie Pyle returned to IU in November 1944 to receive an honorary degree.

Two letters at the IU Archives show Pyle’s trademark wit and authenticity regarding his prodigal return. In a letter to his friend and IU Alumni Association secretary George “Dixie” Heighway the day after the honorary degree luncheon, Pyle wrote:

It was a wonderful day, Dixie. Instead of hating it, as I had anticipated, I’d almost like to do it again. You couldn’t have arranged it any better for my pleasure. I am deeply appreciative.

Dad and Aunt Mary will be talking about it for years. And so will I (I hope!).

In addition to his thanks, Pyle asks Heighway to send along some information, including the full name and address for University Comptroller Ward Biddle, the man who initially proposed Pyle’s honorary degree to President Wells. Most interesting though, is this request: “The name + street address of Harriett Davidson, Tri-Delt of ’24, now married to a Dr. Martin + living in Bedford, Ind.” This is the same Harriett Davidson who returned Pyle’s pin all those years ago! Perhaps Pyle was moved by the nostalgia of being in Bloomington, and wrote to Davidson to catch up with her after all those years.

Black and white photograph of Ernie Pyle and Patricia Krieghbaum in the IDS office, November 1944
Ernie Pyle visits the Indiana Daily Student office during his return to campus in November 1944.

As we read this letter today, it’s impossible not to feel a little sentimental. We know that Pyle was struck by sniper fire and died during the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945—just months after he wrote this letter. His humorous jab of hoping to talk about the honorary degree for years becomes a sad foreshadowing when we know this context. A follow-up letter Pyle wrote Heighway on November 28, 1944 includes another such line in the postscript: “I’ll be leaving here for good in about two weeks.” Pyle meant only that he would be off to cover World War II’s Pacific theater, but the permanence of the statement is eerie in hindsight.

These two letters, however, should be read for their joyful moments too.  In his November 28 letter, Pyle is especially touching:

After the luncheon that day, a red-headed gal from the Bloomington High School paper tagged me and wanted an interview. Our schedule was so tight and everybody was pulling at me so that I had to leave her standing there, and later had Jack Hastings go back and apologize and say it was impossible, since she seemed to want a lot of time.

I’ve felt badly about it, for I know how kids can be hurt by failing in an assignment like that. I’d like to send her an autographed book in recognition of a good try. Could you find out who she was?

The no-nonsense writing style and humanizing approach is all Pyle. The generosity to this student evinces his deep roots to Bloomington. Heighway or another colleague jotted down the student’s name and address: Gladys Lillian Morrison. Some genealogical research shows that as of 2016, Morrison was still living in Bloomington. She and her late husband both worked at IU. It seems that, like Pyle himself, many people keep these close ties Bloomington and the university.

To see these letters and other University Archives material related to Ernie Pyle, contact an archivist. The IU Libraries Lilly Library also holds a number of Pyle-related collections–contact our friends there for further information!

Scan of original letter from Ernie Pyle to George "Dixie" Heighway, November 28, 1944

Transcription of November 28, 1944 letter from Ernie Pyle to George “Dixie” Heighway:

                Nov. 28

Dear George—

Something else I wish you’d do for me.

After the luncheon that day, a red-headed gal from the Bloomington High School paper tagged me and wanted an interview. Our schedule was so tight and everybody was pulling at me so that I had to leave her standing there, and later had Jack Hastings go back and apologize and say it was impossible, since she seemed to want a lot of time.

I’ve felt badly about it, for I know how kids can be hurt by failing in an assignment like that. I’d  like to send her an autographed book in recognition of a good try. Could you find out who she was?

I’m still glowing over the grand day we had, and so are my folks.

As ever,

Ernie

P.S.—I’ll be leaving here for good in about two weeks

Behind the Curtain: Julia Kilgore, Bicentennial Oral History Intern

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

Role: Bicentennial Oral History Intern

Educational Background: BA in History, BA in Art from Hillsdale College; Current MLS student with a specialization in archives and records management.

How she got here: Julia started working in archives as an undergraduate at Hillsdale College. At the College, she mainly worked in special collections as the caretaker of the campus Library’s coin collection, but she occasionally helped the college Archivist with various projects. One particular project she enjoyed was helping to rearrange documents from the Winston Churchill Project.  She also had the pleasure of working with and organizing an entire archives collection at a local historic house, the Grosvenor House Museum.

When Julia volunteered for the Grosvenor House Museum, she never knew what to expect.  It was like Christmas every day! One afternoon she would be flipping through a pile of graduation announcements from the local schools and the next she would be trying to identify individuals in a stack of nameless photos. There were old maps, rail road tickets, letters, articles on local war heroes…one time she and a friend found a military commission from King George III for a local townsman with its wax seal still intact! Meanwhile at the College, Julia would sift through and rehouse tons of letters between Winston Churchill and his wife, secretary notes from meetings, letters to dignitaries from around the world, and other great documents. After working with these collections, Julia knew that she wanted to work in an environment where she could interact with archives and special collections in some way, whether it be in a library, museum, or a similar institution.

Julia began her dual MLS/Art History degree in the fall of 2015 and found work as a Public Services Assistant in Wells Library. In the spring of 2016, she began processing collections for the IU Archives and transitioned into her current position as Bicentennial Oral History Intern the following semester.

Favorite item in the collection: One of Julia’s favorite items in the archives is Volume 5 of the Sycamore Logbook from 1944-1945 from the IU Women’s Residence Halls scrapbooks (see more info about the scrapbooks in her posts titled “Snippets from Dorm Life” and “Mail Call“). She was reordering all of IU’s women’s dorm scrapbooks when she decided to flip through a few to get an idea of what these ladies were like. As she turned page after page of unidentified photographs, she wondered if she would find anything that would tell her their names or what their lives were like at IU. She turned a page and saw the headline “Mail Call.” She was immediately drawn to it because she knew the book was from around the end of World War II, meaning it had to be something about soldiers during the war.

It turned out to be a really great piece describing a typical morning in Sycamore Hall where the ladies would dash downstairs immediately after waking up to see if there was news from the front lines. It really struck a chord with Julia and reminded her yet again the amazing things you get to discover while working in archives (and purely by accident too!).

Current project: Julia interviews staff and alumni for the Oral History Project about their time here at IU.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Julia loves when she is interviewing someone for the Oral History project and they talk about old student hangouts or past events.  It’s really great because she can research these places and events after the interview and she always finds great things in our collections on them.  Sitting there listening to them talk about these things really helps her to connect with our collections on a different level.  It makes it all the more real to her.

What she’s learned from working here: Restaurants, bookstores, and other places downtown have such a rich and wonderful history that are so interconnected to IU and its students. The best thing about it? Many of them still exist.  It is wonderful to go into places Nick’s or the Gables after hearing about all of these different experiences and think about what it was like then versus now.

The John and Hilda Jay Family Papers

Doubtless, you’ve at least once wondered what historians would assume about your historical setting based on something you’ve left behind. Every day, we write something down, we send an e-mail, we file away something important, or we send a quick text to a friend. Our habits of communication–perhaps unknowingly– document specific snapshots of the world at the time of creation. And this has always been the case, although we’re much more digitized in today’s age than we used to be. So imagine you’ve written a letter to your sweetheart every day over a span of quite a few years. You may not realize it, but the subtle trends of history may have been written into your words.

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This is what makes a collection like the John and Hilda Jay family papers so priceless: its ability to provide a series of snapshots through which we can study history, while also revealing the rich, fascinating details of a unique family. The collection, donated to the archives by Ms. Ellen Jay, consists primarily of a series of letters, the bulk of which were written between her parents, John and Hilda Jay, between the years of 1939-1946. John and Hilda were both IU alumni, John graduating in 1941 and Hilda graduating in 1945.  They began their relationship during their time together at school, and married in 1942– a union that was hastened due to the country’s new involvement in World War II and the potential of John being called to duty.

That particular chapter of their story began on December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese attacked by bombing Pearl Harbor. At the time, the couple was separated; Hilda continued her schoolwork at IU, and John was in Connecticut beginning his career at the Remington Arms Company. Their letters suggest that they did, eventually, intend to marry, but more than likely not until after Hilda had completed her degree. Then, the news of the bombing sent waves of media response across the country.

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On December 7th, 1941, Hilda wrote to her sweetheart: “I hardly know what to write you tonight. Just as we all came out from the concert we were encountered by news boys shouting “Extra-etc.” There was a rush to get the papers, then a grim, determined calmness evident…I wonder what the result of this will be so far as we are concerned.”

And the day after, John responded: “Well, we’re actually in it now. It has happened so fast I can hardly get over the shock. I had begun to feel that we wouldn’t get into war for at least 6 months yet, and possibly a year, when, bingo, the radio flashes word that Japan was bombing Hawaii.…The thing that hurts worst now is what’s going to happen to us. I hope we can pull through it, but gad, what a lot of faith it takes to think about even pulling through it.”

Evidence from their letters suggests that the entire family was trying to approach the question of what to do– postpone the marriage until after the war is over, or hurry it along before John is called away? There were unquestionably thousands of young couples in the same predicament across the country at that time. Plans had to be put on hold or rushed. Hilda’s mother suggested that she wait until “after this is all over.” Hilda, however, confided in a letter to John on December 13th that she didn’t see that happening: “Now as for how I look at it. This thing is going on for years–plenty of them…I’m not sure it would be wise to say ‘after this is all over’ for I think that is never…I think it all depends on what sort of service you get yourself into.” The uncertainty of the situation gripped tightly onto their plans for the future.

As it turns out, they decided to get married in July of 1942. Hilda would give up, or at least postpone, her education for the sake of their new marriage and move to Connecticut with her husband. This situation lasted for about a year before John was enlisted into the U.S. Navy in 1944. They stationed him at the Portsmouth Navy Shipyard, where he remained until boarding the U.S.S. Washington. With her husband off serving, Hilda returned to school at I.U. and was able to complete her degree by 1945.

The letters from John’s time aboard the U.S.S. Washington reveal telling anecdotes about Navy life during World War II. For instance, read below a description that John wrote after finding out about Hitler’s suicide and Germany’s surrender in May 1945:

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This excerpt illustrates John’s personal feelings on the matter, as well as the discourse between Navy men immediately following the announcement.

The Jay family papers has more to offer than just a glimpse at life during World War II; the entirety of the collection spans from the early 20th century to the early 21st century, featuring letters written by several members of the Jay family, including their children, Ellen and Sarah. Ellen and Sarah also attended IU during the 1960s, and much like their parents, maintained correspondence with their own parents during their time apart. This extensive, interesting collection is brimming with both local and global history throughout crucial moments in the past.

Contact the IU Archives, to schedule a visit to view the John and Hilda Jay family papers.

Mail Call: Correspondence at IU during WWII

“Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter.” — Sir Winston Churchill in My Early Life: A Roving Commission

War is never easy, especially for those serving in the armed forces and those they leave behind. Throughout the various wars in our short history, our military members and their loved ones have made countless sacrifices in order to defend our country and protect the freedoms which we all enjoy so dearly. Separation from our loved ones can be a particularly difficult thing to bear during these times of conflict.

But whereas we now have email, skype, and various other methods of communication to keep in touch with those on the battlefield, there were no such luxuries in the Second World War.  People relied on snail

“Mail Call” from the 1944-1945 Sycamore Logbook

-mail to receive news from the frontlines which, in some areas, could be less than frequent. Letters could easily be lost in the mail as well.

Letters to and from the front lines were a lifeline for service men and women fighting in WWII. One can imagine these soldiers clinging desperately to photos of their loved ones and sitting in their shelters or in the trenches reading and rereading those letters from home dozens of times over. All the while sitting. Waiting. Hoping for the end of hostilities so that they can once again return to their former lives.

It was no different for those at home. One can be sure that many individuals sat by the mail box waiting with bated breath as the postman came up to deliver the mail, hoping to hear some news from the front. Students at Indiana University seem to have been no exception to this rule. While I was processing a set of scrapbooks from Sycamore Hall (when it acted as a women’s residence hall), I stumbled upon this little gem embedded in Volume 5 of the Sycamore Logbook from the 1944-1945 academic year whose faded pages revealed what was going through many a young woman’s mind here at IU when it came time to receive the mail during WWII.

The following is a transcription of an account written by one of the copy editors of the Sycamore Hall dorm logbook:

Residents of Sycamore Hall, 1945 Archives image no: P0044228
Residents of Sycamore Hall, 1945
Archives image no: P0044228

Mail Call

Mail Call is the most important event in the day for almost all of us girls at the University. Even on days when we could sleep late, our alarm clocks will usually be set for ten a.m.

We jump out of bed, dress in a flash, and dash downstairs. In each of our hearts there is a solemn prayer that, maybe, today is the day a letter will come from the most important man in the Army, Navy or Marines.

Each of us goes downstairs with a happy look of expectancy written on her face. Some of us come away smiling and happy; others leave the mail boxes depressed and sad.

The conversation each morning rambles on something like this:

 “Hi, Kelly, is that a letter from Bob?”

“Yes, he got his wings yesterday, and he’ll be home next week. Barbs, you had better dust off the Wedding March because we are going to be needing that song.”

“That is grand, Kelly,” comes in a chorus from the girls.

There is a scream of delight as Kay rushes for her mail box, which is packed full of letters. She stands there laughing and crying at the same time, as she counts twelve letters from her Bill. Bill is a Navy flier, and he is in the South Pacific; mail from him comes only every six or eight weeks.

Cluching [sic] the letters as though her life depended on them, Kay dashes for the big chair in the living room. Incoherent phrases tumble from her lips.

“Jeepers, and gee, he is still my man! Oh, his is wonderful – – twelve letters!  Happy day, oh happy day!”

 “Darn! Just a letter from Carol,” comes the disgusted words from Ruthann.

“That’s my luck, too,” replies Donna.

“I know Dick is busy, but – -“

“Cut it, Ruthann; there is Janie, and she did not get a letter again today.”

No, I must not forget to tell about Janie. She is a little thing and pretty as a doll. She is the pet of every girl in the house. Her Marine is in the Philippines, and she has not heard from him since Manila was taken. Janie does not say anything about not hearing from him, but we know how worried she is; we sense the heartbreak she feels when she looks at her empty mail box. I guess she realizes we would all “crack up” if we put our feelings into words.

She saw us looking at her and smiled.

 “Everything is all right, chums; Jack is all right, and there is always tomorrow.”

Julia Ann Bookout

Little did these ladies know that they did not have long to wait for their loved ones to return. The war would soon come to an end with the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945 with the formal surrender to follow on September 2nd (which is known today in the US as V-J Day). We can only hope that Jack returned with the rest of his brothers in arms to US shores to celebrate the Allied victory with Janie and the rest of his family and friends.

“From War to Peace in 1945 Germany: A GI’s Experience”

From War to PeaceIn 1953, Malcolm “Mac” Fleming joined the Indiana University School of Education and the Audio-Visual Center of Adult Education, where he began as an instructor and acting supervisor of motion pictures. What students may not have known is that their young instructor had been taught the trade by Uncle Sam.

Originally from Oregon, once the Army heard Fleming knew his way around a camera, they transferred him to the Signal Corps Photo Center in New York to be trained as a combat photographer. Billeted near Times Square, Mac practiced his craft on the streets of Manhattan, capturing shots of the busy metropolis, the results later reviewed and critiqued by his trainers. At his next stop in England, Fleming was told the Army needed motion picture photographers, so “[the sergeant] quickly taught me how to load a one-hundred-foot roll of 35 mm motion picture film into a handheld Eymo camera and I became a cinematographer overnight.”

In the belt pouch meant for a first aid kit, Mac instead carried his own small camera so that in addition to the official Army photos, he could capture shots of scenes that were of personal interest. In a field notebook, he documented these images just as he did the Army photos and films, and what resulted was a rich record of one young soldier’s experience in the European Theater. The destruction, the refugees carrying what possessions they could, and village life that went on as it could were all captured by Fleming’s little camera.

Fleming's caption typed on reverse side of image reads, in full:
Fleming’s caption typed on reverse side of image reads, in full: “Ruins now lie at the feet of the iron figure of Kaiser Wilhelm. A German living in a nearby room amid the rubble showed me this viewpoint. Looking at it while I took the pic he said that Hitler had gotten what he’d been pleading for–total war.” July 9, 1945, Nuremberg, Germany.

Now in his 90s, Prof. Fleming has donated his extensive collection to the University Archives, but not before collaborating with the IU Press in a gorgeous book, “From War to Peace in 1945 Germany: A GI’s Experience.” The book which includes his original notes, partnered with updated captions and a foreword by James H. Madison, IU’s Thomas and Kathryn Miller Professor Emeritus of History, and an afterword by Brad Cook, Curator of Photographs here in the Archives, is a must have for anybody with an interest in World War II.