Move Over, Ken, It's Ernie Pyle  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   July/August 2002

Move Over, Ken, It's Ernie Pyle   

Famed war correspondent becomes an action figure

By Jill Rosen
Jill Rosen is AJR's assistant managing editor     


He comes with a field jacket, utility cap, trousers, scarf, boots and a canteen, all the G.I. Joe basics. But this might be the only action figure ever to pack a typewriter instead of a gun. And it's certainly the only one that ever came with a miniature newspaper story.

Hasbro's new Ernie Pyle figure commemorates the famed World War II correspondent whose dispatches from the front lines defined for many Americans what the war was like for ordinary soldiers. He won a Pulitzer for distinguished war correspondence in 1944.

The figure is part of Hasbro's G.I. Joe D-Day Collection released in June. And it can be yours for a mere $19.99 retail.

It's sort of tough to picture kids dragging the Ernie out to the sandbox for an imaginative game of file-the-story--but the Toys"R"Us set might not be the target here. For instance, the staff of the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site in Dana, Indiana, Pyle's hometown, has already bought a few.

"I wonder how many kids want to play with a G.I. Joe without a gun," jokes Rick Bray, property manager for the museum and a Pyle enthusiast. "He was a noncombatant, and I love the idea of children playing with this doll and then asking their parents who Ernie Pyle was."

Hasbro figures plenty of Ernie dolls will fall into the hands of kids, as well as adults who buy G.I. Joes for nostalgia's sake. Derryl DePriest, director of marketing for G.I. Joe, says that the company made Ernie Pyle an action figure because "he was just as much a hero as the men he was writing about."

The action figure comes with a to-scale version of the Washington Daily News. The now-defunct paper was then a flagship in the Scripps Howard chain, which Pyle worked for. Just like the real thing, the toy January 10, 1944, edition has a front page cleared of everything except Pyle's column, "The Death of Captain Waskow," a moving and detailed depiction of the death of one beloved captain. Unlike the real thing, Hasbro, always thinking of the kids, omits two parts of Pyle's column where he quotes soldiers saying "God damn it" while looking at the captain's body.

Bray says that column struck a chord with readers. "It was so different from what the other journalists were doing," he says. "It wasn't about how many miles [troops advanced] or how many casualties. It was just one little guy from Dana, Indiana, writing about the death of one soldier. You can feel the heart-wrenching anguish from these soldiers."

Beyond the cursing, Bray says the Ernie doll is quite authentic, barring one small--or not so small--other thing. The real Ernie Pyle was slight, arguably scrawny, Bray says. But remove the war garb and the Ernie doll is buff enough to stand up to any G.I. Joe. (DePriest says the Ernie is actually the smaller of the two possible G.I. Joe builds. Skinnier yet wasn't an option. "It's just the way G.I. Joe is," DePriest says.)

Bray says that from what he knows about Pyle, the journalist might be sheepish about the whole doll business. "I don't think he'd see being immortalized in plastic as being some kind of honor," Bray says, "but I do think he'd find it to be a pretty good joke. He'd be laughing."

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