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In the Pipeline: Reminder of a great American journalist

October 22, 2013|By Chris Epting
  • Bob Chatt holds a photo of Ernie Pyle wearing the very same rain coat he just acquired for his collection.
Bob Chatt holds a photo of Ernie Pyle wearing the very same… (Chris Epting, HB…)

Whenever I see an email from Bob Chatt, I never pause before opening because I know it will be something interesting.

I've written about Chatt before. He's the antique military collector in Huntington Beach who had his own reality show and boasts a warehouse in town that's as much a museum as it is a shop. Thousands of old uniforms, helmets, weapons and other articles related to the military are stacked on racks and in cases as far as the eye can see.

Chatt is a fascinating guy. He travels the world in search of military treasures, and I'm glad that he and I have become friends over the years. He wrote me about something last week that I could not wait to make you aware of.

Within his dense and storied collection are certain prize pieces, including items from Gen. George Patton and other noted American heroes. But he came upon something recently that is truly a prized piece of American cultural history.

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It has to do with the writer Ernie Pyle.

Pyle was a stunningly talented American journalist who, in the 1920s, began a series of American road trips that ultimately led to a national newspaper column based on the places he saw and the people he met.

As someone who has also written many road-trip columns and books, I have always looked up to Pyle as a genuine source of inspiration. The empathy with which he wrote, for me, remains a marvelous model of how to capture the country and its characters in the most human and compelling way.

In the late 1920s, Pyle became this country's first aviation columnist while he continued to write his human-interest columns. In the early 1940s, he became a war correspondent. (Pyle had served in the Navy during World War I, after joining the Reserve at age 17).

It was while covering the war that Pyle truly carved out his reputation as a writer exceptionally equipped to capture the perspective of the common soldier. He won the Pulitzer Prize and his dispatches from the field found an audience all around the world.

On April 18, 1945, Pyle was killed after being hit by Japanese machine gun fire while he was visiting Legime island (then known as le Shima), just northwest of Okinawa. Today at the site, a marker identifies the precise location where Pyle was hit.

But back to Chatt. His latest discovery is the iconic raincoat that Pyle wore his last several years in the theater of war. In fact he wore it just days before he was killed. Inside the worn and well-oiled coat, the old journalist's name is there, written in his own hand.

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