In addition to marital difficulties, Pyle also had to recuperate from the stresses of combat, which he often wrote poignantly about. After the North African and Italian campaigns, Pyle relocated to England to cover the Allied landing at Normandy.
Pyle was nearly killed a month later in the accidental bombing by the Army Air Forces at the onset of Operation Cobra near Saint-Lô in Normandy in July 1944. A month after witnessing the liberation of Paris in August 1944, Pyle publicly apologized to his readers in a columnn on September 5, 1944, that he had lost track of the point of the war and that another two weeks of coverage would have seen him hospitalized with war neurosis. He hoped that a rest at his home in New Mexico would restore his vigor to go warhorsing around the Pacific
In planning to cover the U.S. activities in the Pacific, Pyle butted heads with the U.S. Navy; it had a policy forbidding the use of the names of sailors in reporting. He won an unsatisfying partial victory as the ban was lifted exclusively for him. His first cruise was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Cabot. He thought the crew had an easy life in comparison to that of the infantry in Europe and he wrote several unflattering portraits of the Navy.
Fellow correspondents, newspaper editorials and GIs criticized ex-Navy man Pyle for giving apparent short shrift to the difficulties of the naval war in the Pacific. During the tiff, he admitted that his heart was with the infantrymen in Europe, but he persevered to report on the Navy's efforts during the invasion of Okinawa. He was noted for having premonitions of his own death; he predicted before landing that he would not be alive a year hence.
On April 17, 1945, Pyle came ashore with the Army's 305th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Liberty Patch Division on Iejima (then known as Ie Shima), a small island northwest of Okinawa. The following day, after local enemy opposition had apparently been neutralized, he was traveling by jeep with Lt. Col. Joseph B. Coolidge, the commanding officer of the 305th, toward Coolidge's new command post when the jeep encountered enemy machine gun fire. The men immediately took cover in a nearby ditch. A little later Pyle and I raised up to look around, Coolidge reported. Another burst hit the road over our heads ... I looked at Ernie and saw he had been hit. A bullet had entered Pyle's left temple just under his helmet, killing him instantly.
Pyle was buried with his helmet on, among other battle casualties, with an infantry private on one side and a combat engineer on the other. The men of the Army unit he was covering erected a monument, which still stands, at the site of his death. Its inscription reads, “At this spot the 77th Infantry Division lost a buddy. Ernie Pyle, 18 April 1945.” Eleanor Roosevelt, who frequently quoted Pyle's war dispatches in her newspaper columnn, My Day, paid tribute to him there the following day: I shall never forget how much I enjoyed meeting him here in the White House last year, she wrote, and how much I admired this frail and modest man who could endure hardships because he loved his job and our men.
Though newspapers reported that Geraldine took the news bravely, her health declined rapidly in the months following Pyle's death. She died on November 23, 1945. They had no children.
After the war Pyle's remains were re-interred at the Army cemetery on Okinawa, and later at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. In 1983 he was awarded the Purple Heart—a rare honor for a civilian—by the 77th Division's successor unit, the 77th Army Reserve Command.
Ernie Pyle House and Library:
Pyle and his wife, Jerry, had this house built in 1940 after years of roving the country as a columnnist for Scripps-Howard Newspapers. Born in Indiana, they chose Albuquerque for a home after visiting many times and developing, in Pyle's words, a deep, unreasoning affection for New Mexico.
Pyle's dispatches from military theaters overseas, which focused on the war through the experiences of front-line infantry soldiers, were read avidly by millions during World War II. He was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished war correspondence in 1944. Some of his columnns mentioned the little white house and picket fence back in Albuquerque.
Pyle was killed by enemy gunfire on the island of Ie Shima in 1945; his wife Geraldine died later that year. The City of Albuquerque acquired the house from the Pyle estate in 1948, and converted it into its first branch library.
Today, the Ernie Pyle Library houses a small collection of adult and children's books, as well as Pyle memorabilia and archives. Although the house is an active branch library, its appearance as a home was carefully preserved. Both the interior room configuration and the landscaping, even the picket fence built by Pyle and the grave marker of his dog, Cheetah, have been preserved. It is visited by thousands of people every year from throughout the world.
The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 22, 1997, and designated a National Historic Landmark on September 20, 2006.