Archive bearing name of famed WWII correspondent donated to Wing

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Christopher Botzum
  • 111th Attack Wing
After 71 years in storage, an area World War II veteran donated documents detailing the battle casualties his unit suffered on Ie Shima Island -- including the death of famed doughfoot writer, Ernie Pyle. 

On Jan. 21, Louis Vitola, a World War II dental technician assigned to the 77th Infantry Division, donated three pages to the 111th Attack Wing from a recovered notebook he happened upon in 1945 while staged on Cebu Island, Philippines.

Pyle, an Indiana native columnist, crafted the foot soldier's stories in the European and Pacific theatres during the Second World War. His writings were commonplace on coffee tables across the U.S. to include the White House.

But this document regarding Pyle was found in an uncommon place.

"I looked into a waste basket and discovered a few scraps of paper," said Vitola. "When I saw the name of Ernie Pyle so matter-of-factly mentioned that he was killed on April 18, 1945, I thought I had something special."

Vitola held onto them for over seven decades until he found them a proper home.

"I wanted to donate the pages after our Chalfont VFW unit toured the Horsham Air Guard Station's Historian Office. I knew that they would be in safe hands."

Those hands would be that of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

"Learning about the existence of the Pyle note was a very exciting moment for me as a military man and historian," said retired Air Force Master Sgt. and wing historian with the 111th ATKW, Jim Waibel. "To learn a still-living veteran who was there had a ledger of the events is truly priceless."

Yellowed with age, the torn pages from a journal believed to be an Army officer's account on his men, notes their landing on Ie Shima [now Iejima] on April 16, 1945. It reflects the names of soldier's killed in action, wounded in action and those that died of wounds. Two days later, the annotation indicated that Ernie Pyle had been killed as a result of enemy gunfire.

Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was most noted for his foxhole-writing style. Not only chronicling the events of battles and campaigns, he brought life to the each soldier's inner pain, fears and reminiscence of home. His articles served to augment the letters soldier's sent back to loved ones.

President Harry Truman, a follower of Pyle's writings, said, "More than any other man, he became the spokesman of the ordinary American in arms doing so many extraordinary things. It was this genius that the mass and power of our military and naval forces never obscured the men who made them.

No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as the American fighting man wanted it told. He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen."

Thanks to Vitola, the 111th ATKW can now share that gratitude.

"These scripted notes need to be displayed and discussed," said Waibel. "It has become one of our most treasured items."