TERRE HAUTE —
I stepped back in time last week when I visited the Ernie Pyle World War II Museum in Dana.
There are two segments to the tour at the museum. There is this fine old house where Ernie spent a lot of time growing up. He was like many young boys of farm families — a “hand” for his father. A job he did not want very much.
But inside the various rooms was a flashback for me because it reminded me of my grandparents’ farm. The wood stoves, the way the table was set, a huge feather bed, and other furniture items that certainly made me glad I am living in this age. (As a small boy I used to run and jump on my grandmother’s bed and literally be swallowed by the big feather mattress.
I learned that Ernie’s childhood nickname was “Shag” because he had a shaggy mop of red hair and was, of course, easily identified by it. World War I was waging and Ernie joined the Naval Reserve and took training as a sailor. The war would end, the training would stop, and Shag Pyle was released.
Not wanting to be a farmer, he entered Indiana University and studied journalism because it didn’t require extra mathematical skills or studies. Of course, you know Ernie took to writing like a duck takes to water. He got a job at a newspaper in the northern part of the state and left school to earn money.
There’s no doubt about it … he had a knack for meeting rather ordinary people and creating unusual and interesting stories about them. He joined the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain and became a traveling correspondent.
Two, huge Quonset huts tell Ernie’s story in World War II. He was the only (I believe this to be true) embedded correspondent that stayed with a particular unit, took cover when being shot at, slept in the foxholes, suffered from the rain and cold and, in the summer, the heat. But he wrote about the simple soldier who was there to do a job and did it better than anyone else. There are three visual presentations where you get to see what Ernie saw. You get to hear the artillery and see the terrible war we call World War II.
Ernie was gone when I discovered his writings. The book I read was “Here is Your War.” It was about the American GIs in the North African campaign and the battles that brought the Afrika Corp to its surrender.
A visit to the museum is one of the best ways to study World War II without having your nose stuck in a book. It is truly time well spent. My thanks to Joanie Rumple for being an excellent tour guide.
I topped off my stay in Dana with a visit to Brooke’s Candy Co., just one and a half blocks up the street from the museum. I was a popular guy for bringing some of Brooke’s candy home. (Brooke’s Candy was featured on the front page of this newspaper a few weeks ago.)
Like Ernie Pyle, who was a product of farm and small-town Indiana, Brooke’s Candy Co. shows you don’t have to be in a huge city to be successful.
Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.