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“Ernie Pyle Birthplace and Museum”

     Several years ago, while travelling through western Indiana, we passed the Ernie Pyle Home in Dana, IN, and thought that it would be interesting to see but didn’t have time to stop.  Earlier this summer, we were driving through the same area, so we planned to visit it.    The address is  Ernie Pyle Home,  P.O. Box 338, 120 W. Briarwood Ave. , Dana, IN 47847-0338; phone: 812.882.7422.

     Ernie Pyle was one of the best known war correspondents during World War II.  He was shot to death on the Pacific island of IeShima by a Japanese soldier just before the war’s end in 1945. 

     Ernest Taylor Pyle was born August 3, 1900, on the Sam Elder farm, just southwest of Dana, Indiana. Pyle served in the Naval Reserve after graduating from high school near the end of World War I. Having studied journalism at Indiana University, he became a cub reporter for the LaPorte Herald. Four months later, he was offered a $2.50-per-week raise to work for the Washington Daily News. He wrote a daily aviation column for four years before becoming the paper’s managing editor.

     Pyle loved to travel and succeeded in persuading Scripps Howard executives (the company that owned the Daily News) to allow him to be a roving reporter. The five-year odyssey that followed took Pyle and his wife, Jerry, across the United States and to Central and South America. Pyle wrote about the ordinary; human-interest stories attracted him. His unpretentious pieces received the attention of people everywhere.

      In 1940, with war raging in Europe, Pyle went to England to report on the Battle of Britain. By 1942, he was covering America’s involvement in the war. During the next three years, battle campaigns took him to North Africa, Italy and the Normandy Beaches in France.  In 1945, Pyle accepted what would be his last assignment — the Pacific theater. His death silenced the pen of a man whose writing had served as the link between men at the front and their loved ones back home.

     Through the efforts of the Indiana Department of the American Legion and a sizeable contribution from the Eli Lilly Foundation, the Historic House was moved from its rural site to its present location. It became a state historic site in July 1976.  On April 18, 1995, a new Visitor Center, constructed from two authentic World War II Quonset huts, was dedicated. The center features a video theater, research library, exhibits and a gift shop. This addition was made possible through a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation and the Paige Cavanaugh estate.

     The Visitor Center exhibits feature life-size scenes based on Ernie Pyle’s writings and experiences as a World War II correspondent. The exhibits include state-of-the-art audio and video stations and contain authentic World War II uniforms, weapons, and gear, including a 1944 Willys jeep. The Historic House from the farm where Pyle was born is furnished as an early 1900s rural Indiana farmhouse.  The permenant exhibits were completed in 1998. Local veterans groups donated a 1944 Ford jeep for outreach programs.

     Unfortunately, when I tried to get some information about the site while making the plans for our trip, I found that it was closed and no longer in operation due to budget cuts.  Evidently, this closure was intended to be permanent, because the were to be moved to the Indiana State Museum.

     I understand budget cuts, but I still thought that it was a crying shame that no way had been found to keep it open.  However, we decided to go ahead and drive by the site just to see it.  Lo and behold, there was a sign on it saying “Open.”  We were able to see both the museum with its exhibits and the house under the guidance of two very knowledgeable ladies.  Evidently, the local volunteers came up with a plan to keep it open, and the property is being transferred from the state to them.

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