July 16, 1945 [Story of G.I. Joe]

Ernie Pyle died in April over in the Pacific, far away from his beloved infantrymen in Europe. But he's still reporting on the Story of G.I. Joe, Burgess Meredith standing in, with gentle eyes and a quiet "I'll be darned" when somebody tells him how great he is.

William Wellman bars no holds in this match, encasing everyone in three inches of mud, pouring rain on them every ten minutes, making them trudge like ghosts between the hedgerows or pick their way through endless rubble, as though the thing they're fighting for has already been ruined.

It was difficult to watch, despite the joy of VE Day--and the papers and radio cataloging the spreading fires at the edge of the Pacific. Because not only was Ernie gone so, eventually, was every soldier Wellman had made us care for. Most of them died off-screen, and we see them as small reposing forms, on the side of the road or along the hillside, the only ones allowed to rest. And the humor and ire, the warmth and cold shoulders they gave one another are of little note by the end, Robert Mitchum's soft-spoken, exhausted Lt.-turned-Capt. on the mule's back and lowered to the ground so that his men can pay their last respects, one infantryman at his side, holding his hand, crying for the rest of them, stroking the Capt.'s cheek--and Ernie finally gives in to his own tears, the growing rows of white crosses at the top of the hill behind him, while the survivors carry on, but slowly, one foot in the front of the other. What else can they do?

Ernie tells us: We can pause and murmur "Thanks, pal, thanks." It's a start, but Jesus, I wish it were enough. The lights came up, and too many of us, men and women, were wiping our eyes. A man near me kept his hand on his face, his head still up, as though he were refusing to see. But his chin went down and he found his handkerchief--because he could see fine, and was thanking them, even though he was still alive.


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