Front-line journalists embody spirit of Pyle

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By Steve Key

Nearly 66 years ago on Ie Shima, journalist Ernie Pyle died from a machine gun bullet on April 18, 1945.

The Japanese island wasn’t where he wanted to be. After covering the European Theater of World War II, Pyle didn’t think he would survive in the Pacific. But he felt an obligation to return to the front lines and chronicle the lives of soldiers – not only for them but also for their families back home. So the Hoosier-born war correspondent returned to the war and the rendezvous with death he predicted.

Pyle’s courage and conviction lives today, embodied by journalists who risk their lives around the world to explain events to local, national and international audiences.

Schools and groups can now schedule tours of the Ernie Pyle Historic Site in Dana.

The site features the house in which the World War II correspondent was born and a museum dedicated to preserving his legacy. The nonprofit Friends of Ernie Pyle is operating the site under special arrangement with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Cynthia Myers, president of the Friends of Ernie Pyle, said schools and other groups can schedule tours by calling the site at (765) 665-3633 and leaving a message or calling Myers directly at (765) 665-3084.

Tour group admission fees are:

• School-sponsored tour, $1 per student

• Adult groups, $3 per person

• Child groups, $1.50 per child.

The Friends organization plans to open the site to the public on Saturdays and Sundays beginning May 14. Saturday hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday hours will be 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. All times are Eastern. General admission will be $3.50 for adults, $3 for adults 55 and older, $2 for children 4 to12 and free for children 3 and younger.

This year, Egyptian photographer Ahmad Mohamed Mahmoud died, reportedly shot by a police sniper, as he took pictures of a crowd in Cairo during the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

Journalist organizations estimate that more than 100 reporters were assaulted, threatened, arrested or improperly detained in the days before Mubarak stepped down.

During the celebration of Mubarak’s decision to yield power in Tahrir Square, CBS correspondent Lara Logan was separated from her crew in the mob of people. She suffered a sexual assault and beating before a group of women and Egyptian soldiers rescued her.

Even more recently in Libya, BBC journalists Feras Killani, Goktay Koraltan and Chris Cobb-Smith were arrested, beaten and subjected to mock executions during a 21-hour ordeal before they were released.

Nobody forces journalists to travel to dangerous locations, but they go with the realization that they could be hurt or worse.

Why do they do it?

Like Pyle they believe the world has the right to know the human impact of world events. It would be safer to write reports from hundreds of miles away, but dedicated journalists feel the need to be on the scene, filling their senses with what is happening – the sounds, smells and sights of war, revolution and oppression.

Their first-hand accounts, whether in print or on video or radio, allow us to meet people just like us who have been thrust into events. It makes us wonder whether we could stand up in protest in a country where secret police can whisk one away to never return.

Without their willingness to put themselves in danger, some atrocities would not become known. Political upheaval would be an abstract event for many, not a human experience.

The legacy of Pyle and his foreign-correspondent brethren lives on today in the work of journalists around the world. Hopefully, the number who will pay the ultimate price for their dedication to journalism will shrink to zero.

Steve Key is executive director and general counsel for HSPA.