“AT THE FRONT LINES IN ITALY, January 10, 1944 — In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.”
— The opening words of “The Death of Captain Waskow” by Ernie Pyle
Once again, Ernie Pyle has made me proud to be a journalist.
Recently, friend and colleague Jim Brown of Indianapolis (former dean of the journalism department at IUPUI) sent me two emails that grabbed my attention. The first contained a link to the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy media blog. The second was a link to Jim’s own blog site.
I clicked to the Journal blog first and was greeted by the headline, “What’s the best newspaper column of all time?” My interest was piqued, especially when the first paragraph indicated that, no, the famous “Yes, Virginia” column by Francis Church in 1897 had not been named to the top spot. (It was chosen No. 2.)
As I read on, I saw embedded in the text a photo of Pyle, the Dana native revered as among the best and most respected war correspondents in U.S. history. Could it be …?
Indeed, it was. The National Society of Newspaper Columnists had chosen Pyle’s World War II column, “The Death of Captain Waskow,” as the best column ever.
According to the blog, the poll of columnists was organized by John Avlon and Jesse Angelo, editors of an upcoming book, “Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns.” They narrowed the poll of best columns to 15 before presenting it to the columnists. Avlon told the Journal blogger he was not surprised the “Waskow” column was selected as the best. “I think the participants did get it right,” he was quoted as saying.
My friend, Jim, knew this item would interest me not only because of my profession, but also because I’m a board member of the Friends of Ernie Pyle, a nonprofit organization that operates the Ernie Pyle Museum in Dana. Jim is currently under contract to create a website for the museum.
The link to Jim’s blog took me to his reflections on the selection of Pyle’s column.
“The first time I encountered this column was in a special display at the Ernie Pyle Museum in Dana, Indiana. I heard the column read and it brought tears to my eyes,” Jim wrote in his blog. “I later read the column. There is a rhythm to his words and the honor accorded to Captain Waskow by his men is memorialized by Pyle’s words.”
Indeed, the “Waskow” column holds a special place at the Dana museum. It is an exhibit all its own. Visitors to the museum actually encounter the “Waskow Theater,” where they are treated to a multimedia presentation as the column’s words are read by legendary stage and screen actor William Windom. It is perhaps the museum’s most powerful presentation.
If you’ve never been to the Ernie Pyle Museum, or even if you have, spending time in the “Waskow Theater” is worth a trip all by itself. Knowing that the Pyle column now has been judged the best newspaper column of all time will certainly add to that experience.
The museum, located just off U.S. 36 in downtown Dana (you can’t miss it), is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. There is a modest admission charge.
Max Jones can be reached at (812) 231-4336, or by e-mail at email@example.com.