Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ernie Pyle and G.I. Joe-Part Two

Today, November 11, 2015, is Veteran's Day, and on this occasion I would like to write a little more about Ernie Pyle and G.I. Joe.

I was in Irvington on October 31 for the annual Halloween Festival. For those not familiar with the history of Indianapolis and its neighborhoods, Irvington is on the east side of the city. Founded in 1870 and later annexed by Indianapolis, Irvington is characterized by winding avenues and historic houses. It was once a place for artists and writers. Kin Hubbard, creator of Abe Martin, lived there. So did painter and teacher William Forsyth. Many of the streets are named for artists and writers as well, including Audubon Avenue, Irving Avenue, Hawthorne Avenue, and Bolton Avenue, named for Hoosier poet Sarah Bolton. The first Irvington Halloween Festival took place on October 31, 1927. This year, in the sixty-eighth year of the festival, we walked among Batmen, Storm Troopers, Princess Leias, and other characters. We even found Waldo. Towards the end of our stay, we stopped in at Bookmamas, a small, independent bookstore on our old street. There I found a book I had never seen before, An Ernie Pyle Album: Indiana to Ie Shima by Lee G. Miller (1946). In that book is the following image:

Photo by the American Red Cross.

That's Ernie Pyle on the left and cartoonist Dave Breger on the right. Breger is showing the journalist a mural he created for a Red Cross club either in Northern Ireland or England. The caption doesn't make it clear where this photograph was taken (it was probably in Northern Ireland), but it would have been in the summer of 1942, about the time that Breger's G.I. Joe made its debut in Yank. Ernie Pyle flew to Ireland in June 1942 and spent about six weeks visiting with troops in the British Isles. In November 1942, he shipped out for North Africa to cover the Allied invasion.

In the first part of this article, from May 27, 2014 (here), I speculated about the origin of the title of the G.I. Joe comic book from the 1950s and the name of the Hasbro action figure from the 1960s. I think it more likely that the comic book and action figure were named after the Ernie Pyle biopic The Story of G.I. Joe (1945) than after Dave Breger's comic panel from 1942, but this photograph confirms that Pyle knew of the expression G.I. Joe almost from the beginning, if Breger was in fact its originator. Whether the title of the movie came from the title of Breger's cartoon creation is still an unanswered question.

Here are some other images of Ernie Pyle from the same book:

In London with a cartoon by David Low (1891-1963), a cartoonist born in New Zealand but thought of as a Britisher. Low inscribed the cartoon to Pyle. Photo by Ferenz Fedor.

Four sketches by combat artist Carol Johnson (ca. 1916-2003). Links to articles about Johnson: "Voices: Honoring Veterans Exhibit Opens Nov. 10" and "Carol Johnson’s WWII Illustrations on View at Art Center’s Hutto-Patterson Exhibition Hall" by Christine Spines.

A portrait drawing by combat artist George Biddle (1885-1973) from June 15, 1943.

Finally, a cartoon from Yank: The Army Weekly, from October 6, 1944, by Sergeant Al Melinger.

I saw The Story of G.I. Joe not long ago and kept my eyes peeled for a soldier with a flower stuck in his helmet strap. I didn't see him, but that doesn't mean he wasn't there. (I missed the first few minutes of the movie.) If the soldier had been in the movie, a link might be made between it and the comic book. In any case, the story of the expression G.I. Joe is a little fuller now with the first image shown above. 

Happy Veteran's Day to all. Let us honor all those who have fallen by devoting ourselves to the cause of human freedom for which they fought.

Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

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