Waskow was a company commander in the 36th Division, fighting in the mountains of Italy, and he was loved by his men in a way that no one else would have ever known had Pyle not been there to witness it. Pyle was with them before Waskow died, and he was with them when Waskow’s body came down the mountain lashed to the back of a mule, and he was with them as they gently said their goodbyes. It was Pyle’s most famous column, taking up the whole front page of The Washington Daily News, and providing a narrative frame for the movie Hollywood made about him, The Story of G. I. Joe.
For all his bashful, homespun, shoe-gazing manner, Pyle had some firm ideas about his trade. He was a stickler about his copy: “I try to make it sound almost like music,” he once wrote to Lee G. Miller, complaining about injudicious editing. “And often the dropping of a word or the cutting of one sentence into two shorter ones destroys the whole rhythm of it.” He had low regard for the reporters on the White House beat: “They’re all so goddamned smart and know everything—just a bunch of super boys out looking down upon the country hicks.” And he had what might be called, although not by him, a credo: “to make people see what I see.”
You go there, and you get the story—that’s what he did in Fort Yukon, Alaska, and what he did in the mountains of Italy, and what he was doing when he died on Ie Shima. You don’t pontificate or speculate, analyze or muse. You go there and you ask and you watch and you listen and then you tell what you learned. You bear witness to the world beyond your readers’ world. You take them to the places and introduce them to the people they might otherwise never see.
Home Country was Pyle’s boot camp. It was across those years of travel—years when, as he wrote, “I have no home….America is my home”—that he sharpened his eye as a reporter and his voice as a writer; that he proved big audiences would read small stories about ordinary people; that he came to know so well the country the soldiers he met later were fighting for. Overseas, in the war, he always asked those soldiers where they came from, and it was often someplace he had once been.