Dianne Frances D. Powell
TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana University student Samantha Strong stood on the lawn in front of a white house in the town of Dana on Saturday, holding a precious plaque.
The plaque in her hands is a replica of Ernie Pyle’s Distinguished Alumni Award, given by the IU School of Journalism to its famous former student, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and a civilian recipient of the Purple Heart.
On Saturday, Strong and 13 other Ernie Pyle Scholars — as the journalism honor students are known — drove from Bloomington to Pyle’s hometown of Dana to present the award to the Ernie Pyle World War II Museum.
Ernie Pyle was a renowned war correspondent during World War II. He died in the Pacific in 1945 while embedded with troops.
Almost seven decades after his death, Pyle’s impact is still evident.
“Pyle is obviously an icon of quality war reporting. … He was a magnificent reporter,” said Dr. Owen V. Johnson, journalism professor and mentor to the Ernie Pyle Scholars, who accompanied the group.
Johnson said Pyle was a “superb observer” and a great storyteller.
Pyle was among the first to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Journalism in 2011.
Accepting the award on behalf of the museum were Cynthia Myers and Phil Hess, president and vice-president, respectively, of the Friends of Ernie Pyle, a non-profit organization that runs the museum. Board members of the organization were also present.
“We just feel very honored that IU thought a good home for this award is the museum,” Myers said.
“It’s a great award for us to have on display,” she said.
Other artifacts on display at the museum, which the students toured before the presentation, are Pyle’s Purple Heart Award, his passport, press certificate, wallet, and even his razor and sewing kit.
Outside the museum, the presentation started close to noon.
As she presented the award, Strong spoke about Pyle’s ties to IU.
“Ernie Pyle was raised in an agricultural setting and attended IU as a means of escaping the farm life,” Strong said. She went on to say that even though Pyle studied economics, he held leadership positions in the campus newspaper.
He left IU just shy of a degree to work for the LaPorte Herald.
“It was not until 1944 that Pyle’s ties to IU came full circle when he was granted an honorary degree, the first presented by IU,” Strong continued.
“Pyle’s ties to IU remain in many forms. ... It’s not just Pyle’s extended history with the university that keeps these ties knotted tight, but also his legacy in the art form that is journalism,” she said.
And his legacy lives on in the aspiring journalists that attended the event.
Presenting the award with Strong is fellow student Hanah Alani, who said she also wants to be a foreign correspondent.
“He’s a great example and it’s really awesome that he went to the school I’m going to,” Alani told the Tribune-Star.
Another student, Colton Shaffer, called Pyle “inspirational.” He admires how Pyle was able to “connect with the common soldier” and explain his story from the perspective of the people affected by them. He was a great observer, Colton said.
“I think that ability is something we as journalists can aspire to,” he said.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.