by AARON BREWINGTON
Although it’s been 75 years since his death during World War II at the Battle of Okinawa, Ernie Pyle’s legacy looms large in Indiana. So large that a pair of productions to commemorate the Indiana University alumnus will air in March—The Ernie Pyle Experiment and Ernie Pyle: Life in the Trenches.
Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, was famous for both his nomadic, human-interest stories during the Great Depression and for work as a war correspondent focusing on ordinary American soldiers. The forthcoming productions cover both periods.
WFIU-FM’s Pyle Experiment is a 13-episode historical fiction podcast that adds context to Pyle’s pre-war writings from his column “Hoosier Vagabond.” Each episode ends with one of Pyle’s stories.
It was this period that drew producer/director Michael Brainard to Pyle. For Brainard, who plays Pyle in the program, the real interest was life on the road with his travel companion, wife Geraldine “Jerry” Pyle, whom he called “that girl.” While Pyle was forbade by his wife from talking about her directly, he wrote about her often in letters to friends and family.
Much of the program consists of snippets that Brainard pieced together about Jerry—who experienced depression exacerbated by an addiction to Benzedrine and alcohol—that he compiled from researching Pyle’s letters at the Lilly Library.
“He loves and cares for her, but he writes a lot about what a pill she is,” Brainard says. “For me, their dynamic is more dramatic than anything from the war.”
The WTIU-TV documentary, Life in the Trenches, will be narrated by former CBS News anchor Dan Rather. Ernie Pyle will be voiced by IU alum and Breaking Bad star Jonathan Banks. The documentary focuses on Pyle’s work during WWII through interviews with journalists such as Walter Cronkite and Andy Rooney, who tell how a small-town Indiana native became one of the dominant voices of the war. “I have always been a fan of stories where you drop the pebble in Indiana, and then have a ripple effect all across America,” director Todd Gould says.
Life in the Trenches will premiere on March 3 on WTIU. The first episode of The Ernie Pyle Experiment podcast will debut this spring on WFIU2 and will be available through major podcast providers.